The Metal Minute Awarded 2009 Best Personal Blog By Metal Hammer Magazine

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Take 5 With Jason Becker

Call it a cruel twist of fate at the height of one's successful ascension or perhaps a forced portal into a higher state of mind and being.

When confronted with the degenerative ailment ALS (commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease), guitar ace Jason Becker of Cacaphony and the David Lee Roth band could've surrendered to negativity and hardly anyone would find fault with him. Yet the man bears witness to the resilience of the human spirit with his largely upbeat candor and a dignified continuance of his accomplished songwriting.

With the assistance of technology that responds to his eye movements, Jason Becker not only communicates with his family, friends and fans, he continues to work on his music craft, having written his solo albums Perspective, Blackberry Jams and Raspberry Jams as well as three new songs for a recently-released anthology spanning his work, simply titled Collection.

With an appreciation of all forms of music ranging from world to jazz to funk to soul to opera and classical, Jason Becker amplifies his heavy rock compositions with external textures that would leave many guitarists with their full capacities at a loss to keep up. If Becker was a prodigy of the six string prior to ALS, he has ascribed himself to something higher as evidenced on "Electric Prayer for Peace," one the brand new tunes he composed for Collection.

The Metal Minute welcomes with sincere admiration, Jason Becker...

The Metal Minute: Take us back to the Cacophony days with yourself and Marty Friedman. Obviously your paths would separate with Marty joining Megadeth for awhile and yourself with David Lee Roth long enough to record A Little Ain’t Enough. Still, a heck of a lot of music was made between you and Marty with the Speed Metal Symphony and Go Off! albums. I would say the testimony of your longtime friendship shows on your Collection album since Marty appears on “River of Longing (Reprise).” I can imagine what fun those Cacophony days were, particularly in Japan since I know Marty has settled there.

Jason Becker: It was such an incredible time for me. I was like a sponge and Marty was like the ocean. Every time we would get together in the beginning, I would learn enough for a lifetime. It just happened when we jammed or practiced. Marty was able to teach by example. After a while, I started becoming a lot more creative. We could just be jamming and one of us would do something cool. The other one would say, “Hey, what did you just do?” Then we would write a piece starting with that. He had an exercise where one guy would play chords and one guy would solo, but the guy playing chords would try to throw the soloist for a loop by playing the most nonsensical chord progression ever, without warning. The soloist had to try to make something nice out of his solo without time to think.

Touring with him, Jimmy, Kenny and Peter was such a blast! We played some complex, progressive metal, but we acted like we were in Poison. We didn’t have to constantly practice because we knew the music inside and out, so we got to party like rock stars. At first in our United States tour, I was a bit uptight, because I thought we had to be a certain way, but they showed me that as long as you put on a great show, you could also have a lot of fun, even if some of your shows didn’t get promoted right and not many people showed up. Or if the tour manager left the tour, and someone cancelled the Detroit show; I am so sorry, Detroit - I didn’t know what was happening!

Japan was so awesome! Our translator and I fell for each other. We are still great friends. Marty just knew a little Japanese at the time. He was totally at home there. We all shared an apartment. At night Japanese girls walked down the street outside calling out “Jason, Jason, Marty, Marty.” Fans treated us like Bon Jovi or something. They gave us many presents and the promoters liked to try to get us drunk. The people and country are so great. I can see why Marty moved there. He is still a best friend. I’m sure we would be making albums together if I could still play.

MM: Though your time with David Lee Roth was cut short due to ALS, whenever I’ve thought of your name, I always recall the big hype on MTV when it was announced you were taking over for Steve Vai in the DLR band, and I thought then, “Poor dude has to stand up to Vai and Fickle America isn’t going to cut him any slack! Glad he has some wicked chops!” How intimidating was all of that press and pressure, considering Vai was the man most guitarists of the eighties were measured against? It couldn’t have been easy actually filling the guy’s shoes!

