Paralyzed guitarist with ALS plays on

November 27, 2008 8:12:48 PM PST
It's been 12 years since ABC7 first introduced you to Jason Becker, a former rock star who has continued a brilliant music career against all odds. Doctors were ready to give up on him many years ago, but he's still going strong. ABC7's Dan Ashley recently visited with Jason at his home in Richmond.

The life of a rock star consists of a personal assistant fussing with your hair, a photographer snapping your photo, and a newsman coming for an interview. But Jason Becker is no ordinary rock star. He can no longer speak or move his body, but he remains a brilliant composer with a legion of fans and a new CD.

Jason's musical odyssey began when he was just five and got his first guitar. By the time he was 13, he could play note for note with Eric Clapton recordings. By 17, he had a record deal of his own.

By the late 1980's, Jason was one of the most critically acclaimed rock guitarists in the world. Home video shows his trademark - playing guitar with one hand, yo-yoing with the other.

In 1990, Jason was lead guitarist and helped write David Lee Roth's gold record "A Little Ain't Enough."

That same year, when Jason was just 19, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease. It's a neuromuscular condition that slowly took away Jason's ability to control his body.

When Jason could no longer play guitar, he began composing on a keyboard. When he could no longer move his hands, he used a computer. He had a special visor with a sensor on top that moved the cursor on the screen. When Jason opened his mouth, his chin clicked the mouse. But as Jason's health got worse, he lost the ability to speak and even to move his head.

"I was totally afraid to not be able to communicate with him. There are so many things he needs, if nothing else to alleviate pain he might have," said Gary Becker, Jason's father.

By the time ABC7 saw Jason again, three years later, his father had devised a communication system using an alphabet board and simple eye movements so Jason could spell out his thoughts with his eyes. His family and friends learned to interpret.

ABC7's Dan Ashley: "Do you hear new music in your head still?"

Interpreter: "So much it drives me nuts."

Jason hired musicians to play his music, and after five years of painstaking work, he released a highly acclaimed CD called "Perspective." Jason took a break from composing for a while, but now, nine years later, he has a new CD. ABC7 stopped by Jason's house to talk to him. His friend interpreted.

Dan Ashley: "What does it mean to you to still be able to create music?"

Interpreter: "It is huge ... being able to remain creative is part of what keeps me alive."

Jason worked on the new music for the last three years with his friend and producer Dan Alvarez.

Again, they composed at a computer, but this time Jason had to relay his ideas through his father or another interpreter. Big name guitarists including Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and many others played for the actual recording. Jason even worked in some sound from his ventilator.

Interpreter: "When I took years off from making music, I didn't think I missed it, but working with Dan and other musicians has been like a drug, only a good one."

"He's become a deeper person. I think he's matured as a creative force," said Dan Alvarez, a music producer.

Jason is 39 years old now. His health has stabilized, and while he doesn't get any better, at least he's not getting any worse.

Dan Ashley: "That's really encouraging news, isn't it?"

Interpreter: "Big time."

Jason just finished designing a signature guitar that will be on the market soon and he's working on an autobiography.

Of course, for all these projects during the last 20 years, he relies on his caretakers, friends and family who never give up.

"It's hard work for him. It's hard work for everybody, but we are riding on his energy. If he didn't want to, we couldn't do it," said Gary.

This report was written and produced by Jennifer Olney.

Guitarist Jason Becker's collection: click here


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