Article excerpt from Aidin Vaziri’s interview with Bernie and The Believers, Published in The San Francisco Chronicle, Photos by Guy Wathen
Sung from the heart
When Bernie Dalton was struck down by disease, Essence Goldman became his voice
Bernie Dalton hoped to fulfill a lifelong dream of making an album when he replied to a Craigslist ad for vocal lessons.
A surfer living in Santa Cruz, he was helping raise his teenage daughter, Nicole, after a tough divorce. He told Essence Goldman, the voice teacher who posted the ad, that he wanted to learn to sing the blues. He would drive up to her home studio in San Francisco every week for the sessions.
Goldman, a longtime fixture on the city’s singer-songwriter scene, was working as an instructor to help support her young family while she was going through her own separation.
It may sound like a setup for a “Missed Connections” romance, but what would transpire over the next few years goes far deeper.
Shortly after Dalton first showed up in Essence’s bohemian-style flat in the city’s Inner Richmond neighborhood in 2015, he began slurring his words and his voice started to get progressively raspy. At first they dismissed it as a symptom of laryngitis or the cold, maybe even an aftereffect from chlorine exposure from his day job as a pool cleaner.
Two months later, in January 2016, with Dalton hoping to learn the nuances of Freddie King’s “Tore Down,” his voice disappeared. He couldn’t sing. He couldn’t talk.
With Goldman reaching out to her network of friends, support for Dalton’s project came pouring in. Goldman found a band, dubbing them Bernie and the Believers, that included guitarist Roger Rocha, drummer Daniel Berkman and engineer David Simon-Baker.
“Essence asked me if I would help out recording some songs with her vocal student who had ALS,” Rocha said. “Because my uncle and stepfather had passed away from it, I had firsthand experience.”
Making the album, a passionate blend of folk and blues bearing the influence of everyone from Lucinda Williams to Otis Redding, wasn’t easy.