Steely Dan

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Steely Dan
Becker & Fagen of Steely Dan at Pori Jazz 2007.jpg
Steely Dan performing in 2007. Walter Becker (l) playing electric guitar, Donald Fagen (r) playing melodica.
Background information
Origin Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, United States
Genres
Years active1972–1981, 1993–present
Labels
Associated acts
Website steelydanofficial.com
Members Donald Fagen
Past members Walter Becker
Jeff "Skunk" Baxter
Denny Dias
Jim Hodder
David Palmer
Royce Jones
Michael McDonald
Jeff Porcaro

Steely Dan is an American jazz rock band. [1] founded in 1972 by core members Walter Becker (guitars, bass, backing vocals) and Donald Fagen (keyboards, lead vocals). Blending rock, jazz, traditional pop, R&B, and sophisticated studio production with cryptic and ironic lyrics, the band enjoyed critical and commercial success starting from the early 1970s until breaking up in 1981. [3] Throughout their career, the duo recorded with a revolving cast of session musicians, and in 1974 retired from live performances to become a studio-only band. Rolling Stone has called them "the perfect musical antiheroes for the Seventies". [4]

Walter Becker American musician

Walter Carl Becker was an American musician, songwriter, and record producer. He was best known as the co-founder, guitarist, bassist, and co-songwriter of the jazz rock band Steely Dan.

Donald Jay Fagen is an American musician best known as the co-founder, lead singer and keyboardist of the band Steely Dan, formed in the early 70s. He has also released four albums as a solo artist, and in 2001 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The 2017 death of Steely Dan’s co-founder Walter Becker leaves Fagen as Steely Dan’s sole member.

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United Kingdom and in the United States. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily on the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly on a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. Musically, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music usually with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.

Contents

After the group disbanded in 1981, Becker and Fagen were less active throughout most of the next decade, though a cult following [3] remained devoted to the group. Since reuniting in 1993, Steely Dan has toured steadily and released two albums of new material, the first of which, Two Against Nature , earned a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. They have sold more than 40 million albums worldwide and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2001. [5] [6] [7] [8] VH1 ranked Steely Dan at #82 on their list of the 100 greatest musical artists of all time. [9] Founding member Walter Becker died on September 3, 2017.

Cult following Group of fans who are highly dedicated to a specific area of culture

A cult following comprises a group of fans who are highly dedicated to a work of culture, often referred to as a cult classic. A film, book, musical artist, television series or video game, among other things, is said to have a cult following when it has a small but very passionate fanbase. A common component of cult followings is the emotional attachment the fans have to the object of the cult following, often identifying themselves and other fans as members of a community. Cult followings are also commonly associated with niche markets. Cult media are often associated with underground culture, and are considered too eccentric or subversive to be appreciated by the general public or to be commercially successful.

<i>Two Against Nature</i> 2000 studio album by Steely Dan

Two Against Nature is the eighth studio album by Steely Dan. The album was released on February 29, 2000, by Giant Records. The album won the group four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for Cousin Dupree. It marked the first Steely Dan studio album in 20 years, following 1980's Gaucho. It has been certified platinum in the United States.

The Grammy Award for Album of the Year is presented by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States to "honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales, chart position, or critical reception." Album of the Year is the most prestigious award category at the Grammys having been presented since 1st Grammy Awards in 1959. According to the 54th Grammy Awards description guide, the award is presented:

For albums containing at least 51% playing time of new vocal or instrumental recordings. Award to the artist(s), and to the album producer(s), recording engineer(s) and/or mixer(s), and mastering engineer(s) if other than the artist.

History

Formative and early years (1967–1972)

Becker and Fagen met in 1967 at Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. As Fagen passed by a café, The Red Balloon, he heard Becker practicing the electric guitar. [10] In an interview, Fagen recounted the experience: "I hear this guy practicing, and it sounded very professional and contemporary. It sounded like, you know, like a black person, really." [10] He introduced himself to Becker and asked, "Do you want to be in a band?" [10] Discovering that they enjoyed similar music, the two began writing songs together.

Bard College private liberal arts college in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

Bard College is a private liberal arts college in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. The campus overlooks the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains, and is within the Hudson River Historic District, a National Historic Landmark.

