Jason Becker Interview - The Charity Interview
Ron Coolen is a passionate fan of the legendary Jason Becker. He has recently set up the Jason Becker Charity to help raise money for Jason. Many famous artists have donated memorabila for an ebay auction and Ron is running the New York Marathon on the 2nd November 2008 to raise money and awareness for Jason. Here is a fantastic interview that Ron recently had with Jason. We hope that it inspires you enough to maybe donate to this most worthy of causes...
Jason Becker is known as one of the most gifted and talented guitar players in the history of music, as all world class guitarists unanimously will confirm. In 1991, while recording the “A little ain’t enough” record as the lead guitarist of the David Lee Roth Band at the age of 20, Jason was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease) in 1991 and was given less than 3 years to live.
Fortunately, Jason is still around and he is here to stay ! Although Jason still has a large following that supports him, there is little known of Jason’s state of the last decade, other than some interviews he did and the info we get from the CNN documentary that circulates on the internet. This interview was partly done during my visit to Jason and his mother Pat in their Richmond, CA base, and partly by e-mail in the following weeks. Jason was very open and honest which lead to some very interesting statements...
To set the stage, what is the most boring question to you and what should we definitely NOT ask you?
”This question you just asked is the worst. HA HA, just playing. I guess I get a little tired of answering music equipment questions. I don’t think they are bad questions, it is just that I don’t remember all the details. I was never a real equipment mavin. I just got a guitar and amp that I liked. The engineer probably added stuff, but I don’t know what. How about if you don’t ask me anything about music or ALS; deal?”
Deal! There are loads of other questions that interest me. Most of what we know of you is based on what is spread around the internet, for instance in the CNN documentary. That documentary was however made in 1999. There is little information available of how you have been doing since then. So, can you tell us about your how your current state?
“I am doing really well. I can communicate with my eyes pretty damn quickly. I can smile and make some facial expressions. I have no pain at all. I am almost always totally comfortable. I am happy most of the time. I am able to keep working and be the life of the party. Heh heh. Life is not just about walking. To me, it feels like it is, in a way, more about love, creativity and crap like that. After 19 years (half of my life) with ALS, I don’t feel like it is terminal; similar to how Stephen Hawking feels (Editor: Stephen Hawking has been suffering from ALS for the last 45 years, and probably the world’s most famous ALS patient). We are just living different from most people.”
How does your typical day look like?
”Ok, this is definitely my least favorite question. It is a good question but the details are so boring. I do what most people do, only it takes a lot longer and someone else helps me do everything.”
So much for a bad start…..From what we read, we know that you engage a lot in Yogananda & SRF (Self-Realization Fellowship), you meditate, you do healing sessions with your guru Ammachi. What I am interested in is to understand how this results in your state of inner peace?
“Good question. I guess people can find the teachings of ‘the how’ in the books of Amma and Yogananda. Amma teaches love, compassion, and service of humanity. Yogananda teaches the techniques of meditation. Both eventually bring you to a state of peace. Don’t get me wrong, I am not always in that state, but this stuff brings me closer; I know how to get there. Hmmm...I read of many people who spend their whole lives constantly practicing these teachings but get no experience of peace. I can’t explain that. I certainly don’t practice that much. I guess the core thing is love; “do unto others...”
With you having your state of Inner Peace, what do you think of all the bullshit going on in the world, the wars, corruption, poverty, intolerance of so many people that apparently do not realize what they have and how grateful they should be?
“First of all, I wouldn’t quite say I have achieved a state of inner peace. But, yes, the bullshit makes me sad; it always has. How can people just ignore so much hypocrisy and the screwing of so many innocent people? I don’t understand. Many people spout about their beliefs, but act in the opposite way. Follow your own teachings. “Do unto others,” and “judge not, lest you be judged”. Do I sound judgmental? Heh heh. I don’t necessarily think everyone should feel grateful. Some people get a raw deal; why would they feel grateful? But you are right; so many people have it good but love to complain.”
There are millions of people out there that are so incredibly proud of you and are inspired by you, musically, but especially from a personal perspective. From your base in Richmond, CA, do you have any idea that you are still so meaningful within such a large group of fans?
“If there are really millions of people, then no, I don’t have any idea. I don’t feel like a million people even know who I am. I think I have only reached a few thousand people. Those people are inspiring to me. Not everyone can improve themselves with just my story. I am proud of them. Although I would like to inspire way more people, I am grateful to have made a positive difference in some people’s lives. Now, if I would just go platinum. HA.”
