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I've been playing guitar for a very long time now, and during that time I've been through everything from punk, rock and shred to country, funk and jazz. In each of these styles there are names that come up again and again and they're all names I've spent a lot of time studying, but throughout college there was one name that dominated my complete being, one name that displayed nothing short of technical mastery and effortless beauty. A name that was ahead of the game by a decade when he was 16 and one that continues to push guitarists to be the best they can. That name is Jason Becker.

Jason is the truest example of that old saying "The star that burns brightest burns fastest", At the tender age of 16 Jason teamed up with Marty Friedman forming the band "Cacophony" they released the shred-fest "Speed Metal Symphony" in 1987, then "Go Off!" in 1988. These two albums are the pinnacle of virtusoso neoclassical shred and are essential for any guitar fans collection. In 1988 Jason also released his masterpiece "Perpetual Burn" which many consider to be the greatest guitar instrumental album of all time. It's full of heart, passion and flair and should be in your CD player as you read this.

It wasn't long before someone huge jumped on Jason's talent and in 1990 he got the call from David Lee Roth to follow guys like Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai into one of the most watched singers on the rock scene. It was around this period that Jason began experiencing problems with his hands, but he pushed through it and released "A Little Ain't Enough" which has some great examples of his playing in an all out rock context. When Jason eventually did make it to a doctor, he was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) - Commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. This dreadful condition has robbed Jason of his ability to talk, play guitar or even move. Although doctors gave Jason just 3 - 5 years, two decades later and he's still providing inspiration to us all.

In November 2011, 11 of the worlds greatest players (and a few incredible guests) gathered in Holland to put on a benefit concert for Jason, the Not Dead Yet! show. I flew out for the show, to meet up with friends old and new and to support the cause, what follows is the longest article I have ever written. It's dedicated to Jason, a true hero who has inspired me for a long time, I only prey that one day we can find a cure.

This show couldn't possibly be more star studded, from Andy James and Daniele Gottardo to Mattias Eklundh and Guthrie Govan. Here I'll run you through the show from player to player with some incredible pictures (courtesy of Robyn Kennedy). Where I think it's really relevant I'll give you some licks to keep you going and coming back for more. Of course, we would love it if you discover someone new - so let us know in the comments box below.

So first of all I should mention the location - as many of you know, I live in London and this show was held in Holland, so it did involve some travel, but if you shop around there's no reason something like this cant be attended. It cost Robyn and me £150 each for our ticket to the show, our flights and 2 nights in a hotel in Amsterdam. In the grand scheme of things, it's not all that much. The venue is a short train ride away from Amsterdam Central station (in Haarlem) and has room for about 1000 people.

Due to the monumentally huge bill, each guitarist has between 3 and 4 songs - which seems very short, but the show did last just over 6 hours. I guess it's worth mentioning that Atma Anur (Who played with Jason) played drums on EVERY song, for 6 solid hours - what a trooper! The other nice surprise is that the show is being filmed by 4 cameras, and Jason Becker himself is watching live via webcam. It was great to be able to see him on screen by the side of the stage. 

After the show I caught up with Kris Claerhout, the man behind the show. I was really keen to get his thoughts on the event, and how Jason has kept him going over the years.

Hey Kris, can you tell us how Jason has had an impact on you over the years?

Well, I remember when I was in my early 20's, I was a huge Shrapnel fan, I got the albums from Steeler  and Yngwie, was into the NWOBHM and suddenly discovered the incredible players like Friedman and Becker (through the Cacophony release). I still remember I was looking forward to get the solo albums of Jason Becker and Marty Friedman on the first day they were released. Me and my friends (who were like daily in a local heavy metal bar) were putting on these albums about daily. In my opinion they set the level for guys like Howe, Kotzen and other guys that were releasing their solo albums next. I also was following other guitar players like Vai, who moved from Alcatraz to David Lee Roth and when Vai was replaced by Jason, I thought he really was going to get the recognition he deserved, because in my opinion he is a master genieus on guitar and above that also a great composer. No guitar player will ever be able to write and play what he did when he was 17, he was so far a head of everyone else.

Then Jason was diagnosed with ALS and I really thought he was going to die... to be honest, I lost sight his status for a few years (I was often travelling for work, on the road as a tour manager with bands), then I rediscovered Jason, I really admired how he got grip again on life, survived the disease and found a way to express himself again through new music (written by him, played by friends) through his own system way of communication. He is an example for a lot of people, if he can find the power to survive this disease, then all the little problems in our life are just peanuts. He is still also an example for musicians who are struck by a disease, who lose an arm, a finger etc... He shows them music is in your head and can get out alternative ways... I guess he is inspiring people like me and others just by being that huge piece of powerful energy.

Why do you think Jason's music touches people so deeply?

