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In Memoriam: Hard Rock Cafe's Don Bernstein


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Don Bernstine RIP



Hammer salutes the master of heavy metal memorabilia.

All of us at Metal Hammer were very saddened to learn of Don Bernstine's passing this weekend at his home in Oviedo, Florida. Among his many claims to fame was a legendary Hard Rock Café artist relations man. You may even recognise him from the current issue of Metal Hammer, in which he was featured as this month's Defender Of The Faith, and in his brand new Holy Grail column.

Don was more than a contributor to Hammer, but a hilarious, fascinating, and incredibly generous spirit, the best company, and it was a delight to know him, and an honour to call him a friend.

Bernstine is survived by his mother, two brothers, a sister, and six nieces and nephews. His wife Paula died in 2005.

Our deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends he leaves behind, and in the words of one of his many, many friends, heaven will be a little more boisterous.

Alexander Milas, Metal Hammer editor.

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Don Bernstine - The master of heavy metal memorabilia

It may be the best job in the world. Until late last year, Don Bernstine was the official memorabilia consultant for Hard Rock Café, which means that he spent his days traversing the globe and trying to persuade globally renowned rock stars to hand over priceless musical instruments and other items of immense historical value, so that they could be displayed in any one of the famous chain’s restaurants around the world.

"Actually it was kind of dumb luck," he tells Hammer. "I spent 10 or 12 years working for Deep Purple and I worked for radio stations and record labels. I got sick of the New York experience and decided to call it a day. So I moved to Florida and within a couple of months someone from Hard Rock called me up and said, "Hey, we've got this job where you hang out with rock stars and get memorabilia from them. Do you want it?" And I was like, "Are you kidding?"

British-born but now resident in the US, Don is on friendly terms with most of the greatest rock stars of the modern age, but it's clear that he still gets a huge thrill from coming into contact with some of the items he has picked up on behalf of his clients. Despite having procured many of the most legendary items in rock'n'roll history, his enthusiasm shows no signs of diminishing as he continues to search for his next amazing find.

"The greatest thing I ever got was Tony Iommi's monkey guitar," he states. "It's the red Gibson SG with the little decal of a monkey on it. That was on the first three Sabbath records, and that guitar basically started metal! Those records changed my fuckin' life, so just to hold this thing in my hand was incredible. When Tony showed it to me the first time he said, "This is the one that started it all!" I said, "Would you ever consider getting rid of it?" And he said no, but eventually we worked something out and now it's hanging in the Hard Rock Café in Times Square, New York."

Now working on the other side of the fence, helping the artists to find homes for their prized pieces of memorabilia, Don is a glowing advertisement for a lifelong love of heavy music.

"I'm still just this big giant fucking goober for rock and metal," he laughs. "I love this shit. I prefer the older stuff because that's what I grew up with, but I love watching the new bands. It's fucking cool. It's still as cool to me now as it was when I was 17."




March 24, 2008

Some lucky people go to a rock concert and leave with a prized memento - say, The Edge's guitar pick. Not Don Bernstine. The 50-year-old rock 'n' roll fanatic goes to shows, hangs out backstage, and usually heads home with the whole guitar.

Bernstine is the archivist and memorabilia collector (read: negotiator) for the 140-odd worldwide outlets of the Hard Rock Cafe. Ever wonder where all that cool Plexiglas-protected stuff on the walls came from - like the Ramones' leather jackets, Jim Morrison's pants or the autographed Bo Diddley guitar? Since 2003 it's Bernstine, a burly and personable music-business veteran, who's traveled the world bagging that loot.

The Post sat down with the Hard Rock's hunter-gatherer at the Times Square cafe before a solo show by Joe Perry of Aerosmith to find out how Bernstine became the collector of cool.

What was your first job in the music business?

I was going to junior college in the Northeast and got a job at a DC record store called Waxie Maxie's, where I worked up the ladder. I took a job with a distributor, Polygram, and later wound up working for Ritchie Blackmore's band Rainbow in management for 15 years.

And the Hard Rock Cafe?

I'd moved from New York to Florida and was still doing radio promotion. One day I got a phone call from Hard Rock, and they said come in and talk to us about this position. They had already interviewed about 80 people, but they decided I was the guy.

Why are you the guy? What skills does a memorabilia solicitor need?

I probably have one of the best phone books on the planet. I've learned how to deal with promoters, radio stations, managers and, of course, the artists directly. I go directly to the Aerosmith guys. I deal with the Motley [Crue] guys. I know Brian May from Queen. It's all about letting them know what we're doing. The Hard Rock is the Smithsonian of rock 'n' roll.