There are many people who want to help you in some way. In an article I read that there are also people who try to take advantage of you. What do you think of all these people initiating things and how do you distinguish good from bad?
“I don’t think most people intentionally try to take advantage of me. I think most people have the best of intentions, they just make promises they can’t keep. I have gone numb to peoples promises. Just don’t ask me to do anything. I appreciate the thoughts but I don’t have time to waste. I have learned how to distinguish good from bad but I can’t spill my secret. The real people help by doing what they say they will. I’m so grateful to them. The most important thing people can do is buy my music instead of downloading it.”
There have been Charity concerts organized by your fellow musicians. I read in an article that the 1991 Charity concert was apparently organized against your will. Is that true and if so, why were you against it? And how did you experience the Charity concert in 1997 in Chicago organized by Toshi Iseda?
“That is weird. I was totally into the ’91 Concert. My friend Lori Barker and Guitar Magazine organized it for me. I had a blast being with all of those great players (Editor: Steve Lukather, Zakk Wylde, George Lynch, Vivian Campbell, Warren DeMartini,, Ritchie Kotzen, Alex Skolnick, Stuart Hamm, Michael Anthony, Ray Luzier, Steve Hunter, Tony MacAlpine). Man, I hope no one really thinks I was against it. I loved it. The Chicago concert was way cool but a little confusing. Unfortunately I couldn’t be there. I would have loved to have seen it. Eddie Van Halen and I were misinformed about where the proceeds would go. We were told (not by the main organizer) that the proceeds would go to me, but they went to an ALS foundation. That is okay but we felt tricked. That left a bitter taste in our mouths for benefits.”
You have seen 'Sicko' by Michael Moore, where the medical & healthcare system in the USA is criticized. How do you go about with that system. Do you undergo the ‘Sicko’ experience with the government and insurance companies? And are fundraising initiatives a necessity for you to get the appropriate care?
“Yes, I definitely go through experiences like in “Sicko.” I don’t understand how people can tell me that Michael Moore is a liar when I know from experience he is telling the truth. We are threatened every year to have our insurance taken away, which would mean certain death for me. It isn’t even an individual so much as a whole system that requires me to prove over and over that I really have ALS and I’m not trying to screw them (the system) out of anything. It just seems that life should be as easy as possible for me and my caretakers and everyone who is in my position, instead of often feeling like we are living in a state of terror, controlled by that power. I sometimes have to wait for years for necessities, but I will say that I must have angels looking out for me because I am still here.
What makes you laugh? What do you find hilarious and good humor?
“So many things. I often crack up at myself because I say the nastiest, dumbest things ever. I gross out my family and friends. I like “Looney Tunes,” “Futurama,” “Family Guy,” classic “Simpsons,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Stephen Colbert, Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, oh man, I could go on. “The Soup” and “Chelsea Lately” are hilarious. Babies laughing is infectious. My brother making fake fart noises which makes the dog get surprised and look at her own butt. For some nasty reason, I think the word corn is funny. My uncle told me a story about when he was a kid; his friend wanted to impress him so he went in his shed and had my uncle watch him take a poo on the floor; then the kid’s mother came out and said, “not again!”
Is there anything that can piss you off and make you mad?
“Oh yes. My dad and I can definitely piss each other off. We get so mad and we say the meanest things. Our personalities can clash. I hate when everyone is having a conversation and my translator doesn’t look at me so I can talk. I hate cruelty to animals with a passion. I hate raw cauliflower. I hate racism and intolerance.”
All of your fans know and love the movie where you play Yngwie Malmsteens’ "Black Star" (from your DVD) in what appears to be your school where you seem to glue everybody to the wall. Can you describe the setting?
“I put that on my DVD to show people that I indeed was influenced by Yngwie; it was sort of my thank you to him for his inspiration. For a couple of years in high school I thought he was the man. I also played “Far Beyond the Sun,” but the band kind of messed it up so I ain’t putting that out. I bow to Yngwie no matter how much people tease him. It was at the Kennedy High School multipurpose room (Red: Kennedy was predominantly a black school). For our jazz ensemble performances I usually talked the teacher into letting me do a song I wanted. I feel sorry for the teacher, Mr. Hathaway; he was just too square to teach any one of us. There were some talented players in that class. In the video, he told me to turn the volume down; I just pretended to. The bass player was Shawn Patrick. The drummer was Ramon Goodin. He was brilliant; he could play every instrument very well. I would give him tapes of my hardest songs in every style and he came back the next day playing every guitar part perfectly. Once we were trading guitar solos at a friends house and he smoked me. He went on to produce acts like Tupac Shakur. It was a pretty big room; at first people laughed at the long-haired white boy, but when I played they were totally into it. It was a blast for everyone there.”
