Sunday, September 3, 2017

Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker dead at 67

Steely Dan guitarist and co-founder Walter Becker died on September 3 at the age of 67.

Becker’s website broke the news Sunday, without providing details, with a pair of photos of the musician – one from childhood alongside a more recent image.

The guitarist was noticeably absent from Steely Dan’s appearances at the Classic West and Classic East music festivals in July, with co-founder Donald Fagen later telling Billboard that "Walter's recovering from a procedure and hopefully he'll be fine very soon."

“Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967,” wrote Fagen in a tribute he shared online Sunday. “We started writing nutty little tunes on an upright piano in a small sitting room in the lobby of Ward Manor, a mouldering old mansion on the Hudson River that the college used as a dorm.

“We liked a lot of the same things: jazz (from the twenties through the mid-sixties), W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, science fiction, Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Berger, and Robert Altman films come to mind. Also soul music and Chicago blues.”

“Walter had a very rough childhood – I’ll spare you the details,” Fagen continued. “Luckily, he was smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny. Like a lot of kids from fractured families, he had the knack of creative mimicry, reading people’s hidden psychology and transforming what he saw into bubbly, incisive art. He used to write letters (never meant to be sent) in my wife Libby’s singular voice that made the three of us collapse with laughter.

“His habits got the best of him by the end of the seventies, and we lost touch for a while. In the eighties, when I was putting together the NY Rock and Soul Review with Libby, we hooked up again, revived the Steely Dan concept and developed another terrific band.

“I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.”

Following their introduction in 1967, Becker and Fagen spent their first few years together as local performers and songwriters in New York before touring as members of Jay And The Americans' backing band.

The group’s connections eventually saw the duo move to California in the early 70s to become staff songwriters at ABC Records, where they formed Steely Dan – named after a sex toy in William S. Burroughs' “Naked Lunch” – with guitarists Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and Denny Dias, drummer Jim Hodder and singer David Palmer.

Steely Dan released their debut album, “Can't Buy A Thrill”, in 1972. The project went Top 20 in the US based on the success of the hit singles "Do It Again" and "Reelin' In The Years." Palmer exited before the recording of 1973’s “Countdown To Ecstasy”, and the five-piece lineup scored what would be the group’s biggest hit with "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" from 1974's “Pretzel Logic.”

Fagen and Becker’s reluctance to tour brought an end to the band’s live performances in 1974. A string of albums followed, including 1977’s “Aja”, which peaked at No. 3 on the US Billboard 200 as the duo’s first platinum record and, ultimately, their best-selling release.

Following 1980’s “Gaucho”, the pair disbanded Steely Dan in 1981. Fagen went on to launch a solo career that saw Becker produce his second release, 1993’s “Kamakiriad”, and the two reunited for a tour to support the project.

A 1995 tour as Steely Dan put the group back on the road for their first concerts in two decades, which resulted in a live release and activity that led to their first studio album in 20 years, 2000’s “Two Against Nature.” The set won four Grammy Awards before Steely Dan were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Becker and Fagen released their final album together, “Everything Must Go”, in 2003, before becoming mainstays as a touring act.

Becker played his final shows with Steely Dan in Las Vegas and Southern California during the “Reelin' In The Chips” residency this past April.

Steely Dan has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide.