Though driven by an ever-rotating collective of musicians, legendary band Steely Dan was helmed and masterminded by (and ultimately successful because of) the dynamic duo of musical brothers Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. While Fagen drove the band on records and stages with his resonant vocals and sardonic wit, Becker stoically backed his bandmate up first on bass and then on guitars, adding strong clarity and weight to the group’s one-of-a-kind look and sound.
Exclusive: Goodbye….Walter Becker (1950-2017)
Steely Dan innovator takes a final bow
It’s because of Becker – who tragically passed away Sunday at age 67 from an undisclosed illness – Steely Dan became a band to remember across multiple genres. It’s also because of Becker the group became Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, more than 20 years after an initial break-up. From their days as Bard College undergrads to their triumphant return to the charts in the early-2000s, Becker and Fagen proved as unique a combination to music as any of their contemporaries. They can even be considered notable disciples of Lennon and McCartney, if John and Paul were wise-asses with strong inclinations towards classic jazz and literature.
With Becker’s passing, Fagen has vowed to keep the music of Steely Dan alive. But really, it’s alive every single day. “Do It Again,” “Reelin’ in the Years,” “Peg,” and “Hey Nineteen” are all staples of the radio because each one proves irresistibly catchy even when both musicians weren’t trying to be “catchy.” What other commercial band would build out an eight-minute track complete with Asian themes and sentiments (“Aja”) and have jazz powerhouse Wayne Shorter serve as lead soloist (on saxophone!) on it over a lead guitarist? It’s definitely tricky to answer that question.
And then there’s all the other Steely Dan tracks Becker was a mastermind in helping to construct – “Black Friday,” “Kid Charlemagne,” “Aja,” “Gaucho,” “Time Out of Mind,” “Gaslighting Abbie,” the list goes on. Also, let’s not forget the fact that Becker’s own solo musical output – 11 Tracks of Whack and Circus Money – prove just as pleasing to listeners as Fagen’s own The Nightfly and Kamakiriad.
So while the intentions behind keeping his band’s music alive are admirable, Fagen should bear in mind there was and is only one Walter Becker who brought Steely Dan’s music to life in the first place. He should also apt to know just how much Becker will be missed in the world of music overall.