Annandale-on-Hudson, New York Hamlet in New York, United States

Annandale-on-Hudson is a hamlet in Dutchess County, New York, United States, in the Hudson Valley in the town of Red Hook, across the Hudson River from Kingston.

Becker and Fagen began playing in local groups. One such group, known as the Don Fagen Jazz Trio, the Bad Rock Group and later the Leather Canary, included future comedy star Chevy Chase on drums. They played covers of songs by The Rolling Stones ("Dandelion"), Moby Grape ("Hey Grandma"), and Willie Dixon ("Spoonful"), as well as some original compositions. [10] Terence Boylan, another Bard musician, remembered that Fagen took readily to the beatnik life while attending college: "They never came out of their room, they stayed up all night. They looked like ghosts—black turtlenecks and skin so white that it looked like yogurt. Absolutely no activity, chain-smoking Lucky Strikes and dope." [10] Fagen himself would later remember it as "probably the only time in my life that I actually had friends." [11]

Chevy Chase American comedian, writer and actor

Cornelius Crane "Chevy" Chase is an American comedian, actor and writer.

The Rolling Stones English rock band

The Rolling Stones are an English rock band formed in London in 1962. The first stable line-up consisted of bandleader Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman (bass), Charlie Watts (drums), and Ian Stewart (piano). Stewart was removed from the official line-up in 1963 but continued to work with the band as a contracted musician until his death in 1985. The band's primary songwriters, Jagger and Richards, assumed leadership after Andrew Loog Oldham became the group's manager. Jones left the band less than a month before his death in 1969, having already been replaced by Mick Taylor, who remained until 1974. After Taylor left the band, Ronnie Wood took his place in 1975 and continues on guitar in tandem with Richards. Since Wyman's departure in 1993, Darryl Jones has served as touring bassist. The Stones have not had an official keyboardist since 1963, but have employed several musicians in that role, including Jack Nitzsche (1965–1971), Nicky Hopkins (1967–1982), Billy Preston (1971–1981), Ian McLagan (1978–1981), and Chuck Leavell (1982–present).

Dandelion (song) song by The Rolling Stones

"Dandelion" is a song by the English rock band the Rolling Stones, written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and first released as a B-side to "We Love You" in August 1967. With lyrical references to British counting or nursery rhymes, it reached number eight on the UK Singles Chart and number 14 on the US Billboard 100 singles chart.

After Fagen graduated in 1969, the two moved to Brooklyn and tried to peddle their tunes in the Brill Building in midtown Manhattan. Kenny Vance (of Jay and the Americans), who had a production office in the building, took an interest in their music, which led to work on the soundtrack of the low-budget Richard Pryor film You've Got to Walk It Like You Talk It or You'll Lose That Beat . Becker later said bluntly, "We did it for the money." [12] A series of demos from 1968 to 1971 are available in multiple different releases, not authorized by Becker and Fagen. [13] This collection features approximately 25 tracks and is notable for its sparse arrangements (Fagen plays solo piano on many songs) and lo-fi production, a contrast with Steely Dan's later work. Although some of these songs ("Caves of Altamira", "Brooklyn", "Barrytown") were re-recorded for Steely Dan albums, most were never officially released.

Brooklyn Borough in New York City and county in New York state, United States

Brooklyn is the most populous borough of New York City, with an estimated 2,648,771 residents in 2017. Named after the Dutch village of Breukelen, it borders the borough of Queens at the western end of Long Island. Brooklyn has several bridge and tunnel connections to the borough of Manhattan across the East River, and the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge connects it with Staten Island. Since 1896, Brooklyn has been coterminous with Kings County, the most populous county in the U.S. state of New York and the second-most densely populated county in the United States, after New York County.

Brill Building office building in New York City

The Brill Building is an office building located at 1619 Broadway on 49th Street in the New York City borough of Manhattan, just north of Times Square and further uptown from the historic musical Tin Pan Alley neighborhood. It is famous for housing music industry offices and studios where some of the most popular American songs were written. It is considered to have been the center of the American music industry that dominated the pop charts in the early 1960s.

