David Lewis Berger

Posted on 30. May, 1999 by in Remembering Friends

October 30, 1949 — May 18, 1999

David Lewis Berger died at San Francisco General Hospital after a brief illness.

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, David lived there until he was 15, and attended the Foote School. During those years his theatrical flair and beautiful boy soprano voice led to his active participation in local productions, including parts in two Gilbert and Sullivan musicals. He also sang in a church choir, played ice hockey, and designed and built model cars.

In 1965 David moved with his family to Santa Cruz, and attended Santa Cruz High School and the Pacific High School in San Mateo County. there he gave himself to music, and although he was a talented artist and writer, jazz and blues were his first love and became his life. He took up the saxophone, guitar, and harmonica, and quickly developed into an accomplished blues harp player, performing with Elvin Bishop and other Bay Area bands. His soulful improvisations caught the ear of John Lee Hooker, on whose album, “Endless Boogie,” David was invited to play. He also toured Europe with Professor Longhair and band, and later, he performed an extended stint as half of a New Orleans street duo with blues legend Babe Stovall. Stovall was his friend and mentor; his music and his spirit changed David’s life.

During the early 1980’s David invented and developed a new system of visual signs for teaching the harmonica, which he introduced in the classes he taught at different times in Santa Cruz. In 1984 he co-wrote and performed the musical score of the film “Hard Travellin’.” Returning to the guitar in later years, he composed songs in various genres, including several big band and blues ballads. From the late 1960s on, he was a avid record collector, building up an extraordinary library of blues and jazz — rare 78 and 33 rpm records — that reflected his unique tastes and his love of music history.

For much of his adult life David lived and worked in San Francisco, but he also spent periods in the New Orleans area and Austin, Texas, as well as in Guerneville, Merced, and Santa Cruz. He received solace from walking in the woods and by the sea. In recent years he was plagued by bouts of mental illness, but continued to play guitar and study. He was helped during this difficult period by many good friends whose love and care sustained him, and to whom his family is deeply grateful.

David is survived by his father, Harry, his sisters, Caroline and Cynthia, and his nephew, Ezra. He was preceded in death by his mother, Marguerite Long Berger, and his older brother, Thomas Harry Berger.

(obituary published in the S.F. Chronicle, 5/30/99)

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2 Responses to “David Lewis Berger”

  1. Wolfgang Michels

    23. Dec, 2010

    This is very sad news…I was wondering for many years whatever happened to my old musician friend David Lewis Berger…I tried to find him again and again…until today…

    David was a genius harmonica player…he played on two of my albums that I recorded in California between 1976 and 1978: MICHELS “FULL MOON CALIFORNIA SUNSET” and MICHELS “CRAZY ENOUGH” both still available remastered on CD (P)2003 Warner Music

    I will never forget you and the good times we spent…and how much soul you put in your harmonica playing…too sad we never met again since then…rest in peace my dear friend David…


    Wolfgang Michels

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  2. Janise

    21. Aug, 2014

    I got to know David in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when he came through with a band. The band left; he stayed for awhile. He was a real presence–amazing harmonica player, a kind man with a lot of demons to chase. Sorry to hear of his passing oh so many years later. RIP.

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