When it comes to heartbreaking stories in the world of guitar, there aren’t many that can match that of Jason Becker and his more-than-25-year-long battle with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis).
At just 16 years of age, Becker became a part of—along with fellow virtuoso Marty Friedman—the Shrapnel Records-produced duo Cacophony, which released Speed Metal Symphony in 1987 and Go Off! in 1988. The pair would split later that year, which would lead to the release of Becker’s first solo album, Perpetual Burn, also through Shrapnel.
By 1990, Becker would become a part of David Lee Roth’s band as lead guitarist, following in the footsteps of Steve Vai. However, shortly after he got the gig, he was diagnosed with ALS and given just three to five years to live.
Becker was able to finish the recording of Roth’s third full-length studio album, A Little Ain’t Enough, but was unable to make the tour due to his rapid physical decline, which would eventually rob the guitarist of his ability to speak or move.
Becker has defied medical odds by surviving decades longer than originally predicted. He communicates with a system designed by his father, Gary, wherein Becker uses his eyes to “spell out” what he wants to say by looking at letters on a board as a caregiver says the words for him. This has led to him composing music with the assistance of a computer program and collaborators, with three new tracks (he wrote post-diagnosis) featuring on his 2008 album, Collection.
Check out the two videos below to see fantastic footage of Becker one year before he’d sign with Shrapnel. The clips appear to have been shot during a high school talent show, with Becker showing his incredible soloing ability in front what seems like a pretty stunned crowd in the first clip, and covering Yngwie Malmsteen’s “Black Star” in the second.
For more on Becker’s incredible story, visit jasonbeckermovie.com.
Jonathan Graham is an ACM UK graduate based in London studying under the likes of Guthrie Govan and Pete Friesen. He is the creator of ForgottenGuitar.com, a classic-guitar media website, and is completing his debut album, Protagonist, due for release in 2016. Updates also can be found at Graham’s YouTube channel.