Many of you already know the tale of Jason Becker, the gifted young guitarist who developed ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) in his early twenties. It is a disease which slowly disables every muscle in the body on the way toward total paralysis while the unaffected mind remains trapped inside a body that no longer responds. Eventually, breathing, swallowing, speaking, or any movement whatsoever is no longer possible. There is no known cure. At this time Jason is still able to move his eyes and blink. That's it. As explained below, this is how he communicates. I wanted to let Mr. Becker know he has a fan base at DRG. I didn't think I had a chance at getting an interview with Jason, but his mother responded positively to my emails and, amazingly, he agreed to answer questions submitted by me. Since this is a special-case interview, I used questions mainly submitted by DRG forum members, with only a few added by me. Yes, the responses from Jason are not overly long and elaborate. But when one considers what he had to go through to answer them, they speak for themselves. One request: Please visit Jason's website, jasonbecker.com and his myspace.com page to learn a lot more more about this unique and gifted man.
11/20/06 Interview conducted by Steve Bluemlein.
DRG: Jason, how do you actually communicate now? How was it made possible for you to answer these questions?
Becker: I use a system that my father invented. Each letter has two specific eye movements which I and others have memorized. I can say anything very quickly; faster than any computer. I can be a part of every conversation. Sometimes I yap too much. I am really blessed to have complete movement of my eyes.
DRG: On a good day, when the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and life's burdens seem to lessen just a bit, what do you think about? What do you hope for? What do you see that the less perfect moments tend to shadow?
Becker: I wish that every being could be happy and peaceful like I am at that moment. I often cry because they aren't.
DRG: From communicating with your mom, though it was brief, I feel very strong positive energy coming from her. Is there anything you'd like to say about her?
Becker: You are wrong. She is a terrible person. Just kidding. Definitely, she is way positive. The way she lives and sees things is beautiful. She creates magic everywhere. She makes kids, as well as adults, believe in magic. I know this is why I am able to be happy and love life, even now.
DRG: Ok. On to the musical questions! You have a tremendous fan base at DRG. Do you realize the magnitude of your influence on players that came after you?
Becker: That is way cool. No, I don't get it. I guess I just can't picture myself as an influence. I feel like I did when I was 16 — a fan. I did some neat stuff but . . .
DRG: There are many who regard you as one of the greatest players who ever lived. Putting modesty aside for a moment, are they on the mark?
Becker: Aw. Considering that I barely had four years of recording and much of that time I was young and learning and maturing, I would say top 10. I think I would put myself in the top 10 rock guitar guys, me being 10th.
DRG: Did you ever have a Bad Guitar Day where you just put the instrument down in disgust?
Becker: Hmmm . . .let me think . . .I did have worse days than others but I tried to work through it.
DRG: At what point in your musical career did you think: This is it?
Becker: When I joined David Lee Roth.
DRG: In the 80s it seemed that the quality of the guitarists were rising year by year. You were lucky enough to be playing at what may have been the peak of this quality expansion. Looking back, what are your thoughts or feelings about this technical mountain top. Were other aspects of playing, such as tone, touch sensitivity, emotional display, etc. sacrificed by players in search of gaining the speed sweep alternate tap crown?
Becker: I think most players sacrificed too much quality and musical substance trying to be fast. Of course, there were some players who had both qualities.
DRG: What aspects should a guitarist have to be one of the best, according to you? Are there guitarists that have those aspects, in your opinion?
Becker: (No ideas/answer.)
DRG: You've played both as a single guitarist and in a dual guitarist role. Which did you enjoy more? Did the dual role allow you the freedom to go-on-the-fly or did you find it restricting in relation to spot creativity? Did you find inspiration in the other guitarist's performance and play to compliment it or did a second guitarist bring out that dueling high-noon gunslinger attitude?
Becker: Playing with Marty was awesome. Recording with him wasn't restricting at all, but sometimes when we played live, I wished I could go off a little more separately. I eventually left Cacophony so I could do more solo guitar. I guess I prefer just myself but working with Marty and Steve Hunter was a total blast and I learned so much from them.
DRG: What is the current state of your relationship with Marty and do you for see him performing any of your pieces in the future?
Becker: Marty and I email each other and send each other what we are working on. You know, he did perform End of the Beginning with an orchestra in San Francisco a few years ago. The possibility of Marty playing my pieces is always there.
DRG: What, in your opinion, was the best guitar / amp combination you had the pleasure to play through?
Becker: Hmmm . . .definitely Marshall amp, and, I would say either Fender or Ibanez guitars, although my blue Carvin felt the best.
DRG: Your musical compositional skills have been discussed on our forum. How did you develop these skills to the level you've achieved?
Becker: To be honest, I don't think I am a great composer, but I have written some cool melodies. I guess the more theory I learned, and writing with Marty Friedman, and wanting to learn a lot, and what kind of music I wanted to do, all influenced my composition skills.
DRG: Do you find inspiration for your pieces to be spontaneous or are they something that develop over time?
Becker: Both. The melody for End of the Beginning came spontaneously, for example, but working out all the parts and the minor section took more time.
DRG: What kind of programs did you use to write Perspective?
Becker: The software Vision on a tiny Apple computer.
DRG: So many guitarists have a perspective of playing that allows them to have a very good insight into the skill level of the musician your listening to? In your opinion, which guitarists playing today have achieved a masterful skill level? Which guitarists would you like to play your compositions?
Becker: Great question. I haven't heard too many recent players; I think there are many incredible guitarists. You guys can all probably tell the great ones from the good or just okay ones. When you are talking about the great ones, it really just boils down to your taste. Some of the great ones in my eyes are Marty Friedman, Jeff Beck, Uli Roth, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eddie Van Halen, Django Reinhart, Greg Howe, Michael Lee Firkins; man I could go on. For playing my compositions, I would like Jeff Beck for sure. Vai and Satriani would be fun too. On my two new songs, I am getting Michael Lee Firkins, Greg Howe and Steve Hunter. Steve just layed down a beautiful solo for me.
DRG: What is your favorite composition?
Becker: Hmmm. . . . lots of Mozart, Alan Hovhaness' Mysterious Mountain, I don't know, lately I am not into classical music.
DRG: Do you follow any new bands/players? If so, what bands/players do you listen to?
Becker: No, not really any players. I like the band Flipsyde and Alter Bridge is cool.
DRG: We've done this on the forum and wondered if you might give us your thoughts. Of all the musicians you've known or listened to. If you were putting together the best "backup band" for a guitarist to "front"...which instruments would be on stage and which instrumentalists would be playing them?
Becker: Tough question. Zakir Hussain on tabla, Prince's drummer on drums, either Billy Sheehan or Bootsie Collins on bass, Dan Alvarez on keyboard, Anoushka Shankar on sitar, and Sting and Joss Stone would sing. Also the London Philharmonic orchestra and the Vienna Boy's Choir.
DRG: OK, time to vent a bit. What really pisses you off at the moment? Don't worry about being polite.
Becker: Man . . ..okay. I am so sick of so many people who come to me offering things, big and small, and then blow me off with no explanation. I can't tell you how many times this happens. I didn't ask for anything from anyone. Why come and tell me bullshit? Are they trying to fuck with a crip? Are they trying to take advantage of my good nature? I could go on about stuff in society, like war, racism, gay bashing, cruelty, but Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert take care of that for me. Oh yeah, when great shows, like The Simpsons or Family Guy put musical numbers in. God, that sucks.
We at the Dinosaur Rock Guitar would like to thank Jason Becker for taking the time to answer our questions. Copyright ©2006 All rights reserved.