JB: I wish I had seen that hype on MTV. I wasn’t aware of any hype at all; that would have been fun. I guess I should have been more worried about it, ha! I had a lot of confidence in my playing back then. I didn’t often think about how people would compare me to Vai. I had loved Vai, but it was my turn now. I knew I could do some great stuff. Only two things had me a little worried: Dave was wanting to go for a less guitar and metal oriented music, and I was hoping for a return to his more metal side. I had some really cool heavy songs that were turned down for songs that would be more at home on a Stones, Aerosmith, or pop album. That is great too, and it is his album, but I just wanted to blow people’s minds and get his metal fans back. I would have also liked to have more say over my solos, but it was still awesome, though. I learned so much.

Of course the other thing that worried me was when the ALS started affecting my playing. That was more scary than being compared to any guitarist. I don’t think people can tell when they listen to that album, but I sure can. It was just a little stiffer than it would have been.

MM: Well, that being said, bro, I salute your fortitude in overcoming such adversity to get your Perspective, Blackberry and Raspberry Jams albums completed. Not to harp or droll on your condition, but it’s nothing short of cosmic all of this music that has been housed inside of you and through sheer will we’re listening to it on those albums and Collection. Where do you find the grace to meet your life head-on and produce such dazzling songwriting?

JB: Aww, thank you so much. That is a tough question. I guess there are a few factors. One is that I am very lucky to have many people who are up to caring for me. It takes lots of people to keep everyone sane. My parents, Serrana, Marilyn, Dan Alvarez, Mike B., and many others, have an attitude of true love and compassion for their fellow humans, which is uncommon sometimes in extreme circumstances like this. I am amazed at how many friends and family can leave loved ones to fend for themselves. I don’t know, it can be tough for everyone.

My parents had taught me of the magic in life. This has stuck with me all through my life. Of course, I am not always happy and bubbly, but the core thought that life is beautiful is there, even with ALS. I think with love flowing between your peeps, you get a lot of strength from that. Humor is also a huge benefit. Forgetting about your troubles and cracking people up is priceless.

You mentioned grace. I think believing in something greater than yourself opens you up to greater possibilities. I think maybe my belief in the divine mother, love and music opens me up to more of the music in the universe. I don’t know; maybe I am just talking out of my ass.

MM: (laughs) Hardly. “Electric Prayer for Peace” is one of the three new songs on Collection and it appears the song was quite a production considering you had Joe Satriani, Dan Alvarez and Dave Lopez involved plus many others. With all of the mass layers contained within this 11-plus minute composition and the people who joined in the recording sessions, how blessed did you feel to get such complicated arrangements thought out amidst this considerable gathering of artists who brought different music schools to the table, i.e. electronic, hip hop, tribal, world unity music, etc?

JB: Yes, I was very blessed to be able to write this complex piece while still allowing room for other types of contributors. I wanted to mix Indian, classical, world and funk into this one piece. I love mixing different styles of music. I was able to compose the piece in my head, but with so many tracks Dan and I had a bitch of a time mixing it. I am grateful to the great Satch, Firkins, Lopez, Kennedy, Rameshbabu and every musician on that tune; and, of course, the incredible Dan Alvarez. They all brought a sound of their own that added a whole new life to it.
I wanted the lyrics to be as big as the piece and the musicians. The core meaning of the words is “may all beings in the world be happy and peaceful.” Putting that thought out there in the universe is a good thing I believe.

MM: To add to that thought, peace is a core part of your being, I can tell just by your work and your shanti ohms in Collection’s liner notes. First thing, what period of your music creation life has given you the most peace and why? Secondly, do you feel peace is so hard to work for some people they just take the easier street instead?

JB: Funny, sometimes I feel like a fraud because I am not always peaceful. I can still get worried and angry. I think all stages of my musical life have given me equal peace, believe it or not. Just the act of creating music is calming and it feels so good. Writing something that you feel connected to is blissful. I would have to agree with you on the second point. I can totally understand that as sometimes I just want to take the easy street.

Copyright 2009 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute


Anonymous said...


Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Thank you! I'm the one who's humbled that Jason made the time and especially the effort to do this. The honor is mine.

Jace said...

Wow. I was nearly in tears reading this. Jason Becker is beyond inspirational, and I thank you for bringing this interview to the world.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

And I thank you, Jace, for coming here to read it. I'm just as privileged in that respect to have readers who care about Jason and have taken the time to let me know their thoughts about this interview.

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There are not words to describe Jason Becker... he is simply the best of the best of this industry.