Saturday, November 24, 2007

Guitar Spotlight: Jason Becker

Unfortunately, in real life the heroes aren't always the victors. Strange, unexplained and horrible things can happen to even the best of people. The world of rock music and rock guitar players is no stranger to such tragedies. Jason Becker, co-founder of the short lived rock group Cacophony, came along in the mid-1980s as a true master in the art of guitar shredding, only to have his incredible talent taken away from him. Becker was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), popularly known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease," in 1989 at the age of 20, but his talents were already evident. It's a shame that a guitarist with such a high level of skill would not only be robbed of his gift, but go largely unnoticed in the world of rock music and even among fellow guitar players.

This video from Youtube is an excellent piece of evidence for showing the precision and speed Becker demonstrated on the axe. Here he's covering his own transposition of Paganini's 5th Caprice at an incredible tempo. Back in these days, there were very few guitar players who could effectively shred on guitar at this level. He picks every single note and I'm having big trouble trying to find where he misses one. It's quite a remarkable performance in this video. As a craftsman of his instrument, he could be put on par with Yngwie Malmsteen and Paul Gilbert for his era.

Becker came aboard David Lee Roth's solo act to be a part of his band. It looked like he was well on his way to becoming a worldwide rock hero. We've seen what being part of a popular singer's act can do for guitar players, like the previously covered Randy Rhoads and now Zakk Wylde with Ozzy Osbourne. It was around this very time, in 1989, that Becker began to feel familiar symptoms of a degenerative muscle condition. Not too long after being diagnosed with ALS, Becker lost his ability to use his arms and legs, and eventually speak. Upon initial diagnosis, he was given three years to live. Remarkably, he was able to finish his first studio album with Roth, which went gold. And thankfully, ALS only affected his muscles and not his brain. He still communicates with his eyes through a system developed by his father, and not only is still alive today, but is still composing music. His last album, Blackberry Jams, was released in 2003. He has a website at

Like every guitar player I spotlight in this blog, I urge viewers to check out as much as they can on Youtube of this exceptional guitarist. The fact that he has not only lived nearly 20 years after being given three months, but continued creating music without the ability to move or speak, is truly remarkable. I am doing all I can to make sure this incredible person doesn't go unnoticed.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thought I'd check in after a 5-day absence, that okay with you? In all seriousness, it's been yet another hectic week full of job interviews and serious work deadlines in some classes, including a midterm paper and one final exam. I have, however, have had some time to play guitar, and I'm hoping to put a version of Jimi Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary" up on Youtube sometime this weekend.

This month has been more about increasing my library of song knowledge than creating my own works. The guys at 1474 Tremont have been going home a lot on the weekends, too, which has hampered our ability to jam on a regular basis just like last month. We did set aside some time last week to jam, though, it was myself, Justin and Mike. It was a pure acoustic guitar jam, which can be really fun if we get on a roll. Justin and I still have great chemistry playing together, and it was no different as we jammed for about 45 minutes straight. Mike laid down some nice tunes on the piano, which I plan on covering for my final project in JRN525 really soon. His talent is at a very high level and he's acquired it in a pretty short amount of time. When I interviewed him he had a little trouble taking it seriously at first (we're close friends), but once he realized how seriously I was taking it he went along with it. Be prepared for some audio samples to go along with pictures of him playing. He is a talented player who deserves notice. You can check out his videos on Youtube, just search for "Mike Tibaudo."

That's all for today. Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving and now we can look forward to the holiday season and December vacation!