By the time he was barely 18, Jason Becker was already living out the dream – wowing crowds around the world in the electric guitar duo Cacophony with his six-string brother-in-arms, Marty Friedman.
You don’t see teenage guitarists tearing it up on the world stage every day, but as the above video shows, Jason Becker was by no means an ordinary guitar player.
In the video, a 16-year-old (the video describes him as being 15, which – given he was born in 1969 and it was apparently shot in 1986 – doesn’t entirely add up) Becker blows the doors off of his high school talent show with an astonishing rendition of Yngwie Malmsteen’s Black Star.
Given the humble setting, Becker’s performance – the stadium-ready poses, whammy bar squeals, jaw-loosening tapping sequences – seems almost comically out of place, like Eddie Van Halen showing up and plugging in at your local dive bar.
Clearly, even at that age, the California native was ready for far bigger stages.
Mind you, that wasn’t even the first time Becker had stolen the limelight at Kennedy High School’s annual talent show. A year earlier, at 15, Becker got a well-deserved ovation from his classmates after nailing Gary Moore’s intro solo from End of the World onstage.
Becker has said that it was the influence of Malmsteen who pushed not only his playing, but his stage presence, to the next level.
“When I was a junior in high school, [Rising Force, Malmsteen’s debut album] was my jam,” Becker told Louder in a 2016 interview (opens in new tab). “His guitar playing had so much energy and passion to me. I wanted to learn all of his techniques, but it was more than just his killer playing.
“I really needed to have some of his cockiness in my personality, as well as my music. I became a lot more outgoing and fun as a person. I started talking to and flirting with girls. In a way, Yngwie taught me how to be a rock star.”
After the dissolution of Cacophony in 1989, Becker – in a sign of just how high his star had risen in a few short years – was selected by David Lee Roth to replace Steve Vai as the lead guitarist in his band.
While he was preparing his parts for Roth’s third solo album, A Little Ain’t Enough, Becker began feeling a nagging pain in his left leg. In 1990, barely out of his teens, Becker was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and given less than five years to live (opens in new tab).
Though the disease slowly robbed Becker of the ability to play guitar, walk, talk and breathe on his own, he continues to compose and release music to this day, communicating with his eyes via a system developed by his father. His most recent album was 2018’s Triumphant Hearts, which featured Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Neal Schon, Steve Morse, Paul Gilbert, and Joe Bonamassa.
For more on Becker’s story, and to donate to the Jason Becker Special Needs Trust – which helps Becker’s family deal with his significant medical expenses – visit the guitarist’s website (opens in new tab).