Jason Becker, a former guitarist for David Lee Roth who has lived with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) for 25 years, is thrilled to see what the ice-bucket challenge is doing in the fight against the disease.
“I love it. It is amazing,” Becker tells Billboard via phone from his home in Richmond, Calif. “At first I didn’t get it, but man, the awareness and money it has raised is incredible. I hope something great comes out of it for ALS patients.”
ALS has robbed Becker of his ability to speak or move. He communicates with a system designed by his father, Gary, where Becker uses his eyes to “spell out” what he wants to say by looking at letters on a letter board, and a caregiver says the words for him.
“I just can’t thank everyone enough for their support, especially during this ice bucket thing,” adds Becker. “Man, the love I feel is huge, and John Mayer, I love that guy.
Becker is referring to Mayer accepting his nomination to do the challenge (check out the video below). Becker had also nominated friends Roth and Eddie Van Halen after doing the challenge himself by having his caregivers sit a bag of ice on his head and another on his groin. (“It was annoying and made me not able to concentrate,” he says of the experience.)
According to Becker, Roth has donated to the ALS cause. Regarding Van Halen, he hasn’t heard from him, but “it doesn’t matter. Eddie has done so much for me. It is incredible how much he has helped me and my whole family.” Becker says Van Halen “saved” him and his family when they were having a major financial crisis, and he also got Warner Bros. to release Becker’s 2001 album Perspective. “So,” says Becker, “[Eddie] doesn’t have to get wet.”
When Becker, 45, was first diagnosed with ALS, doctors gave him only a few more years to live. Even more devastating: The guitarist had talent comparable to greats like Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen, and had just replaced Steve Vai in Roth’s solo band. But Becker defied medical odds by surviving decades longer than first predicted. He now composes music with the assistance of a computer program and collaborators. For example, three new tracks he wrote post-diagnosis are included on his 2008 album Collection. Former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman, a friend of Becker’s since the ’80s when they were bandmates in the act Cacophony, guested on Collection. Becker has returned the favor by contributing to the song “Horrors” on Friedman’s latest solo album, Inferno. They wrote the song by swapping ideas via email.
“The way we did it was not too differently from the way we worked when we first met. He had ideas and had them recorded and sent them to me,” says Friedman of the collaboration. “I’m so pleased with how it came out, and Jason loved it. The response has been so great so far.”
Japanese TV station Wowow is now filming a documentary about Becker’s work on his next album. Becker says, “I have a few new songs. It is kind of like modern classical with a little Pink Floyd, and I have a cover of ‘Blowin in the Wind’ and a couple of new versions of my song ‘River of Longing’ with guest players like Trevor Rabin of Yes and [Joe] Satriani and more to be announced. [It will also have] a couple of my old guitar-playing songs.”
Fund-raisers have been held for Becker through the years, and the latest — Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet: 3 Music Festival — is set for Aug. 30 at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall to support the Jason Becker Special Needs Trust. The lineup includes longtime friends of his like Michael Lee Firkins, Steve Hunter and Winery Dogs member Richie Kotzen. The latter guitarist, like the other participants, makes helping Becker a priority: This will be the fourth time Kotzen has played a benefit for him.
“I’m leaving two days [after the event] to start a European tour, and I was actually worried that I wasn’t going to be able to participate,” says Kotzen. “But I made sure that I was able to move things around so I could be a part of it. It’s something important for me that I want to do.”
For more information on Jason Becker’s struggle with ALS, go to jasonbeckerguitar.com.