Saluting the Legacy of Steely Dan In Recognition of the Passing of Co-Founder Walter Becker Who Died Today at Age 67

Posted by Billyjam, September 3, 2017 01:16pm | Post a Comment

According to Walter Beckers official website the 67 year old guitarist/songwriter and Steely Dan co-founding member with Donald Fagen died today. The sudden death of the revered Queens, NY artist comes on the heels of a serious operation he underwent in recent months. That hospital operating theater visit resulted in him having to cancel his participation at the last minute in Steely Dan's “The Classic West” performance at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on July 15th and another one in New York around the same time this summer.

In a more recent Billboard magazine interview with Donald Fagen, the NJ born Steely Dan fellow founding member spoke vaguely on Becker’s medical status. But he was quoted as saying that, "Walter's recovering from a procedure and hopefully he'll be fine very soon.” That was just one month ago (August 2nd) and now this morning (Sept. 3rd) news breaks of Becker’s tragic passing, and still no specific cause of death announced.

In honor of the late great Walter Becker, as well as his surviving musical partner Donald Fagen, this Amoeblog salutes the indelible legacy of Steely Dan via briefly tracing their history and embedding (scroll down) a series of videos from the band’s illustrious back catalog with links to their corresponding albums. Highlighted by such five star albums as Countdown to Ecstasy (1973), Pretzel Logic (1974), Katy Lied (1975), and The Royal Scam (1976) Steely Dan’s music has long enjoyed an appreciation from a wide cross section of music fans: from 70’s classic rock collectors, to jazz & jazz-fused rock fans, and the countless hip-hop lovers (and producers and DJs) who were introduced to “the Dan” via their numerous samples in hip-hip songs over the years. These many examples include “Peg” sampled by De La Soul (with Prince Paul), “Black Cow” sampled by MF Doom, “Kid Charlemagne” sampled by Kanye West, and “Do It Again” sampled by deadmau5. And let's not forget the 1983 Club House produced 12" single, early era mashup / medley that pitch-perfectly blended Steely Dan's "Do It Again" with Michael Jackson's hit of that same year, "Billie Jean" from the album Thriller. Another endorsement of Steely Dan's coolness was the Minutemen's cover of the Katy Lied track "Doctor Wu" on the early 80's SoCal punk trio's album Double Nickles On The Dime.

Steely Dan was formed following Bard College mates Walter Becker and Donald Fagen meeting as students at the NY state private liberal arts college just outside New York City. Their song “My Old School” was about Bard where the two young artists bonded over their shared love of jazz and rock and literature.  In fact even before the official of formation of Steely Dan as a band they had been playing and recording together with their first (pre Dan) release been the soundtrack to the poorly distributed, low-budget 1971 comedy/drama You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It Or You’ll Lose That Beat with Richard Pryor as "Wino."

A year after recording that film score they announced the formation of Steely Dan whose innocent enough sounding name was in fact inspired by the name of the strap on dildo in William S. Burroughs' timeless 1959 novel The Naked Lunch. In 1972 Steely Dan released their stellar debut Can’t Buy a Thrill. With founders Fagen and Becker as the two core members, Steely Dan were technically a duo who handpicked other skilled musicians for studio sessions and touring including such players as Michael McDonald and Royce Jones.  Note that two short years after the group's formation they quit touring altogether (well until years later when they reformed) which not only bummed out their fans but also frustrated their record label execs who depended on their acts touring as an essential element of the profit driven promotion machinery of music marketing and record sales.

Can't Buy A Thrill and consequent albums showcased the band’s unique pioneering approach to rock music at the time. The defining Steely Dan sound was one that effortlessly fused jazz instrumentation and song structuring into a smooth, impeccably well produced sound: one perfected by the close attention to every nuanced sound from each instrument played. Their sound triumphed over all else with the pair deliberately never posing for photos on their album covers. Unlike how so many bands stereotypically were photographed to embellish their image, Steely Dan instead chose paintings and collages for their albums' cover art. And although the band members jokingly ridiculed some of these including hese ultimately proved to be more compelling and memorably striking as album art.

Despite how lofty or pretentious on paper (not reality) the band's sound might appear to be, Steely Dan crafted a surprisingly accessible style. Selling 40 million records they appealed not just to  AOR (album oriented rock) fans but also pop audiences, frequently crossing over into the pop charts with ten Top 40 hit singles including “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” "Peg," “Reelin’ in the Years,” "Hey Nineteen," “Dirty Work,” and their FM movie soundtrack theme song contribution "FM (No Static at All)." Of all the Steely Dan albums, the band’s seven song 1977 full-length Aja was being perhaps their most consistently jazz sounding album. It was also the band's highest charting album.

Following a three year break from any new material, the band finally followed up with the 1980 release of their album Gaucho (also avail on LP/vinyl). However by the following year they announced their official break up. Bummer! But fast forward a dozen years and, to the pleasant surprise of fans, they reunited and began performing and touring together for the first time in two decades and continued to do so up until recently. They also recorded two more Steely Dan albums: Two Against Nature (2000) and Everything Must Go (2003). While not quite as active as a solo recording artist as Donald Fagen, who released five solo albums beginning with 1982’s The Nightfly, Becker did record two solo albums of his own: 1994’s 11 Tracks of Whack and 2008’s Circus Money.  In addition to their nine studio albums and live album and DVD releases, Steely Dan's discography also consists of several compilation sets including Steely Dan: Greatest Hits: 1972 - 1978, Steely Dan's Millennium Collection-20th Century Series, The Definitive Collection, plus the ultimate and essential four-CD, 66 song Citizen Steely Dan: 1972 - 1980 Box Set.  

Rest in Peace Walter Becker and Thank-You for the Music You Gave The World

Steely Dan “Do It Again” (Midnight Special TV version true to studio version) from Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972) and also on such band collections as Citizen Steely Dan: 1972 - 1980 Box Set

Steely Dan “Reelin In The Years” (Midnight Special live TV version more speeded up than original studio version that is found on their debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill (1972)

Steely Dan “My Old School” 1973 live version from American Bandstand - song, that was about their old school Bard College where they first met, culled from the album Countdown to Ecstasy (1973),

Steely Dan “Josie” (live on Letterman mid 90s) original studio version found on Aja (1977)

Steely Dan “Rikki Don't Lose That Number” (Audio + fan-made slide show) from Pretzel Logic (1974)

Steely Dan “Pretzel Logic” (fan made audio +slide show video) title track from 1974 album Pretzel Logic

Steely Dan “Deacon Blues” (Audio with Lyrics) from the album Aja (1977)

Relevant Tags

Katy Lied (1), Hip-hop Samples (1), 70's Rock (1), Jazz-rock (1), William S. Burroughs (4), Donald Fagen (1), Walter Becker (1), Steely Dan (9), Aja (1)