Richie Kotzen, Michael Lee Firkins with Steve Hunter,
Spiral Arms, Ben Woods
August 30, 2014
Great American Music Hall
Who says there are no guarantees in life? I happen to disagree. For example, I can guarantee that of the countless concerts I go to every year, the one I look forward to the most is the annual Jason Becker–Not Dead Yet Benefit. This show is a guaranteed ”barn burner” to honor and raise funds for a man so exceptional that in past years performers like Joe Satriani (solo, G4), Steve Lukather (Toto), Marty Friedman (Megadeth), Uriah Duffy (Whitesnake), Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Kansas, Deep Purple), Uli Jon Roth (Electric Sun, Scorpions), Scott Ian (Anthrax), and Gus G (Firewind and Ozzy Osbourne’s band) have taken breaks from their busy schedules to honor Jason and to play at this event.
Let’s step back three decades. At the tender age of 17, Jason and fellow shredder Marty Friedman grabbed the music world by the cajones when their band Cacophony released Speed Metal Symphony in 1987. They went on to release Go Off! in 1988, while Jason released his solo album Perpetual Burn that same year. Mere words can only begin to describe it, so see for yourself in this video of Cacophony live in 1988 at the Rheem Theatre–and remember, this was filmed in 1988, when Jason was only 18!
The sheer power and orchestrated licks of Jason’s playing gained the attention of David Lee Roth (Van Halen), who was about to do a solo album. He hired Jason as his point man, replacing Steve Vai (Whitesnake, G4, solo) on guitar. Tragically, in the middle of recording A Little Ain’t Enough, Jason was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”). He was able to complete the album, and he won the “Best New Guitarist” award from Guitar Player Magazine. But alas, when it came time for the tour, ALS had already taken a firm hold on the young man, affecting nerve cells in his brain and spinal cord, and rendering Jason unable to tour in support of the album.
But the saying “You can’t keep a good man down” could have been inspired by Jason Becker. In 1996 came the release of Perspective, which Jason wrote partially on keyboard until his physical abilities diminished. He was able to complete this album with a computer program that allowed him to use his chin to literally type out the remaining parts of his unfinished composition. Listen to a small part of the work Jason and producer, Mike Bemesderfer were able to create under these nearly impossible conditions…
Two things were different about this year’s event. It was moved from its former home at Slim’s to the larger venue, Great American Music Hall, to accommodate the large number of fans who pack in. Secondly, the event was held in the midst of the major “Ice Bucket Challenge” marketing campaign launched by the ALS Foundation, which raised millions for research to find a cure for this deadly disease. Sparked by Jason’s personal challenge to David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen, and John Mayer to take the plunge, John Mayer stepped up and video taped himself playing one of Jason’s songs, followed by a “self-bucketing.” The video was posted on Facebook and youtube, which inspired a grass roots social media outpouring from Jason’s friends and fans, who doused themselves and challenged others on Jason’s behalf. The challenge still appears to be gaining momentum.
Flamenco man Ben Woods opened Not Dead Yet 3, with his nimble fingers effortlessly flying away alongside tabla player Salar Nader for a very exotic jam. Spiral Arms is an emerging band to be reckoned with. Guitarist Craig Locicero, vocalist Tim Narducci, bassist Chris Lombardo (aka Cornbread), drummer Andy Galeon, and keyboardist Brad Bart played a super tight set of well written songs that evoked a down and dirty Zeppelin. Up next was Michael Lee Firkins, whose roots in outlaw country color his unique style. He is a “chicken-pickin’,” slide slingin’ shredder whose voice is reminiscent of Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Mid-set, Michael stepped to the mic to introduce “…my favorite guitar player, Mr. Steve Hunter.” The two did a super greasy version of Jim Hendrix’s “Voo Doo Child” that would bring a tear to the eye of any bluesman. Michael released a solo album earlier this year titled Yep, on Magna Carta Records. Check it out, it is some sexy, slinky blues!
Topping off the night was Richie Kotzen. In my opinion, the man is the most underappreciated talent in the past three decades of rock, despite his work with heavyweights such as Mr. Big and Poison, as well as having 19 solo albums to his credit. Richie has one of rock’s best voices, with a super fluid, “pick-less” playing style that complements his well-honed writing skills. Richie’s new solo album, The Essential Richie Kotzen, was just released on Sept. 2. Click the link for more details.
The driving force behind this annual event is Jason’s childhood friend, guitarist Dave Lopez of the rap/R&B/rock band, Flipsyde. Since the inception of the Not Dead Yet fundraisers, Dave has worked his tail off, assembling A-list talent to raise funds for his buddy Jason’s ongoing healthcare needs and a trust fund to provide for his future security. Now that is a true friend!
Click to donate to the Jason Becker Special Needs Trust.
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