Jason Becker talked about some of the songs on Collection in his GP cover story. Here he breaks down the rest of the songs and his interactions with the other musicians, including Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Hunter, Michael Lee Firkins, and Joe Satriani.
I wrote this on a rainy day, otherwise I would have called it “Cry.” I wasn’t necessarily sad, but feeling emotional for the suffering people in the world. My guitar is actually crying. You can hear it. I recorded it at my friend/producer Mike Bemesderfer’s home the first time we met in 1988. Then Dan Alvarez did all of the surrounding music, based loosely on my simple keyboard part. He added grandeur and a movie soundtrack quality. Some people have compared this piece to Jeff Beck, which makes me very happy.
I recently went to see the great Uli Jon Roth in Oakland, and was so honored when he played along with this piece. We are friends, and he arranged this sweet surprise at the last minute. He comes to my house and gives me deep, spiritual music lessons. His guitar makes me weep from the beauty of music.
RIVER OF LONGING (feat. Steve Hunter & Greg Howe)
I wrote the basic structure of this piece in 1990, while I was quickly losing my ability to play guitar. My hands were shaking and I had trouble keeping them from falling off the strings. The subconscious emotions I was feeling from this came out in the cassette tape recording. Dan and Mike B digitally cleaned up the recording. I think this is the first piece of mine where you might be able to hear my Dylan influence. It just feels so good. Some people have compared this piece to Pink Floyd.
It starts with my clean guitar, alone. It then goes into a more elaborate arrangement, featuring a slide guitar solo by Steve Hunter, which sounds a little reminiscent of David Gilmour. Steve is a legend. He has played on lots of classic stuff, including the acoustic guitar in Peter Gabriel’s "Solsbury Hill." I love Peter Gabriel so much. I want to ask his permission to marry his music. That is the only reason I hang out with Steve!
It then climbs into a funk/hip-hop-type groove with rock organ and bass by Matt Bissonette. This section features guitar by Greg Howe. He does some trademark “Greg Howe” beautiful, tasty, funky rippage. He has such a wonderful and unique feel. The piece climaxes with a full choir arrangement. It starts off with a gospel type feel, and ends with a classical vocal arrangement.
This is the piece that Eddie Van Halen was going to play on for the Warner Bros. re-release of Perspective. He was going through a rough time, so he couldn’t do it, but he was such a sweetheart. He is the reason Warner put it out. I remember him coming to my house. He had brought me a guitar, but cried because I couldn’t play it. Later, he was jamming and my mom had to tell him to turn it up! Too funny! He was a little nervous. This was right before I got my trache, so I could hardly breathe or speak. It was a little bitter sweet. Once, I tried to eat, and a bit got on my cheek. He gently wiped it off.
This piece was inspired by the work of Claude Debussy. It starts with a gentle Japanese-style part with three counterpoint lines, one instrument being a sampled flute. When recording the flute part, which was written on the spot in the studio, I flubbed the last note. Marty loved it and said leave it in – it is a common Chinese harmony. I thought he was nuts until we listened back. Then I loved it. The picked harmonics I used on the guitar makes it sound a little like a koto. It then goes into interesting melodies, growing in intensity all the time. Marty plays two guitar solos and the great Deen Castronovo of Journey plays drums.
It was originally a vocal piece, but my words sucked! Everyone teased me, except Deen. He told me he liked that kind of “soft” music. At the time, he was just the baddest metal drummer around, so I thought he was being kind, but later on he kept asking me to introduce him to Steve Perry. Of course, he is now in Journey.
It is a good thing that we didn’t use my lame lyrics because it was about a crazy lady, and my girlfriend wasn’t too happy about that! The piece ends with a classical guitar playing arpeggios under a hauntingly evocative guitar melody.
