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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bman's Exclusive Interview with Howard Bernstein - Artist - Album Cover and Poster Designer

Bman: How did you get hooked up with ESP Disk?

Howie: In 1966 I was living in a tenement building on Broome Street on the Lower East Side. Living in the apartment above me was Michael Solden, a friend of Jordan Matthews, who was the art director for ESP Disk. Jordan was looking for an artist to do the first album covers for ESP Disk. I worked at a drawing board in his apartment almost non-stop for two years. I had total freedom to create the artwork and was never given any input.

The poster shown here was designed by Bernstein and is available through Wolfgang's Vault (Bill Graham)

Bman: Looks like you did quite a few covers while you were there. How long was your affiliation with ESP Disk and who else were you working with?

Howie: Approximately three years. During that time I built a portfolio.

Bman: I have a number of the early ESP Disk covers that you designed available for viewing here. I understand that you actually did these by hand?

Howie: Yes, the first 200 album covers were hand silk screened by Jordan Matthews and me.

Bman: I understand that a few of these covers have other relevance other than just the art and the immediate music.

Howie: Yes, curiously enough. The Willow cover is Debbie Harry's first lp and Jean Erdman (who I did one of covers for) was married to Joseph Campbell.

Bman: Joseph Campbell.... That's wild!
I found quite a few of your early posters on the internet. I have a few compiled here:

Bman: I also saw a newspaper article about your meeting with Salvadore Dali. Tell us about that.

Howie: Dali was my art hero during my teenage years. While I was living in NYC, a friend of mine, Jacqueline Battle, telephoned Dali at the St. Regis Hotel, and using her command of French and Spanish, managed to arrange an audience for us to meet Dali in the hotel’s King Cole Bar. Before the meeting with him I bought the Dali book, which he signed for me. Dali was more interested in examining and discussing our sketchbooks rather than talking about himself.

Bman: I also read that you did some book covers. One that comes to mind is the outrageous cover for Roger Zelazny’s book “Lord of Light.” Were there others?

Howie: Yes. I did numerous book cover illustrations that were published by Random House, Doubleday, Alfred Knopf, Ballantine Books, Herald Tribune, Village Voice, Evergreen Review, Cashbox and Billboard, including full-page ads for The Who’s “Magic Bus,” and also designed album covers for MGM, Capitol Records, RCA, DECCA, and Verve Folkways.

Bman: Now this was all in NYC. Then you moved to San Francisco?

Howie : Yes. I left New York City in 1969 and headed for San Francisco, but moved to the Napa Valley where I did a series of ten posters for Sausalito-based Tho-Fra (Tom Burke). Went back to New York briefly, then headed north to Canada and traveled across the Trans-Canada Highway, stopping in numerous cites before crossing back into the U.S. in 1970. Moved to Scottsdale, Arizona and lived at the Stable Art Gallery owned by Avis Reed, a legendary art dealer.

Bman: I’ve also seen a bit of work that you have done with a sharpie pen. In fact, I saw Don Heffington on the Tonight Show with drum heads designed by you if I’m not mistaken.

Howie: Yeah, I drew on his drum heads using a big black marker.

Bman: Those are really wild. I came up with this cool photo of Elvis Costello with Hef's drums. I'm sure that they get attention wherever Don Plays!

What really gets me going is your line work. I just love your sketches. You have taken this to a new level. Tell us about “Werner Von Burner.”

Howie: The heart of the subject matter on the wood comes from the night sketchbook with a micro-ball pen. It just flows. I’m very grateful for that.

Bman: I know you have been working for years with the Boys & Girls Club and love the interaction with the kids and young adults. . . . . . . . I remember seeing one of Werner’s pieces called “The Palms” which relates directly to your work with the club. Can you tell us about this exceptional piece?

Howie: This was the only piece that was a direct response to a street “moment” in the hood. I was working at a B&G Club in South Phoenix and witnessed a drug bust at the Palms Motel, home to drug dealers and prostitutes.

Bman: This is a powerful piece. It has the same intensity of your earlier work but your style has matured and obviously you have really honed your skill with burning instruments.

Howie: I had a buddy in San Francisco, a guitar maker, who told me to check out the Leichtung torch. This precision tool shoots out a butane flame that can be adjusted to a fine point, which allows me to shade the work.

Bman: You seem to have gotten it down to a science... just like drawing with a pen! Is there anything else that you’d like to share with your fans?

Howie: At the age of five I was on the kitchen floor pushing my toy truck. Dad came home from his law office, sat down, called me over and pulled out his fountain pen and drew a profile of a man’s head on his yellow pad. I never again played with a truck and Mom kept me supplied with art materials.

Bman: I'm guessing that your mom and dad's support of your interest in the arts is now being given back 10 fold to the community through your involvement with the young people. Thanks a lot for your time Howie.

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  1. Bman - fantastic interview with amazing artist Howard Bernstein!

    1. Thank you very much! Howie is not only a great artist but a great guy!


  2. Always wondered about the wonderful art and artist for the ESP records. His story is as interesting and as inspiring as his art.

  3. Thanks Brent! It was a fun and rewarding interview!

  4. Howard, Heather sent this to me. The art is wonderful. I never knew you did so very much. I wish you success.