With which of your former band members are you still in contact?
“I am still in contact with all of the musicians, more or less, except the singers. We have sort of communicated through friends and media though.”
In your opinion: how has guitar playing developed over the last 10-15 years and who are currently the leading players in your opinion?
“I haven’t followed guitar playing enough to give a really educated answer; it wouldn’t be fair to the players I haven’t heard. There may be less emphasis on melody, I don’t know for sure. I do like John Mayer, Jeff Loomis, John Petrucci, and Rusty Cooley. Lately, I am appreciating and digging Steve Stevens, Led Zeppelin, Gary Moore, Trevor Rabin, Brian Setzer, and other old farts like that. Hey, I am becoming an old fart myself.”
How well connected are you to today's music industry? Are you active in following all the musical trends or not? I understand you like bands like Flypside and Alter Bridge. What attracts you in these bands (especially Flypside seems unexpected), and which other bands do you fancy?
“I am not very well connected to today’s music industry. I am aware of musical trends but I don’t necessarily get into them all. I just think both of the bands you mentioned make interesting music. Flipsyde has great melodies, hooks and deep, thoughtful words. They are not afraid to mix different styles. It shouldn’t be unexpected that I like some hip-hop. I am from Richmond, baby. No one should dismiss an entire genre of music. That only limits oneself. I am blanking on other bands I like. I dig Tom Waits, Annie Lennox and Peter Gabriel, but they ain’t bands, are they?”
On the internet many fans discuss their favorite Becker memories. What is in your own opinion:
Your best album ever ?
“No question, my new album, “The Jason Becker Collection.”
The song with your most advance playing?
“It has to be from “Go Off” because I was at my technical peak at that time. Possibly “X-Ray Eyes,” or “Go Off.” Hmmm...maybe the “Serrana” arpeggios. Serrana says she is going to change her last name to Arpeggios. Heh heh.”
Your best gig ever played?
“Somewhere in Japan with Cacophony.“
The best band you played with?
“Boy, Cacophony and David Lee Roth bands were both so good; it has to be a tie.”
The period in your music career you cherish the most?
Touring with Marty and Cacophony.
We know you are engaged in a number of projects. Can you update us on the latest status ? To start with the long awaited new CD:
“End of October it will be out on Shrapnel Records. I picked what I consider to be some of the best songs from my career, plus there are three brand new tracks. I am so happy with the new songs. Some people say they are the best I have ever done. It includes Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Marty Friedman, Greg Howe, Michael Lee Firkins, Steve Hunter, Matt Bissonette, Dave Lopez of Flipsyde, and many beautiful voices, including David Lee Roth (Heh heh). He was gracious to let me use “It’s Showtime!” If you stick the CD into your computer, there are over 16 minutes of bonus tracks, mostly of never-heard guitar playing.
Then there is the documentary on your life, the last information we read is that the script is finished but the necessary financing was still missing. Do you still foresee that this documentary will be released?
“ I would say not for quite a while.”
Then the autobiography, I understand that a first version of the book was finished.
“ I am still working on drafts. It is weird writing about my life while it is still in the process of happening.”
Also long awaited, after the Peavey deal did not work out, the Jason Becker guitar. I understand you are currently working with Paradise Guitars on the guitar. Can you give some insight in what the typical ‘Jason Becker customizations’ are that are being developed?
"We are hoping to get it out by October/November. It will be just like my numbered fret board guitar that I played. It is set up for me so I could easily play arpeggios, like Serrana arpeggios. It is meant to play fast with a nice big tone. I designed the headstock too.”
And finally, very recently I heard that ProTone is developing a 'Jason Becker Perpetual Burn Distortion pedal'.
“It is expected to come out in October/November. I sent a painting of my dad’s artwork. It looks so cool on the pedal. Rusty Cooley is helping to get the sound right. It will have two switches; one for the amp I liked and one for the pedal I liked. It will be better than my tone, but similar. There will be a bunch of knobs. I will eventually approve sound clips.”
Regarding Peavey, first they cancel the agreed endorsement in 1991, when you were diagnosed with ALS, then in 1997 they sponsor the Charity concert in Chicago. And this year they cannot get the custom JB guitar organized, after which Paradise Guitars came in the picture? How is your relationship nowadays with Peavey?
”It is totally fine. I have a real good friend there. They made me some really great guitars. This time I just got too impatient and we decided to part ways.”