This piece is very interesting to me. While many guitarists at the time were heavily influenced by common and predictable classical chord progressions (hell, so was I), Marty and I were exploring more unconventional and unpredictable musical ideas. On this piece I messed around with 12 tone row-type stuff and different kinds of harmonies, influenced greatly by Dave Creamer, Frank Zappa, and by constantly listening to classical radio. It starts with a soaring guitar melody over string pads. Throughout the piece you can catch hints of Asian flavors. The drums by Atma Anur really groove. While I was recording the main melody, Atma came in from next door where he was rehearsing with Greg Howe and Billy Sheehan on Greg’s first album. I was playing the melody very staggered and weird. He got sad because I was kind of stepping on his groove. I tried playing it his way, and it was way better. On this Perpetual Burn CD, I played bass and keyboards. I was 18 and just loving the infinite possibilities of music. My technique allowed me to do most anything I could think of.
No guitar on this one, just all voices. The first half features eight members of the San Francisco Girl’s Chorus, all teenagers at the time. Their part is a choral-type piece. I wrote it on guitar when I could still play. It has a very classical feel but, again, with some Asian flavors. This was another instance of me exploring more possibilities of music.
The second half features two former members of Bobby McFerrin’s “Voicestra,” Melanie Rath and Joey Blake. Melanie sings the haunting melody while Joey sings the low arpeggios. I was dicking with chromatic stuff in the melody, while trying not to make it sound chromatic. What they did really makes me happy: they captured the feeling of soft desperation that I wanted. This part of the piece just flowed out of me one afternoon. It was written as you hear it – no changes. It is sometimes hard for me to talk about my music because when I write music, I don’t think in words. My mind and heart think in the language of music.
I wrote the music and then David Lee Roth wrote the lyrics. I had just been diagnosed with ALS in late 1989. Generally, my energy and creativity were a little down, but I wouldn’t admit it to myself at the time. I got inspired to write this fast boogie because I was thinking that there wasn’t enough good guitar material for the CD yet. I had only written one other piece for the album, “Drop in the Bucket.” I was following Dave’s two former brilliant guitarists, so even with ALS I had to have something amazing and jaw-dropping. Dave was very happy to get this piece. He called me a genius when I played it for him. It was sweet. I didn’t feel like a genius. Eddie and Steve had written awesome, fast, swingy boogies before I did.
Dave was wonderful to me. He knew I was having health problems, and tried to help all he could. He offered his doctor dad’s services. He was very positive and hopeful when talking to me about it. We spent alone time together talking about lots of things: music, health, the world, and Van Halen.
In Vancouver, he had a crush on a “nice girl.” He asked my advice on how to get nice girls. Pretty funny.
When we got back from recording “A Little Ain’t Enough,” we were trying out some new musicians for the tour. When I stood up playing, my legs would shake uncontrollably. I was struggling playing the tunes, too. After the day of auditions, we both decided that I couldn’t tour. The next day there was a big party in a fancy restaurant. He was depressed. I tried to cheer him up by talking about football. I wasn’t as sad as he was. He is a wild, crazy character, but also a feeling person.
This is a favorite among guitar fans. It is a dramatic piece. There is a unique blend of intense emotion, soaring melody and blazing speed. I liked writing a simple, passionate melody, and then sticking fast, extended arpeggios, following the chords over that. I often did that. I also did it in “Temple of the Absurd” and “Images.” I feel like I was just starting to create my own musical sound, and my guitar was like the lead vocalist. I hope that my guitar playing makes people not miss a lead singer. It was influenced by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, and of course, Marty. I had a big crush on Sarah Brightman.
I remember driving to Prairie Sun Studios with Marty. He was going to turn me on to Trevor Rabin’s albums with Yes. The first song came on and we both looked at each other because it sounded exactly like the beginning of “Altitudes.” The first two chords, B minor, D major, and the keyboard sound was dead on “Altitudes.” It was their tune “Rhythm of Love.” Theirs came first. It was pretty funny how I accidentally duplicated the beginning of that tune. I love Trevor Rabin, by the way.
END OF THE BEGINNING (feat. Michael Lee Firkins)
This is a 12-minute guitar concerto with a full orchestra and electric guitar as the solo instrument. This piece was written differently from most other pieces. It just came into my mind fully composed while I was in the state between awake and asleep. I feel like it was a gift. By the time the orchestra was down on tape I couldn’t play the guitar part, so I got Michael Lee Firkins to play it. He made me not sad that I couldn’t do it myself. The physical Collection CD is enhanced, so if you stick it in a computer there are more songs, including five tracks of me playing this tune on guitar while I was composing it.
