Every aspiring guitarist or songwriter will eventually have to provide an answer to the extemporaneous questioning concerning influences. A cultivated musician will (more often than not) supply you with a profusion of names that traverse style and stumble upon one another, but I believe that a musician's primary influence is ineradicable from his/her approach and sound. In my case the culprit is none other than Jason Becker. How did you miss it?
Marty Friedman's speed-metal venture, entitled 'Cacophony', was my initial introduction to Jason's ability as a guitar player. Marty is an incredible guitar player but when I heard the newcomers opening solo in the song 'Concerto' my musical life changed forever. Never before had I been exposed to such high caliber playing; a sound that combined musical proficiency and a preposterous degree of dexterity. The duo performed on a level that rivaled Paul Gilbert and Bruce Bouillet of Racer X but won my favor with their classical suggestiveness. 'Concerto', 'Speed Metal Symphony' and 'Images' were my top three songs, and all of them contain some of the wild sweep-picking I was beginning to be infatuated with.
Jason's solo records are probably the best place to examine his musical breadth. 'Perpetual Burn' was aggressive and passionate; 'Perspective' no less so, but saw his depth soar to new heights. During the recording of 'Perspective' Jason was already dealing with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (commonly named after Lou Gehrig); his physical capabilities had been diminished but his soul and compositional brilliance are apparent in every cut. 'End of the Beginning', which features Michael Lee Firkins on guitar, was my immediate favorite with its mixture of classical form and uplifting guitar melodies. We can only imagine what Jason would have sounded like playing through 'Serrana' and 'Life and Death' in their entirety. I remember the first time I saw him playing the arpeggios from the former, it was unreal; it was exultation I wasn't to experience until I saw Shawn Lane play for the first time. That experience led me to the resulting tablature you see below.
At that stage in development, as a musician and as a guitar player, I wasn't entirely familiar with sweep picking. After spending a few months learning his songs and eventually the Serrana arpeggios, I became completely obsessed with the technique. When I got my hands on a copy of Guitar Pro I began keying in arpeggio exercises that I had written down by longhand. I was never (and still not) very adept at time signatures and musical notation, so I just found ways of stringing my exercises together in a mock perpetuum mobile method. At one point I had named the file "Must Add One Arpeggio Exercise Every Day Until I die". A little excessive, perhaps. 372 bars, 17 pages and many months later I decided to stop. But I assure you that the inspiration I took from Jason has never left me dry for ideas. I continue to write in that dramatic and impetuous manner to this day, and oftentimes I will blog about it.
Thank you Jason Becker, for your gentle demeanor, your sense of humor, your unsurpassed guitar playing and for your contributions to our art. You have my own personal reservation (Marty Friedman's as well) alongside the masters of the classical realm and will always be at the zenith of my guitar heroes. Now let's sweep away!