Because it is written from within, every little note he wrote is part of his beautiful personality, and his pieces are technical masterpieces that, especially the last compositions, are very diverse and reach different groups of people. He passed the metal long time ago.

What made you decide to put on such an epic event?

Well, when I was in San Francisco - I really wanted to go to contribute in my own way - I asked Jason and the family why there was no such initiative in Europe, because I was sure many people wanted to contribute but could not afford the flight. I asked Jason if I could setup such an event. Jason said he would love to see that happen, and even hoped that the contributing artists in Europe would play some of his tunes. In San Francisco, nobody tried and he would love to hear his music played live too.

Who else played active roles/ who else should we be thanking?

First of all Jason himself. He gave me his trust to organize this epic event. I spent many hours on this for the last few months and he gave me a lot of energy. Second my wife Dian Marini, for months I was living behind my computer, communicating by email, skype etc with so many different people, getting the logistics in place, getting the artists linked, discussing setlists, tunes, arranging line-ups, rehearsal schedules and so much more. She fed and watered me all the time and was always willing to help where she could. I have to mention Laurie Monk of course, he kept on spreading the news about this epic event online and kept listening to me when I wanted to express some frustrations about some artists who were not understanding the whole idea (well some big ones wanted some big fee to play and I just put those guys aside in an ignore list). Third, Ron Coolen (he ran the NYC marathon for Jason some years ago), a new friend. He helped out a lot by sharing his contacts, helping to get the backlines together, and he also did a lot of work with the overall logistics. Not to mention the sheer amount of miles he drove!

Are there any plans for the future?

Well, I need to go through some lessons learned first. This is the first time I organized a festival myself. I had to set up a real foundation for this one event (Primal Events) and plan to keep that one alive for a couple of reasons. New talented musicians (guitar players) don't have a lot of possibilities to play live and I would like to help them out by setting up some events where they can play their music live. I will focus on guitar players and on singer songwriters. We may even be able to setup some small tours with a couple of guitar players (live shows preferred above clinics). I'm also looking into the possibilities of setting up some of these festivals in South America (Brazil) and Asia (Indonesia, Japan) the coming years. I just think there are many fans over there too, and some remarkable local talent. Some guys who played last Sunday, told me they would love to play on one of these events too. So I am reaching out to some local promoters there for the logistics (the one man show I did was way too much) and I will focus on the artists line-up and concept.

Is there anything else you can share with us?

We did record the show (24 tracks) and are mixing the audio, we recorded also the show with 4 HD cams. Once we got the funding together (interested companies can contact me), we will find a way to release it. Of course, all proceeds will go to Jason Becker. I guess I should also mention, the festival was not sold out... I am wondering why people don't get on their feet to attend such an epic event. Guitar fans should unite to make sure this instrumental music gets the attention it deserves, also guitar players should tell their fans that there are some colleagues around with stuff you need to buy. We have to keep this scene alive!

Thanks for your time Kris, any closing comments?

The spirit among the musicians who played the show was just great, all were friends, all were having fun, all sharing a heart with Jason... I'd like to thank all of them for their contribution and great spirit.

First up tonight we have Timo Somers, a local lad who's done well to bring himself to such a great audience, and it's well deserved. It's nice that this show was put out as an opportunity locals along with stars from around the world, it gives us the chance to see the heroes of the future. Timo's set was great, he has some serious licks, great stage presence and most importantly, aggressive bends and vibrato. This may seem like a silly thing to comment on, but it gets so tough seeing the latest internet shredder who's licks melt your face but who finishes a lick with a bend that has you reaching for the stop button. Timo doesnt suffer this issue and he puts on a great show. The sound isn't great, but how much can you really expect when the soundman has 11 separate sets to deal with?

I caught up with Timo after the show to talk quickly about Jason and to see what else hes up to at the moment so you can check him out.

Hey Timo, It's great to see you supporting Jason and helping to raise awareness. Could you tell us what impact Jason has had on you as a player?

Actually, I am influenced a lot by players that were influenced by Jason Becker. I've known Jason's music for quite some time, but it was only for the last 2 years or something I really listened carefully to it. The man was WAY ahead of his time, both technically and compositionally. It was (and still is) amazing what he did at that young age. 

The real impact it had on me was for me to find inspiration to become better every time. Every time I listen to a Jason Becker tune I feel the urge to sit down with my guitar again and just play till my hands fall off.

I know exactly what you mean. What are you up to at the moment? Is there something our readers can go and check out?

I have just played on the upcoming 3th Delain Album. The album was recorded in Sweden by famous Rammstein producer Jacob Hellner. In the meantime I also played 2 songs on the upcoming Vengeance Album called Crystal Eye with Chris Slade (AC/DC) on drums, Chris Glenn (Michael Schenker) on Bass and Keri Kelli (Alice Cooper) on guitars. Both albums will be out early next year. Also, I am recording leads for a cool Dutch project called Zylver; really cool progpop kinda music with Dutch singing. I also wrote some instrumental songs for that, so I am all over the album.

