Tributes for Steely Dan's Walter Becker

Tributes for Steely Dan's Walter Becker

Ronald Pratt
September 6, 2017

Steely Dan guitarist and co-founder Walter Becker has sadly passed away.

Originally, both he and his partner Walter Becker meant to be pulling the strings from behind the curtains-they'd be the team writing the songs and divining the direction the band would head, while a pretty face would sing their pretty melodies.

Fagen described his bandmate as "cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically amusing". 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? Both Becker and Fagen embraced being the wise old men of weisenheimers, bestowing approval on the Yacht Rock satirists who sent up the Dan's smoothness, while posting open letters to Wes Anderson and Luke Wilson - heirs to the hyperliterate, over-educated pop culture throne - on their website. But the group split up in 1981 after the release of Gaucho the year prior, before reuniting again for the 2000 release Two Against Nature. Rickie opened for Steely Dan last fall at the Beacon; Walter had produced one of her albums.

Steely Dan coalesced in 1971, after Becker dropped out of Bard, and he and Fagen moved west, to California. She died of an overdose, and Becker, addicted to drugs at the time, was sued for wrongful death, a case he eventually won.

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Steely Dan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 2001.

Slash posted a photo of Becker on Instagram, writing "RIP #WalterBecker", while Danny Baker said Becker had created a body of work "the equal of any in popular music". "Deacon Blues", the epic seven-minute side one closer on Steely Dan's Aja, will forever be the prototypical hipster paean, a song about a suburbanite that feels like a fraud sitting in a Manhattan jazz club, working up the courage to get up on the stage and learn to work the saxophone.

I could spend all day trying to figure out how to describe my favorite Steely Dan song-"Rikki Don't Lose That Number", from "Pretzel Logic", the band's third record-but it's too wild and multitudinous to heel to written characterizations. While artists such as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock released pioneering fusion albums in the 1970s, Steely Dan propelled the genre to great crossover success. This raised a question: if Steely Dan could hire the best guitarists in the world, why would they need to Becker to play a solo? Thanks for all the music over so many years.

Becker released his second album, "Circus Money", in 2008, in which the bassist experimented with his love of reggae.