R.I.P. Steely Dan Co-Founder Walter Becker

Steely Dan co-founder, guitarist and Donald Fagen's song writing partner Walter Becker died Sunday at age 67. No cause of death has been given. Becker and Fagen met in 1967 while students at Bard College. Becker had missed July concerts because of illness but was expected to "recover from a procedure" and re-join the tour. His doctor had advised him to stay home during that time.

Three years after releasing Gaucho in 1980, the duo broke up. Twenty years later they re-united for Two Against Nature, which won four Grammys including Album of the Year. The last Steely Dan album was 2003's Everything Must Go. In a moving tribute to his late partner, Fagen today wrote:
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

A tough day for fans, a tougher day for Donald Fagen. Break out the records and play today.

Christian Goergen's picture

Dying for 2017.

nelsonkiwi's picture

It's a sad day for Steely Dan fans. Loved Steely Dan since I first heard Can't Buy A Thrill and they just got better with each album. R.I.P. Walter.

bhjazz's picture

...for all the great music. Steely Dan is music I can always go back to and rediscover without ever getting bored.

Jim Tavegia's picture

You have some of the best jazz ever. RIP.
Some great musicians were of great help to them all along the way and will be so glad to be able to remember all the times they played together.

RVG Edition's picture

Steely Dan were famously opaque about anything that had anything to do about them. I never learned more than when I listened to this episode of Piano Jazz. I guess that they just couldn't bring themselves to be anything but honest with the great Marian McPartland. Includes some great, live small combo performances. http://www.npr.org/2014/04/18/304552322/steely-dan-on-piano-jazz

kruhlin's picture

Thank you for the link to Piano Jazz. I enjoyed the listen!

Notell-Motell's picture

I luckily purchased that show on a CD way-back-when at Borders when nothing else seemed too interesting on one visit. I though: "how could you go wrong?" I need to dig it out. What sad news. Thank you for sharing.

Wimbo's picture

you've been with me since 72.
R.I.P. mate. :(

gbougard's picture

We discussed recording a record with Sly & Robbie in Jamaica (he was a HUGE reggae fan, more evidence of his fantastic taste), but we never found a block of time when both he and S&R were available. My biggest producer regret, without a doubt.

es347's picture

..you can cue up Can't Buy a Thrill and it will sound just as fresh today as it did back in 1972. Their music has a timeless quality and will live on generation to generation. My grandchildren have become fans of The Dan's music as have many other youngsters. Viva la Steely Dan!

Rudy's picture

Definitely a downer. Too young! I wasn't sure what the fate of the Steely Dan concept would be, but I see now that Fagen wants to keep the music alive through the band. Plus, I think some fans out there need to hear the Dan as a means of paying respect to Becker's body of work, in addition to it all being some damned good music.

Trevor_Bartram's picture

To a sixteen year kid the sight of hookers plying their trade on an album cover in a small advertizement in the back of an English music paper was way beyond cool. Who are these guys and how dare they be so audacious? Well in the next few months as the singles were released it became obvious that this was no novelty band and the rest was history. Early Dan is still my favourite Dan!

USCGRetired09's picture

My brother and I traveled from Phoenix to San Diego in 2015, where we caught their show at Humphrey's By the Bay. He was in rare form that night. He had developed a ranting "session" during their recent shows, and he was so funny. He seemed to be very sure of himself, and he just seemed to have fun. His rantings really made the show. He will certainly be missed.