Last but not least I am going to record an instrumental Solo album together with Barend Courbois and hopefully a very special guest. This album will feature about 7 of my best songs and 7 of Barend's best songs and will be a sick mix of Funk, Rock, Progressive modern stuff, fusion, and a lot more. In the meantime people can check out some of my stuff at facebook (www.facebook.com/timosomersmusic) and youtube (www.youtube.com/timosomers)

Timo is definitely worth keeping an eye on. We've talked about a feature in future, so i'm sure it won't be long before we bring Timo back for some major coverage and some things for you to learn.

Next up we have Marcel Coenen, another native to the Netherlands - and judging by the crowds reaction, a very popular one. He is backed by Joop Wolters, though to be completely honest - Joop serves little purpose and Marcel is almost twice as loud as Joop. This doesn't hurt Marcel's tunes, but when it's time to play Joop's material he's a little hard to hear.

Marcel treats us to 3 songs of his own before really getting to the highlight of his set where he plays one of Jason's tunes, "Altitudes". This really is incredible, seeing such an iconic song played with such incredible attention to detail. It's all here and the keyboards really help to add that final touch. This was definitely a great start to the show, and one we thought would be tough to top.

Aside from the obvious volume issues, Joop is fantastic. He's definitely someone we'll be looking to bring you a big feature on in future. I caught up with Joop before the show and it's very rare to meet someone who's SO down to earth and friendly. After just a few moments together you cant help but wish all the luck in the world on him. He has some great licks that i'm hoping to give you the lowdown on in future. Check him out at on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/user/joopwolters123) and his own website (http://www.joopwolters.com/)

One of the main reasons I'm here today is to catch up with my good friend Andy James. Who takes to the stage backed by Joop Wolters. For those of you who haven't been following Andy recently, he's currently riding high on the release of his third album "Andy James". We don't really do album reviews here at Live4Guitar so we haven't covered it; but needless to say - it is incredible. Never before have I heard such a perfect combination of technique and melody with the typical flawless execution we've come to expect from Andy. Andy rips through "Burn It Down", "What Lies Beneath" and "War March" with that same precision heard on the album.

Unfortunately, Burn It Down is ruined by the monumental feedback emanating from the other side of the stage. Joop was certainly not impressed, screaming at the soundman and launching a Bruce Lee approved kick at the microphone sending it to an early grave. On the bright side, I believe Andy is using Marcel's amp, so he really cuts through the band, which is just what we want. None of these issues seem to phase Andy and he delivers one of the clear highlights of the show.

Andy was kind enough to rip on me when he took the mic - which was certainly good fun, he knows such tom foolery can only be pulled off when I don't also have a mic. So Andy - when you read this - lay off the standup and get on with the wok 'n' woll.

I thought it might be worth me putting in a cool Andy James style lick for you to look at here. This particular one showcases Andy's approach to playing arpeggios. Just like Paul Gilbert, Andy doesnt sweep much as he's convinced he's not very good at it. The result is approaching arpeggios with string skipping, this enables you to move your arpeggios around and sequence them instead of the typical up down up down sweep sound. So here Andy plays a two string fragment that moves up an octave into what many consider to be the Paul Gilbert pattern; from here Andy slides up to a small 3 string sweep before descending back down. This sounds so fresh because the arpeggio has more range than your standard sweep, plus it keeps you guessing.

The last guy to talk about today is Stephan Forte, guitarist with Adagio (http://www.adagio-online.com/index.php). He takes to the stage backed by Marcel again. As you might expect, we can hear virtually none of Stephan's playing, but it all looked great. He's certainly put a lot of time on his look, and the overall moves, and this pays off. He's also sporting a very attractive signature guitar (made by Lag), things are certainly happening for him and it's well deserved by the look of things. He does bring the wonderful Mattias Eklundh on for a guest solo, and this is certainly one that sends the audience into a bit of a frenzy. There have been talks already with Stephan about a feature, so I don't want to give too much away, but he's definitely worth a look. 

The problem with a gig as long as this one is, eventually the shred can just seem to wash over you and I appreciate that I may seem unenthusiastic about certain elements. Let me assure you though, every one of these guys would blow you away if you went to see them in a local venue, so as Kris said earlier, check them out and tell all of your friends.

In the concluding part to this article we get serious with Daniele, Kiko, Mattias, Michael Lee Firkins, and Guthrie. I'm a huge fan of each of these guys, so expect a few more tabs for you to look at and I'll let you know my thoughts on the best set of the show - the winner may just surprise you.

I must remind you what this is all in aid of, please do check out Jason's website and if you can make a donation, however small, please do, and let us know! 

http://jasonbeckerguitar.com/donation_information.html

If there's anything else I can help you with, then sound off in the comments below!