When Mike Varney first played me Firkins’ demo, I was floored and wanted to meet him. We got along great and I knew I would work with him in the future.
I was having trouble speaking and holding my head up when it was time to record his part, so Mike B brought a portable digital studio to my house. We used 100 watt Marshalls. My neighbors probably weren’t too stoked. Firk had to be patient because I had a weak voice. It took a couple days to finish.
I wanted to end the piece with a music box playing the main theme. There were no samples of music boxes, so Dan had to tear one apart and create his own sample by recording one note at a time. I don’t know how that poor guy plucked such tiny, little things.
In addition to a few real musicians, Dan and I created the orchestra from instrument samples on keyboard. Mike B set me up with a computer, keyboard and music software so I could continue composing with my one weak hand. It allowed me to slow the music down while recording, so I could keep up with it despite my growing paralysis. This piece, as well as others from my CD Perspective, has been performed live by orchestras and as ballet. A video for this piece is on my DVD.
RIVER OF LONGING (Reprise) (feat. Steve Vai & Marty Friedman)
This version is special to me because Steve and Marty influenced me, especially when I was starting to get really good. To have them both want to play on my music is such an honor. What they did is very beautiful. They put their love and souls in it. When I got Steve’s solo, it was perfect. He understood what I was going for. It made my mom cry. Marty’s solo took a couple listens. Once I wrapped my noodle around it, his solo inspired me and Dan to add the ending snare and string parts. Marty still inspires me to this day. When I get stuck while composing, I sit back and ask myself, “what would Marty do?”
Matt Bissonette adds a great bass solo too, with a little jazz flavor. Dan, as he often does, adds incredible producing and keyboards. His Rhodes intro just kills me. It adds a soul flavor.
Dan wrote the bridge. Since this was influenced by Dylan, I felt no need for a bridge. Bridges are for chumps! But, since there were two of these tunes, I let Dan talk me into a bridge. I am really happy with it and it gave room for Matt to take a solo.
MEET ME IN THE MORNING
This piece was recorded in January 1991 for a compilation album on the Guitar for the Practicing Musician label. My buddy John Stix talked me into doing this, because he knew I loved Dylan. I didn’t want to, because my playing was noticeably weaker. My left hand would stiffen if I tried to play too fast, and my right hand would shake. I couldn’t really do finger vibrato, so I had to use the tremolo bar. Even so, I am happy with it. Many times in music, if you are given limitations, it expands the creativity. A perfect example of this is a 12-bar blues progression. It is incredibly simple and seemingly limited, but there are infinite ways to play it. For this song, all of my control and speed were taken away, and that made me think and feel different and fresh. I was also considering doing Dylan’s ‘Ballad of a Thin Man."
David Lee Roth’s keyboard player, Brett Tuggle, sings some extremely soulful blues vocals. When we were recording in Vancouver, we would all sometimes go to clubs at night. Brett and the guys had me learn the Beatles tune “Oh Darling.” He told me to play it just like the record. Don’t get all fancy! When we played it at the club, I used a guy’s guitar that had hella high action with heavy strings. I was having trouble playing my own guitars, and was concentrating on not falling over: I couldn’t have gotten fancy if I wanted to! When I heard Brett’s wonderful voice, I knew I was going to make him sing with me. Dave’s whole band was such wonderful people and fantastic musicians. I love those wacky cats!
I had to come up with a new style due to my weak hands, but I was still inspired by some of my favorite blues players, such as Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Roy Buchanan, Albert King, and Michael Lee Firkins. I like to think of this tune as my own “Red House.”
