Jason Becker Talks About Cacophony, David Lee Roth, “Not Dead Yet” Movie, Signature Guitar and Much More!
Jason Becker’s story is totally open to interpretation by the eyes or ears of those who learn about him. By now, many people have heard about how the genius prodigy’s guitar playing days were cut short far too soon when he was diagnosed with Lou Gherig’s Disease while recording with David Lee Roth. Everyone from Eddie Van Halen to Steve Vai to his former bandmate Marty Friedman have not only championed Jason but played a part in his life in some way shape or form since the onset of the disease which has left him unable to move anything other than his face but still able to compose and create music. It’s either the ultimate tragedy of modern rock to the pessimist or the ultimate tale of triumph to the optimist, but regardless of your opinion it’s a riveting story. If you haven’t seen “Not Dead Yet”, the documentary about Jason’s life, you really need to, as it will speak to you not only as a rock fan but as a human being. I recently had the privilege of doing an interview with Jason who is able to type, compose and communicate with some help from family, friends and some pretty amazing software which reads his eye movements, read on….
LRI: Thanks for doing this Jason and good luck to your 49ers this week. I can say that it was NOT fun watching my Packers lose again to the Niners but at least they lost to a good team. Do you think the last season at Candlestick Park is going to be a special one?
Jason Becker: I am sorry about your Packers. They are a great team. I remember dreading playing them in the 90’s. They spanked us every time! I hope it is a special season. I am afraid of Seattle, Denver and Green Bay, though.
LRI: I have been a fan of your career since first hearing you play with Cacophony, having interviewed Marty Friedman it is an honor to finally interview you. The guitar duo concept was something that always appealed to me. I realize it has been quite a ride since those days and many years have passed but do you have fond memories of writing and recording with Marty and making those two albums?
Jason: Cool! Thank you so much! Oh man, those were some of the best times of my life! Marty and I were just consumed with the infinite possibilities of music, and Mike Varney let us do anything we could think of. Not only the Cacophony albums, but our solo albums too. We were always writing, playing and inspiring each other to go beyond what we might normally think of. We also always tried to out “goosebump” each other with beautiful melodies. I cherish those times.
LRI: You released your first solo record on Shrapnel as well and it received unbelievable reviews but continues to turn heads to this day. Shrapnel definitely did not have the financial backing of a label like Warner Brothers and nowadays you like many artists can produce high quality recordings in the comfort of your own home. When you hear any of those old recordings does it remind you of how far we’ve all come in terms of technology or make you think about how different the process was back then?
Jason: Yeah, it is different these days. I actually loved going to a studio. I would probably still be doing that now if I could. It was fun not having distractions. What we can do these days is pretty amazing though. I got ALS at the right time. HA HA! I can still make the music I want. I still get the same great feeling when creating something cool that I did back in the day.
LRI: Your diagnosis with ALS of course came at the same time as your huge breakthrough and exposure as David Lee Roth’s guitarist. You managed to get some of your songwriting onto the album and perform on it despite the onset of the disease. At that time, did you get the vibe that the Roth camp would be looking for you not only to be a shredder but also to come up with a bulk of songwriting and ideas?
Jason: Actually, no. They had tons of songs already, unfortunately! I played them some fantastic tunes that they passed on. Dave was in a different place musically. He was in a more Rolling Stones type of mood, which is cool too, but I had songs that his Van Halen fans would have liked. I don’t mind. It was his album, and I am stoked he used a couple of my tunes.
LRI: Mike Varney and Shrapnel released an album a few years back called “Collection” which I would recommend to anyone who is just now discovering your stuff as it is a very cool overview. It also showcased your abilities to still compose music with LogicPro. This is literally the dumbest question ever but did it blow YOUR mind that people would be so blown away or taken aback by your ability to still be creative despite losing your ability to move?
Jason: HA HA! That isn’t a stupid question. It is tough to answer though! I guess it kind of did, because I felt like I was just doing what came natural to me. While I was writing and recording with musicians, I wasn’t thinking “Wow, I am awesome!” I was just trying to get the sound that I wanted. My co-producer, Dan Alvarez, made it fun and easy. We had a blast. Plus, I can move my face and communicate with my peepers, so I don’t feel completely paralyzed. I guess when I stand back from my situation, I understand how people might feel blown away. I am grateful for that, but I am just trying to make good music, because I am a musician.
Thank you for saying that about Collection. I agree with you.
LRI: The documentary about your life “Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet” came out to rave reviews last year and is having a special screening this week September 19th at Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco, California to benefit the “Jason Becker Special Needs Trust and ALS Therapy Development Institute” . I will include the trailer here in the interview but can you tell readers who haven’t seen the film yet how you felt watching the finished project? Was it surreal to see your life unfold on the screen?
Jason: Yes it was. Jesse did a brilliant job. My uncle Ron had taken home movies of me through my whole life, so that really brought life and intimacy to the movie. I couldn’t be happier with it. Jesse captured the happiness, sadness, humor, and music wonderfully! I am also really happy that my peeps got to get the credit they deserve.
