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Walter Becker, Steely Dan Co-Founder, Dead at 67

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted bassist-guitarist’s partnership with Donald Fagen yielded classic LPs like ‘Aja,’ ‘Katy Lied’ and ‘Pretzel Logic’

Daniel Kreps Sep 04, 2017

Walter Becker, bassist, guitarist and co-founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted band Steely Dan, died Sunday at the age of 67. Photo: Kotival/Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0

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Walter Becker, guitarist, bassist and co-founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted band Steely Dan, died Sunday at the age of 67.

Becker’s official site announced the death; no cause of death or other details were provided. “Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967,” Donald Fagen wrote in a tribute to Becker. “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.”

Becker missed Steely Dan’s Classic East and West concerts in July as he recovered from an unspecified ailment. “Walter’s recovering from a procedure and hopefully he’ll be fine very soon,” Fagen told Billboard at the time. Becker’s doctor advised the guitarist not to leave his Maui home for the performances.

Becker and Fagen first became collaborators when they were both students at New York’s Bard College. After working as songwriters (Barbra Streisand’s “I Mean to Shine”) and members of Jay and the Americans’ backing band, the duo moved to California in the early Seventies to form Steely Dan – named after a sex toy in William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch – alongside guitarists Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Denny Dias, drummer Jim Hodder and singer David Palmer.

Following the release of their debut 1972 LP Can’t Buy a Thrill, the lineup would change again with Palmer’s exit; while Steely Dan would routinely rotate musicians, Becker and Fagen remained the group’s core members. Despite the ever-changing lineup, Steely Dan made their stamp on music with a string of pristine, sophisticated albums with “calculated and literary lyrics” that blurred the lines of jazz, pop, rock and soul.

“I’m not interested in a rock/jazz fusion,” Becker told Rolling Stone in 1974. “That kind of marriage has so far only come up with ponderous results. We play rock & roll, but we swing when we play. We want that ongoing flow, that lightness, that forward rush of jazz.”

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He added, “I learned music from a book on piano theory. I was only interested in knowing about chords. From that, and from the Harvard Dictionary of Music, I learned everything I wanted to know.”

 

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