Midtown Manhattan central business district in New York City

Midtown Manhattan is the central portion of the borough of Manhattan in New York City. Midtown is home to some of the city's most iconic buildings, including the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project, the headquarters of the United Nations, Grand Central Terminal, and Rockefeller Center, as well as Broadway and Times Square.

Becker and Fagen joined the touring band of Jay and the Americans for about a year and a half. [14] They were at first paid $100 per show, but partway through their tenure the band's tour manager cut their salaries in half. [14] The group's lead singer, Jay Black, dubbed Becker and Fagen "the Manson and Starkweather of rock 'n' roll", referring to cult leader Charles Manson and spree killer Charles Starkweather. [14]

A tour manager is the person who helps to organize the administration for a schedule of appearances of a musical group (band) or artist at a sequence of venues. In general, road managers handle small to medium-sized tours, and tour managers are used on large-scale tours.

Jay Black is an American singer, also known as "The Voice," whose height of fame came in the 1960s when he was the lead singer of the band Jay and the Americans. The band had numerous hits including "Cara Mia", "Come a Little Bit Closer", and "This Magic Moment".

Charles Manson American criminal, cult leader, musician

Charles Milles Manson was an American criminal and cult leader. In mid-1967, he formed what became known as the Manson Family, a quasi-commune based in California. Manson's followers committed a series of nine murders at four locations in July and August 1969. According to the Los Angeles County district attorney, Manson plotted to start a race war, though Manson and others involved long disputed this motive. In 1971, he was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the deaths of seven people. Although the prosecution conceded that Manson never literally ordered the murders, they contended that his ideology constituted an overt act of conspiracy. Manson was also convicted of first-degree murder for the deaths of Gary Hinman, and Donald Shae.

They had little success after moving to Brooklyn, although Barbra Streisand recorded their song "I Mean To Shine" on her 1971 Barbra Joan Streisand album. Their fortunes changed when one of Vance's associates, Gary Katz, moved to Los Angeles to become a staff producer for ABC Records. He hired Becker and Fagen as staff songwriters; they flew to California. Katz would produce all their 1970s albums in collaboration with engineer Roger Nichols. Nichols would win six Grammy Awards for his work with the band from the 1970s to 2001. [15]

After realizing that their songs were too complex for other ABC artists, at Katz's suggestion Becker and Fagen formed their own band with guitarists Denny Dias and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, drummer Jim Hodder and singer David Palmer, and Katz signed them to ABC as recording artists. Fans of Beat Generation literature, Fagen and Becker named the band after a "revolutionary" steam-powered dildo mentioned in the William S. Burroughs novel Naked Lunch . [16] [17] [18] Palmer joined as a second lead vocalist because of Fagen's occasional stage fright, his reluctance to sing in front of an audience, and because the label believed that his voice was not "commercial" enough.

In 1972, ABC issued Steely Dan's first single, "Dallas", backed with "Sail the Waterway". Distribution of "stock" copies available to the general public was apparently extremely limited; [19] the single sold so poorly that promotional copies are much more readily available than stock copies in today's collectors market. As of 2015, "Dallas" and "Sail the Waterway" are the only officially released Steely Dan tracks that have not been reissued on cassette or compact disc. In an interview (1995), Becker and Fagen called the songs "stinko." [20] "Dallas" was later covered by Poco on their Head Over Heels album.

Can't Buy a Thrill and Countdown to Ecstasy (1972–1973)

Can't Buy a Thrill , Steely Dan's debut album, was released in 1972. Its hit singles "Do It Again" and "Reelin' In the Years" reached No. 6 and No. 11 respectively on the Billboard singles chart. Along with "Dirty Work" (sung by David Palmer), the songs became staples on classic rock radio.

Because of Fagen's reluctance to sing live, Palmer handled most of the vocal duties on stage. During the first tour, however, Katz and Becker decided that they preferred Fagen's interpretations of the band's songs, persuading him to take over. Palmer quietly left the group while it recorded its second album. He wrote the No. 2 hit "Jazzman" (1974) with Carole King.

