Walter Becker, Steely Dan Guitarist, Dies Age 67

Musician behind hits including 'Reelin’ In The Years'.

Walter Becker, who co-founded the legendary jazz-rock band Steely Dan with Donald Fagen, died on Sunday at the age of 67.

The announcement of Becker’s death was made on his website. No cause of death was disclosed.

In July, Becker skipped two Steely Dan shows in Los Angeles and New York. Fagen told Billboard his colleague was “recovering from a procedure,” but did not elaborate on the surgery or prognosis.

On Sunday, Fagen released a statement about Becker:

“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 ’20s through the mid-’60s), 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.”

Fagen said he intends “to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.”

Becker was born in New York City on Feb. 20, 1950. As noted by Fagen, his collaboration with Becker began while they were attending Bard College in New York’s Hudson Valley. But the fruits of their labor really blossomed with the 1972 release of Steely Dan’s debut album, “Can’t Buy A Thrill”.

The band was named after a dildo mentioned in “Naked Lunch,” a novel by beat author William S. Burroughs.

Steely Dan made an immediate impression on the music world, thanks to two classic rock mainstays, “Do It Again,” and “Reelin’ In The Years.”

At first, Becker played bass in the group, but as Steely Dan became a duo by its fourth album, “Katy Lied” (1975), he concentrated more on lead guitar.

Working with Fagen, Becker was the source of many of the acerbic and obtuse song lyrics, such as the chorus to “Deacon Blues,” which details a man’s self-proclaimed descent into loserdom.

“They got a name for the winners of the world/ I, I want a name when I lose/ They call Alabama the Crimson Tide/ Call me Deacon Blues.”

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan in 1977.
Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan in 1977.
Chris Walter via Getty Images

Along with touring as part of a backup band for the 1960s pop group Jay and the Americans, Becker and Fagen attempted to become staff songwriters for ABC Records before finally forming Steely Dan.

Between 1972 and 1980, Steely Dan released seven albums, with their hits including “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” “Peg,” “Josie” and “Hey Nineteen.”

After the release of “Gaucho” in 1980, Becker and Fagen disbanded their partnership for 15 years, reuniting for a 1995 tour.

During that period, Becker kept a low profile in Maui, Hawaii, occasionally producing other artists.

In 2000, Steely Dan released “Two Against Nature,” its first album of new material in 20 years. It was awarded the Grammy for Album of the Year.

In 2001, the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, where their official biography describes their 1970s albums as “wry, nuanced and hyper-literate”that are “highly regarded by connoisseurs of pop hooks, jazz harmony and desiccating wit,” according to Reuters.

Becker also released two solo albums: “11 Tracks Of Whack” in 1994 and the reggae-inflected “Circus Money” in 2008.


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