LRI: The movie includes many interviews with your family and peers including many musicians you’ve worked with, guys I have spoken to like Steve Hunter, Uli Jon Roth and many others find you inspirational, hilarious and amazing. Scott Ian and his wife Pearl are going to be at this latest event this week and many other artists have done their part to help the “Not Dead Yet” shows, have they been fun for you to watch and do you enjoy staying busy with the work associated with the film?
Jason: Man, I love my musician friends! Hunter and Uli are such dear friends, and two of the most brilliant and soulful players ever! I can’t tell you how sweet and genuinely compassionate people in the rock, metal, guitar, and music world have been to me! I can’t wait to meet and hear Pearl and Scott and all of the other great musicians at Bimbo’s! I absolutely love hearing everyone play.
I was really busy with the film last year, because it premiered in March 2012. I worked so much that I got sick. D’oh! I love working hard but I also have to remember to take care of my body.
LRI: You worked with Carvin to help produce a Jason Becker Tribute guitar which can be seen and purchased here . Did you find it interesting or satisfying on a creative level to work on designing gear like this and was that something you dreamed about doing as a kid growing up?
Jason: That was all such a blast! I love guitars and coming up with designs is so fun. This wasn’t a childhood dream. Being on the cover of Guitar Player magazine was, and I was so thrilled and giddy last year, when it happened.
When people see my guitars in magazines and videos, they want to play them. I love Carvin for making it available! We are having fun together. We are talking about new designs for the near future. It helps a lot financially, too, but more importantly, I am proud to have my name on these amazing guitars. They feel perfect, look sexy, and have such a variety of tones. It is like having a Les Paul and a Strat in one guitar.
LRI: You also mentioned in the liner notes for “Collection” that you had been working on a book. I know from speaking to other artists and having worked myself on Kelly Garni’s book (Randy Rhoads’ friend and Quiet Riot cofounder) just how much of an undertaking that can be. Is the book or more new music something on the horizon for 2014?
Jason: Cool that you worked with Kelly! Yes, it is a lot of work. I have written a bunch, but my literary agent left the company. I see that I will need a fantastic co-author. Possibly my uncle who is an ethno-musicologist. He is currently writing a chapter about me for a book on prodigies for the Oxford University.
More likely for next year will be a new CD. I am working on it now. It will have tons of brilliant guest guitarists, and other great musicians.
LRI: Last question Jason….again, thanks so much for your time. One of the most amazing things for any artist is to see how their music can influence kids to pick up an instrument or write a song and your movie “Not Dead Yet” has done that but also motivated people who don’t play music to take an even deeper look at their lives in other ways. What can you say to people who have been influenced by your playing, your story or both about making the most of their lives? Is there a lot of pressure involved in being the poster boy of perseverance?
Jason: No no, thank you so much! You are too cool, man!
I am extremely honored to have some kind of positive influence in the world. I don’t really feel like I am doing much, other than trying to live a good and productive life. I feel more lucky than inspiring. I don’t feel like I need to tell people anything. My story kind of gives people what they might need, without me saying a word. People are smart; they know what they need, deep down. I feel no pressure at all. I never claimed to be perfect. I am just a musician. Everyone has challenges in life.
I am so grateful to have had an impact on music. That people feel what I do is the best thing I could hope for.
Join Jason Becker and musical friends in a very special celebration of his life and music, with musical performances during intermission and after the screening by Pearl Aday and her band, Pearl, featuring guitarist (and husband) Scott Ian of Anthrax, guitarist Jim Wilson of Mother Superior and Henry Rollins’ Rollins Band, bassist Joey Vera of Armored Saint and Fates Warning, the San Francisco Bay Area’s Forrest Day, and special guests.
UPDATE – September 13, 2013: Mike Bordin, former drummer with Ozzy, Faith No More, and Korn, Arion Salazar, former bassist with Third Eye Blind and now with XEB, Dave Lopez, guitarist with Flypside, and Chris Kontos, former guitarist with Machine Head will be attending.
$50 General Admission tickets include a light dinner buffet (while supplies last) and $75 VIP tickets include the dinner buffet, as well as reserved seating, a signed event poster and a meet and greet with Jason Becker and all the participating musicians.
· What: Not Dead Yet: Movie and Music to End ALS made possible by a contribution from Cytokinetics
· When: Thursday, September 19, 2013, doors at 6:30 p.m. Showtime at 7:00 p.m.
· Tickets: $50 GA and $75 VIP.
Order Link: http://www.bimbos365club.com/event/352927-jason-beckers-not-dead-yet-san-francisco/
· Directions: Google Maps: http://goo.gl/maps/k4IMY
For more info about “Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet” please visit: http://www.jasonbeckermovie.com. For special discounted ticket offers to, and other announcements about, “Not Dead Yet: Movie and Music to End ALS,” please follow on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/JasonBeckerMovie – visit http://www.jasonbecker.com to hear and purchase Jason Becker’s music.