The only thing that could possibly surpass Jason Becker’s virtuosic guitar prowess is his supreme courage and indomitable spirit. Becker grew up in a household surrounded by music and musicians. His father was a classical guitarist, his uncle a blues man, so his gravitation toward the instrument was natural. Since age five, Becker was influenced by artists like Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix, absorbing a plethora different musical styles. At 16, Becker formed Cacophony with Marty Friedman (Megadeth) and over the next three years released four albums including Speed Metal Symphony and Go Off!, while also finding time to record his own underground solo tour-de-force Perpetual Burn.
In 1989 Becker’s reputation as skilled axeman reached the ears of former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth, who tapped the 20-year-old guitarist to fill the guitar spot vacated by Steve Vai. The following year Becker was voted “Best New Guitarist” by the readers of Guitar Magazine, but was dealt a devastating blow shortly after when he was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and given about three years to live. Although he managed to complete the recording sessions for Roth’s A Little Ain’t Enough album, the disease left him too weak to tour and was forced to bow out. Jason Becker’s last recorded guitar playing occured in 1992.
Becker’s latest release, The Raspberry Jams are, as the album’s subtitle suggests, “a collection of demos, songs and ideas on guitar” that were recorded at his home between 1987 and 1991. This musical diary features 25 cuts that range from 30 seconds to five minutes and reveals that there was much more to this speed metal instrumentalist than the fretboard gymnastics he was known for. “Jasin Street” shows his penchant for knocking off sweet jazz phrases that roll off the fingers like classic Arlen Roth. Meanwhile “Black Stallion Jam” is reminicient of the Santos and Johnny classic “Sleepwalk” and features both Becker and Friedman trading soulful, heart-rending lines on this three minute gem. Becker also shows his ability to chicken-pick with the best on the country/blues cut that is simply titled, “Clean Solo”. The moments of shred-delight are many on this disc, like the driving, Satriani-esque rocker, “Becker-Ola”, the Steve Vai-influenced “Ghost to the Post”, and the monster metal blitzkrieg of “If You Have To Shoot…Shoot-Don’t Talk” and “Dang Sea of Samsara”. Not to be forgotten are his amazing exhibitions of flawless execution and mind-boggling speed on the mini-solos, “Amarneth” and “Too Fast, No Good For You!”
The Raspberry Jams is an impressive collection of musical thoughts and ideas that unfortunately weren’t afforded the opportunity to see their full potential as full-fledged compositions. As for Jason Becker, although still physically held hostage by the disease, he refuses to be a prisoner to it. You can check out Jason’s website at www.jasonbecker.com.
// Notes from the Road
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