R.I.P. Walter Becker of Steely Dan
Walter Becker, co-founder of the legendary band Steely Dan, has died at the age of 67 from an unspecified ailment.
During Steely Dan’s original run, the band recorded for…well, let’s just say that it was a non-Rhino label. When Becker and his longtime collaborator, Donald Fagen, went their separate ways in 1981, Becker initially spent most of his time as a producer, working with – among others – China Crisis, Fra Lippo Lippi, Michael Franks, and Rickie Lee Jones. In 1993, Becker and Fagen reunited for a Steely Dan tour, but on the solo front, Becker not only produced Fagen’s 1993 album KAMAKIRIAD but also finally got around to releasing his solo debut album, 11 TRACKS OF WHACK, in 1994.
After doing a few more tours, Becker and Fagen entered the studio and recorded a new Steely Dan album, their first in two decades. Released on Warner Brothers in 2000, TWO AGAINST NATURE went on to win four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. And the hits just kept on coming: the following year, Steely Dan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2003 the band released another new album, EVERYTHING MUST GO, which featured the first-ever lead vocal by Becker on the song “Slang of Ages.”
Although Becker and Fagen never got around to recording another Steely Dan album, they continued to tour together. For his part, though, Becker did manage to release a second solo album (2008’s CIRCUS MONEY) and continued to produce, write, and play for other artists, among them Krishna Das, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Madeleine Peyroux.
When Becker’s death was announced, Fagen issued a statement, and we’ll close with that, but before doing so, please give a listen to the playlist we’ve compiled in Becker’s honor, one which contains the work Steely Dan did within Rhino’s catalog as well as some songs written and produced by Becker, along with a few Steely Dan covers you may not have heard.
Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967. 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. 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.
September 3 2017