Released in 1973, Countdown to Ecstasy was not as commercially successful as Steely Dan's first album. Becker and Fagen were unhappy with some of the performances on the record and believed that it sold poorly because it had been recorded hastily on tour. The album's singles were "Show Biz Kids" and "My Old School", both of which stayed in the lower half of the Billboard charts (though "My Old School" and — to a lesser extent — "Bodhisattva" became minor FM Rock staples in time).

Pretzel Logic and Katy Lied (1974–1976)

Guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter left Steely Dan in 1974 when they ceased performing live and began working in the studio exclusively. The Doobie Brothers - Jeff Skunk Baxter.jpg
Guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter left Steely Dan in 1974 when they ceased performing live and began working in the studio exclusively.

Pretzel Logic was released in early 1974. A diverse set, it includes the group's most successful single, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" (No. 4), and a note-for-note rendition of Duke Ellington and James "Bubber" Miley's "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo".

During the previous album's tour, the band had added vocalist-percussionist Royce Jones, vocalist-keyboardist Michael McDonald (of the Doobie Brothers), and session drummer Jeff Porcaro (of Toto and Sonny & Cher). [21] Porcaro played the sole drum track on one song, "Night By Night" on Pretzel Logic (Jim Gordon played drums on all the remaining tracks, and he and Porcaro both played on "Parker's Band"), reflecting Steely Dan's increasing reliance on session musicians (including Dean Parks and Rick Derringer). Jeff Porcaro and Katy Lied pianist David Paich would go on to form Toto. Striving for perfection, Becker and Fagen sometimes asked musicians to record as many as forty takes of each track. [22]

Pretzel Logic was the first Steely Dan album to feature Walter Becker on guitar. "Once I met (session musician) Chuck Rainey", he explained, "I felt there really was no need for me to be bringing my bass guitar to the studio anymore". [22]

A rift began growing between Becker-Fagen and Steely Dan's other members (particularly Baxter and Hodder), who wanted to tour. Becker and Fagen disliked constant touring and wanted to concentrate solely on writing and recording. The other members gradually left the band, discouraged by this and by their diminishing roles in the studio. However, Dias remained with the group until 1980's Gaucho and Michael McDonald contributed vocals until the group's twenty-year hiatus after Gaucho. Baxter and McDonald went on to join The Doobie Brothers. Steely Dan's last tour performance was on July 5, 1974, a concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in California. [23]

Becker and Fagen recruited a diverse group of session players for Katy Lied (1975), including Porcaro, Paich, and McDonald, as well as guitarist Elliott Randall, jazz saxophonist Phil Woods, saxophonist/bass-guitarist Wilton Felder, percussionist/vibraphonist/keyboardist Victor Feldman, keyboardist (and later producer) Michael Omartian, and guitarist Larry Carlton — Dias, Becker, and Fagen being Steely Dan's only original members. The album went gold on the strength of "Black Friday" and "Bad Sneakers", but Becker and Fagen were so dissatisfied with the album's sound (compromised by a faulty DBX noise reduction system) that they publicly apologized for it (on the album's back cover) and for years refused to listen to it in its final form. [24] Katy Lied also included "Doctor Wu" and "Chain Lightning".

The Royal Scam and Aja (1976–1978)

The Royal Scam was released in May 1976. Partly because of Carlton's prominent contributions, it is the band's most guitar-oriented album. It also features performances by session drummer Bernard Purdie. The album sold well in the United States, though without the strength of a hit single. "Haitian Divorce" (Top 20) drove sales in the UK, becoming Steely Dan's first major hit in that country. [25] Steely Dan's sixth album, the jazz-influenced Aja, was released in September 1977. Aja reached the Top Five in the U.S. charts within three weeks, winning the Grammy award for "Engineer – Best Engineered Recording – Non-Classical." It was also one of the first American LPs to be certified 'platinum' for sales of over 1 million albums. [26] [27]

Roger [Nichols] made those records sound like they did. He was extraordinary in his willingness and desire to make records sound better. [28] The records we did could not have been done without Roger. He was just maniacal about making the sound of the records be what we liked... He always thought there was a better way to do it, and he would find a way to do what we needed to in ways that other people hadn't done yet. [29]

~ Steely Dan producer Gary Katz regarding Roger Nichols' role in the band's recording legacy.

