Steely Dan guitarist Walter Becker dies at 67

Steely Dan
September 3, 2017 | 08:00AM PT

Steely Dan co-founder Donald Fagen quickly released a statement about the death of his partner Walter Becker, the only other full-time member of the indelible longtime rockers.

His lengthy and honest statement reads:

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.

Donald Fagen

September 3 2017

I was never a big Steely Dan fan. Wasn't for me. But it's cool that they only did what they wanted and never tried to branch out and get people like me to like them. They just kept doing them. 

I also dig the thought of those two crossing random paths in 1967 and getting they were meant to make music together. Cant imagine the first few months those two started talking music together. 

I'm like you, C'jon, much more a casual fan.
"Reeling In The Years" is my first memory, but my favorite was "Do It Again" (it's a percussionist's dream to play!). They had 2-3 other songs that I like to some degree, but that's about it.
Sad news in any case.

I also dig the thought of those two crossing random paths in 1967 and getting they were meant to make music together.

Daryl Hall and John Oates met in 1967 when they both ran to the same service elevator to escape gunfire.  The rest, as they say, is history.

A little tidbit about Steve Gadd's famous drum track on the song Aja. Just one of many reasons why he may be my favorite drummer ever.

Aja is the most popular of all the Steely Dan recordings. Four of its seven tracks were radio hits with a broad spectrum of appeal. Musicians had a field day with the title track, which had powerful solos from Wayne Shorter and Steve Gadd. Gadd, it seems, was the ultimate foil for the Dan’s demanding assault on a musician’s psyche. For ‘Aja’ he sightread the entire seven-minute chart perfectly, solo and all, by the second take. An article at the time quoted Fagan as saying, “I was stunned. No one had ever done anything like that before. I couldn’t believe it.”

By the late '60s Fagan and Becker were playing with Jay and the Americans.

… it has everything to do with the USA Band, and two people who joined this touring and session group, Donald Fagan and Walter Becker, who played bass and keyboards during the late 60’s through 1970, using the pseudonyms Tristan Fabriani [Donald Fagen] and Gus Mahler [Walter Becker], or as Jay Black referred to this sardonic duo, Starkweather & Manson, and yes, the world would come to know them collectively as Steely Dan.

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