In 1973, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker fused 50’s Latin jazz, cool bop and faux LA rock, and Steely Dan (named after a steam-powered dildo in William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch) introduced a cynical, jazzy sensibility to pop.
The duo recruited Denny Dias, Jim Hodder, David Palmer and Jeff Baxter on an ad hoc session basis as work began on what would be the Can’t Buy A Thrill LP (1972).
The album presented a sophisticated alternative to fellow ABC label mates Three Dog Night on tracks like Midnight Cruiser, Kings and Dirty Work. That album also produced Steely Dan’s first two hits, Do It Again (US #6) and Reelin’ in the Years (US #11).
After the million-selling success of their debut, the band had a line-up change, with Donald Fagen taking over vocal duties. It marked the start of the ‘classic’ Steely Dan sound. With a hit behind them, it was time to expand the scope of the band’s material. Countdown To Ecstasy (1973) introduces more of the jazz influences and oblique lyrics that define their later work.
Pretzel Logic (1974) provided the hit single, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, and by the time of their fifth album, the platinum Aja (1977), Becker and Fagen had fine-tuned their spare grooves, quirky melodies and mildly dissonant jazz chordal clusters into a peculiarly seamless pop sound that was embraced by practically every radio format outside of country music.
Sophisticated hits like FM (No Static At All), Deacon Blues, Peg and Josie were among the many songs that became required soundtracks for every bar in the country.
Following a decision by Becker and Fagan to stop touring the band, McDonald joined Jeff Baxter in The Doobie Brothers while Jeff Porcaro formed Toto. Nobody was replaced and Steely Dan continued as a duo.
Fagen and Becker officially announced that Steely Dan had split in June 1981 after the release of the Gaucho LP – which included the hit Hey Nineteen.
Becker went on to produce other artists, like China Crisis, and Fagen released a successful solo album, The Nightfly, which produced a hit with I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World). Fagen also recorded Century’s End for the movie Bright Lights, Big City.
Becker produced Fagen’s second solo album, 1993’s Kamakiriad. The collaboration led to a Steely Dan reunion which resulted in two successful tours.
Walter Becker passed away on 3 September 2017.
A certain Cornelius Crane Chase quit the “bad jazz band” (The Leather Canary) that became Steely Dan. Shortly after quitting he adopted his childhood nickname and found fame in films and television as Chevy Chase.
Vocals, guitar, bass
Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter