One member of the influential jazz-rock group known as Steely Dan has passed into history. Walter Becker, co-founder and guitarist for Steely Dan, has died at the age of 67, according to an announcement on his website. While there was news that he had had an unspecified procedure earlier this year, the website provided no details about the cause of his death. His band mate, Donald Fagen, said in July that Becker was taking time to recover from an unspecified. Fagen told Billboard magazine later "Walter's recovering from a procedure and hopefully he'll be fine very soon." The pair were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
Fagen released a heartfelt statement about Becker, saying that his deceased partner was "smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny." Fagen added, "I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band."
Becker and Fagen started working together as students in New York. They moved to California in 1970s to found the band. Joining them were guitarists Jeff Baxter and Denny Dias, drummer Jim Hodder, and singer David Palmer. Their first album Can't Buy a Thril was released in 1972. Over the years, Becker provided compositions, music, and background vocals. Fagen sang and played the keys. The two formed the core of the group while others came and went.
The band split up in 1981 but after a hiatus, it reformed in 1993. The band subsequently released two more albums, one of which - Two Against nature - won the Grammy album of the year award. Becker's solo career produced two albums including Circus Money in 2008.
Musicians and DJs were quick to pay tribute on social media.
Fagen released an honest 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 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.
September 3 2017