What did you acquire first?

An electric chair, which is a little weird. It was homemade by the band Disturbed. They'd used it in concert for a song called "The Sickness." The singer sat in it, and it lit up. My first week at Hard Rock, I started calling everybody up and saying, "Hey, send me something." So the electric chair came in a big box.

What's your best score?

Probably a Clapton guitar. I never let it out of my sight. It sat next to me on the plane from London. We bought the guitar its own seat, first-class no less.

Do you have a different approach depending on the stardom of the artist?

Yes, the Jimmy Pages and Eric Claptons of the world are much more difficult. But for example, I just spent a few days with Billy Gibbons [of ZZ Top] out in LA, and we're going to do a deal for about 10 guitars. Those and the fuzzy guitars from the "Legs" video will be going in the Houston cafe.

How much do you pay?

I never kiss and tell about money. But if I'm doing a deal, I say, 'OK, I understand these guitars are your babies. So yes, we'll buy them, but I'm not going to pay $100,000 for a guitar." With older artists that are financially independent, it's not going to be about money. It's "How can I work with you with your charity foundation," or how we can give you exposure.

What's one skeptical musician you were able to turn?

Joe Perry. Joe has a company called Rock Your World that makes hot sauce. So I told Joe we'd put his hot sauce in every cafe in North America in exchange for a tour of, say, five cafes and some memorabilia. Bing, bang, boom, it's done.

Ever turn anyone down?

One of Michael Jackson's backup musicians called, and I had to say no. My fear is that no one will know who he is, not even the guy working at the Hard Rock.

Any advice to aspiring rock-memorabilia collectors? Be very careful what you're buying. There's tons of fraudulent stuff out there. Always ask for a letter of authentication.

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Hard Rock Treasures – a 'rockumentary' on DVD!

From Jimmy Page's guitar to Peter Frampton's voice box, discover the whereabouts of rock music's most legendary items on DVD with Hard Rock Treasures. Featuring exclusive interviews with some of the most important rock bands ever, including Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Kiss and many more, Hard Rock

Hard Rock Treasures is available to purchase on DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. It was released on 21st November 2005.

This exclusive 'rockumentary' follows Don Bernstein, Head of Collections for the Hard Rock Cafes on his quest to acquire celebrated items from rock music history – from the owners themselves. Speaking to the legends in their own homes, studios and on the road about their most prized possessions and memories, are the following gods of rock;

· Led Zeppelin -Jimmy Page

· Deep Purple – Ian Paice

· ACDC – Brian Johnson

· Metallica –James Hetfield

· Velvet Revolver – Scott Weiland

· The Beach Boys – Mike Love, Brian Wilson

· Black Sabbath – Tony Iommi

· The Knack – Doug Fieger

· Cheap Trick – Rick Neilsen

· Bon Jovi – Richie Sambora

· Peter Frampton

· Kiss – Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, Ace Frehley

· Pantera – Darrell Dime Bag Abbott (deceased), Vinny Abbot

· Slip Knot

· Red Hot Chilli Peppers - Chad Smith

· B52's - Fred Schneider

· Motley Crue – Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil

· AeroSmith – Joey Kramer, Tom Hamilton

· Styx – James Young

· Van Halen – Michael Anthony

Featuring archive concert footage and loaded with exclusive special features, including extra interviews and original newsreels featuring The Beatles and Eric Clapton; Hard Rock Treasures is a must for the DVD collections of all rock connoisseurs. So, if you want to relive some of rock's defining moments for yourself or find the ideal Christmas present for the rocker in your life - make sure you discover Hard Rock Treasures on DVD this November.


Title: Hard Rock Treasures

Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Release date: 21st November 2005

Certificate: PG

Disc DVD Price (RRP): £19.99 / € 27.99

Feature running time: 98 mins

DVD Catalogue number: 5039036023092

Language: English

Original Aspect Ratio: 16 x 9

Sound Quality: English 5.1 DD

DVD Special Features:

Full length interview: A visit with Dimebag Darrell of Pantera

Full length interview: Backstage with Kerry King of Slayer and members of Judas Priest

Tour: The Hard Rock Private Vault

Newsreel: Beatles open Apple Boutique featuring Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, George Harrison and John Lennon

Newsreel: John Lennon and Julian Lennon


Note: The meeting between Jimmy Page and Don at the end of this disc was filmed in the basement of the Sunset Marquis hotel in Los Angeles. The item Jimmy offered is now on

display on the 23rd floor of the Hard Rock Hotel in Chicago.

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