When I was 17 I had the chicken pox for almost two weeks. I wrote this piece during that alone time. It is very much influenced by Mozart. Most people hear more Bach in it, but I am here to tell you it was Mozart, baby! I would watch Amadeus over and over. It is my second favorite movie after Jaws. It is all clean guitar, from one track to five layers of tracks, with the exception of the keyboard intro. All kinds of counterpoint hooey! My father played and had taught me how to play in the classical guitar style. He had taken lessons from a student of Andres Segovia. I dedicated it to my parents because I knew they would dig it. Over the years I have gotten the most feedback from this song. Everyone from hard core metal fans to parents/grandparents to little kids loves this piece. It has been a uniter for some families which makes me very proud.
Marty helped me produce this album while he was working on Dragon’s Kiss. We would stay up recording until way late. Then we got up early, ate breakfast down the road, and started jamming without amps. We were so focused on making the best music we could. Mike Varney left us alone to do whatever we wanted.
I remember recording a click track for six minutes in the studio. It felt weird, but no one gave me grief. They trusted me.
One time Marty was giving Steve Fontano a break from recording me. The nice, clean guitar put us both to sleep in the middle of a take. We were so tired, but kept working in our sleep!
ELECTRIC PRAYER FOR PEACE (feat. Joe Satriani)
This piece is over 11 minutes long. It twists and turns, blending styles of East Indian, modern classical, world, funk, metal, and Bulgarian music. It even has an R&B/soul breakdown. It is such an interesting and beautiful melody to me. When I write a melody, I try to make it memorable, but with an unexpected flavor. With this one, I wanted to see if I could write a beautiful, flowing melody that took you places, with one single note playing under the whole thing; low E. I have chord changes, but they all have the E note in them. I think I accomplished my mission. Seetha, the Indian woman singer, did a wonderful job. She came in the morning with some ideas about how traditional classical Indian music is supposed to sound. I said sounds great but let’s get my ideas done first, then we can try yours. After many hours of Dan and me coaching and recording her, she came out and said “never mind my ideas. You guys are geniuses.” It was very cute and funny.
The words are in Sanskrit, translating to May all beings in all the world be happy and peaceful. May no one go hungry. May no one live in fear. May no one live with pain. To me, compassion is the most important thing in the world.
I wrote the main melody right before I got my tracheotomy in 1997. I couldn’t use my hands, so I had a device rigged up to a computer that was like a mouse. I could still barely move my head to point to a note on a piano on the computer screen, then I would open my mouth to click
a switch under my chin. Mike B created the software for me. It was quite time consuming and energy draining, but I had to get this piece recorded.
I wrote the bulk of this piece recently. Using the communication system that my father invented (way faster than any computer), I told whomever was with me what note to play where. Then with the music software called Logic, I could edit every note and instrument sound in every way. I can edit length, volume, velocity, attack, and every aspect of every note. I massage every track to sound emotional and human. I arrange everything to a complete song, and then Dan finds better sounds and comes up with great ideas himself. Then it is time to add real musicians.
This piece starts with the sound AUM, sung in Tibetan throat-singing style. Over the top of this, Joe Satriani plays a great Indian-style electric guitar solo in his own unique way. I am very grateful to him for doing it, because we had never met before, at the time, and he was happy to do it. The tabla is played by Salar Nader, a student of the great Zakir Hussein. It has a definite East Indian sound, but it can throw you for a loop because different instruments are tossed in, such as classical harp, sarangi, funk drums, bass and clavinet, metal guitar, and later – in huge counterpoint parts – cellos, French horns, and many other orchestral instruments. There’s a breakdown with Bulgarian-style harmonies sung by Seetha. Firkins and Dave Lopez (Flipsyde) add some sweet guitar. Firkins also plays Indian-style dobro, which is interesting because dobro is more of a bluegrass and blues instrument. It ends this piece with a soft little section so the listener can catch his/her breath.
MANDY’S THROBBING LITTLE HEART
This is a short piece. I did it on my four track recorder but it sounds like a lot more tracks. I took my time to make it sound really good. I did it during the time I was recording tons of music at home because I was losing my ability to play. It has a gentle yet aggressive intensity. I often like to mix those feelings. I programmed the beat; it is slow but it grooves. Mandy is my ex-girlfriend from a few years back, and now one of my main caregivers.