David Lee Roth said some incredibly nice things about you in his book and in interviews, about how you were a summer away from making your mark in the guitar world and the closest thing to genius he had found since Eddie Van Halen and rating you higher as a band player than Steve Vai. In an interview I read, when asked who should give it up and call it a day you said David Lee Roth because he had become a joke; and you called him a man with a social problem. Can you explain the difference of opinion you two have for each other, what happened?
”Aw man, now I feel like a total butt hole. When I did that interview I was feeling hurt because I was remembering that when the album came out, he didn’t say anything about why I couldn’t tour with him. He just said some people are better in the studio smoking cigarettes. I was a great live performer and I have never smoked ciggies. But now I can say that he taught me so much and he treated me so sweetly. He was so sensitive about what I was going through. When we had to part ways, I think I saw a tear. I really love him for all he has done for me. He was a big influence on me, before and after I met him.”
Suppose you can form your own ideal band to perform your favorite song. Who would be playing in the band and which song would they play?
”Good question. My song would be “Imagine” by John Lennon. On guitar, Jeff Beck. The singer would be Sarah McLachlan. On keyboards, Herbie Hancock. On trumpet, Wynton Marsalis. On tabla, Zakir Hussein. On bass, Billy Sheehan. The London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Harlem Gospel Choir. Man, I want to hear that!”
If I would not have run into Marty Friedman:
“I would not be half as good or creative as I am.”
If Steve Hunter would not have played in the David Lee Roth band:
“I would have had more solos (heh heh) but, I would have lost a bestest friend.”
When Barack Obama will be president:
”I hope the poor and needy will get more respect and what they need.”
When I will be a guest at Oprah Winfrey’s show:
“I will be able to inspire more people with my music and story, and, hopefully, make Oprah laugh.”
I wish Michael Moore would:
”get more respect.”
I would like to kick the ass of:
“Eddie Van Halen for being so damn good.”
Can you give us your first spontaneous thoughts when hearing the following names:
Your parents, Gary and Pat Becker:
“Unbelievable. My saviors in most every way. My teachers and the reason I love life.”
Dan Alvarez (Jason’s musical buddy):
“ Genius musician with a huge heart and great sense of humor.”
Mike Bemesderfer (music producer and the man behind the special software program Jason used for composing with his eyes):
“About the coolest, nicest and deepest person and friend I know.”
Jimmy O’Shea (former bass player of Cacophony):
“Great player and a blast to hang out with.”
“Great drummer. He just recommended the movie “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” to me. I haven’t seen it yet. His demeanor reminds me a little of Jimmy O’Shea.”
Atma Anur (drummer in Cacophony and on Jason’s ‘Perpetual Burn’ solo CD):
“Brilliant musician. He really inspired me and my music a lot.”
Michael Lee Firkins:
“Such a unique player. He was here yesterday. The coolest and funniest guy. When Mike Varney first played me his demo I said I have to meet this guy. He is incredible.”
Eddie Van Halen:
“The king of metal guitar. No one can touch him. A very sweet person.”
“I love his music and singing so much. I hope he is a better person than he seems.”
George Bush jr.:
“Um... doesn’t seem to care about anyone but rich folks.”
“At least he supports stem cell research, but he wants to screw my nurses pay and other people who have a hard time.”
Mike Varney (the big boss of Shrapnel Records):
“The main reason I have a career. He introduced me to Marty Friedman and David Lee Roth. Very funny guy with a good heart.”
“For two years in high school he was my biggest inspiration. Hearing stories about his ego are pretty funny, but his ego helped me to have more confidence in myself, which I needed.”
AC/DC: “ Awesome rock band. I met them in Vancouver while recording with David Lee Roth. I told Angus I thought he was incredible.”
Stuart Hamm: “Amazing player and cool guy. Funny story: I was going to produce the guitars on Richie Kotzen’s first album. I walked in on Stu’s last lick for the album. We hadn’t been introduced. He was having a little trouble, so I gave him a suggestion. He flipped me the bird. I couldn’t blame him.”
“Frightening. I love his playing. He has great aggression in it, which many shredders forget about.”
“His voice is so perfect. Hearing it just takes you back to a time. What a total sweetheart, too.”
“Absolutely magical. If Van Halen is the king, then Jimi is God.”
Tony Macalpine: “He is so talented it is amazing. Very cool guy, too.”
