Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker died Sunday, September 3rd 2017 of undisclosed causes at the age of 67.
Becker formed Steely Dan with Donald Fagen when they were both students at Bard’s College in 1967. Becker started out playing bass but moved to guitar when Steely Dan became a duo — with a rotating cadre of studio musicians— in 1975 for the album Katy Lied.
Along with his musical compositions, Becker also contributed to the literary and often tongue-in-cheek lyrics for which Steely Dan became known.
“You been tellin’ me you’re a genius
Since you were seventeen
In all the time I’ve known you
I still don’t know what you mean
The weekend at the college
Didn’t turn out like you planned
The things that pass for knowledge
I can’t understand ”
— “Reelin’ In the Years”
When Steely Dan broke up in 1982, Becker retreated to Hawaii and only occasionally emerged to produce records for other acts. In 1993, he produced Donald Fagen’s solo record Kamakiriad, and Fagen returned the favor by co-producing Becker’s first solo record, 11 Tracks of Whack, in 1994.
Steely Dan officially reformed in 1993 and released a live album Alive in America. They went into the studio in 1998 and released Two Against Nature, the first Steely Dan studio album in over 22 years. The record went on to win four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. In 2001, Becker and Fagen were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They released another studio album, Everything Must Go, in 2003.
Becker released a second solo effort, Circus Money, in 2008. He continued to tour with Steely Dan until July 2017.
Shortly after the announcement of his death, Donald Fagen released the following statement:
“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.”