Ray Luzier (nowadays drunner for Korn, and played on the 1991 Benefit Concert):
Jason, we brought you a bunch of different tunes from different bands and styles from different era’s, and these songs represent the large spectrum of (rock)/(guitar) music. What comes up in your mind when hearing these tunes?
Alter Bridge – Come to life:
“ Great guitar tone. It is heavy but still has a cool melody. I think every member is great at what they do. Really interesting ending.”
Steve Stevens - Prime Mover:
“Man, he is so damn good. He is definitely underrated. Awesome tone and sound. He is among the best.”
Mattias Eklundh – Minor Swing:
“Oh shit! I have never heard this, but this absolutely killed me. I can’t tell you how much I loved it. I’m into Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Django Reinhardt. And with great rock guitar, whew. If I could still play I would be trying some of this kind of stuff.”
Lamb of God: “Beating on death’s door:
“Great. Really tight. I haven’t gotten into that kind of singing yet, but I get it. Aggressive.”
Jeff Martin – Lament:
“Very very nice. I like the tabla. He has a great voice.”
Opeth – Hex Omega:
“Wow, man. You are turning me on to some way cool stuff. I like this a lot. Epic. Sort of metally Floyd”
Ian Moore – Abilene:
“Great voice. Really cool. “
“Yet again I dig this so much. I love the singer. I like how the synths are mixed loud.”
Vicente Amigo – Callejon de la Luna:
“ Fantastic! I love Flamenco. Awesome attack. I will be listening to this a lot.”
Outworld – Raise Hell:
“Nice and heavy. Great ethnic sounding guitar solo. Rusty mixes shredding with modern heavy rhythms. He is so good.”
Van Halen – Eruption:
“Simply the best. I remember my dad finding an old cassette of this album lying on the street. He brought it home and I flipped out. I immediately started trying to learn this tune.”
Steve Perry – She’s mine:
“Brilliant vocals but the sounds and song are a bit dated.”
Journey – Lights:
“This is my favorite Journey song. I live in the Bay Area and I totally get it. Neal Schon is an incredible guitarist. This song takes my spirit to San Francisco.”
Foo Fighters – Pretender:
“It is good but does nothing for me.”
What do you see as challenges for you to achieve?
”Finishing my book will be a challenge. Actually, everything I do is a challenge; right now I am challenged by trying to finish this interview (heh heh).”
What would be your perfect Birthday Present this year? (July 22)
”For a Bollywood actress to fall in lust (or love) with me. For my new CD to go quadruple platinum. For my music to be in a block buster movie. World peace, baby.”
What will you do with the money that is raised through our charity?
“Pay bills. Thank you so much Ron and everyone who donated.”
Is there anything you would like to tell your fans that we have not asked?
”Just that, without a doubt, I have the coolest fans ever. I love you guys.”
Jason, many thanks for taking the time to answer all these questions, I very much appreciate it and so will all of your fans that will read this interview.
“Thank you so much Ron for everything. Peace and love at you, my friend.”
What Is The Jason Becker Charity All About?
Being a huge fan of Jason Becker for more than 20 years, I have decided to run the New York City Marathon on November 2, 2008, and to set up a Jason Becker Charity around the Marathon. I will acquire sponsors for my Marathon and all the donations will directly go to Jason Becker. The scope of this Charity is truly global and it is my mission to unite as many Jason Becker fans as possible and to raise BIG money for him. We, Jason Becker fans, are obliged to pay back Jason for the fantastic music he created for us and which we still enjoy every day. Therefore the campaign is called "Time to payback!". This Charity is supported by the Becker Family.
Also, many fellow musicians are actively supporting the Jason Becker Charity by donating auction memorabilia, by promoting the Charity and helping out in many other ways. Thanks to the following guys: Bumblefoot, Myles Kennedy, Billy Sheehan, Steve Stevens, Kip Winger, Atma Anur, Tommy Denander, Ray Luzier, Josh Ramos, Shane Gaalaas, Raven, Frankie Banali, Gus G. , Virgil Donati, Kee Marcello, Jimi Jamison, Rusty Cooley, Marcel Coenen, Danny Seraphine, Chris Amott, Tony Mills, Ernst van Ee, Lale Larson, Joey Allen, Chris Broderick, Jeff Kollman, Torben Enevoldsen, Chris Broderick, Craig Erickson, Phi Yaan-Zek, Carl Canedy, Ron Keel, Exilia, Marco Minnemann, Jimmy 'o Shea, Mike Keneally, Will Schut, Andrew Elt, Peter Bourbon, Fredrik Prantare, Gert Nijboer, Sebastian Salinas, Christopher Lee and Erick Ferin.