Featuring Michael McDonald's backing vocals, "Peg" (No. 11) was the album's first single, followed by "Josie" (No. 26) and "Deacon Blues" (No. 19). Aja solidified Becker's and Fagen's reputations as songwriters and studio perfectionists. It features such jazz and fusion luminaries as guitarists Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour; bassist Chuck Rainey; saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Pete Christlieb, and Tom Scott; drummers Steve Gadd, Rick Marotta and Bernard Purdie; pianist Joe Sample and ex-Miles Davis pianist/vibraphonist Victor Feldman and Grammy award-winning producer/arranger Michael Omartian (piano).

Planning to tour in support of Aja, Steely Dan assembled a live band. Rehearsal ended and the tour was canceled when backing musicians began comparing pay. [30] The album's history was documented in an episode of the TV and DVD series Classic Albums .

After Aja's success, Becker and Fagen were asked to write the title track for the movie FM . The movie was a box-office disaster, but the song was a hit, earning Steely Dan another engineering Grammy award. It was a minor hit in the UK and barely missed the Top 20 in the U.S.A. [25]

Gaucho and breakup (1978–1981)

Becker and Fagen took a break from songwriting for most of 1978 before starting work on Gaucho . The project would not go smoothly: technical, legal, and personal setbacks delayed the album's release and subsequently led Becker and Fagen to suspend their partnership for over a decade.

Misfortune struck early when an assistant engineer accidentally erased most of "The Second Arrangement", a favorite track of Katz and Nichols, [31] which was never recovered. More trouble — this time legal — followed. In March 1979, MCA Records bought ABC, and for much of the next two years Steely Dan could not release an album. Becker and Fagen had planned on leaving ABC for Warner Bros. Records, but MCA claimed ownership of their music, preventing them from changing labels.

Turmoil in Becker's personal life also interfered. His girlfriend died of a drug overdose in their Upper West Side apartment, and he was sued for $17 million. Becker settled out of court, but he was shocked by the accusations and by the tabloid press coverage that followed. Soon after, Becker was struck by a taxi while crossing a Manhattan street, shattering his right leg in several places and forcing him to use crutches.

Still more legal trouble was to come. Jazz composer Keith Jarrett sued Steely Dan for copyright infringement, claiming that they had based Gaucho's title track on one of his compositions, "Long As You Know You're Living Yours". (Fagen later admitted that he'd loved the song and that it had been a strong influence.) [32]

Gaucho was finally released in November 1980. Despite its tortured history, it was another major success. The album's first single, "Hey Nineteen", reached No. 10 on the pop chart in early 1981, and "Time Out of Mind" (featuring guitarist Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits) was a moderate hit in the spring. "My Rival" was featured in John Huston's 1980 film Phobia . Roger Nichols won a third engineering Grammy award for his work on the album.

Time off (1981–1993)

Steely Dan disbanded in June 1981. [33] Becker and his family moved to Maui, where he became an "avocado rancher and self-styled critic of the contemporary scene." [34] He stopped using drugs, which he had used for most of his career. [35] [36] [37] Meanwhile, Fagen released a solo album, The Nightfly (1982), which went platinum in both the U.S. and the U.K. and yielded the Top Twenty hit "I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)." In 1988 Fagen wrote the score of Bright Lights, Big City and a song for its soundtrack, but otherwise recorded little. He occasionally did production work for other artists, as did Becker. The most prominent of these were two albums Becker produced for the British sophisti-pop group China Crisis, who were strongly influenced by Steely Dan. [38] Becker is listed as an official member of China Crisis on the first of these albums, 1985's Flaunt the Imperfection , and played keyboards on the band's Top 20 UK hit "Black Man Ray". For the second of the two albums, 1989's Diary of a Hollow Horse , Becker is only listed as a producer and not as a band member.

In 1986 Becker and Fagen performed on Zazu , an album by former model Rosie Vela produced by Gary Katz. [39] The two rekindled their friendship and held songwriting sessions between 1986 and 1987, leaving the results unfinished. [40] On October 25, 1991, Becker attended a concert by New York Rock and Soul Revue, co-founded by Fagen and producer/singer Libby Titus (who was for many years the partner of Levon Helm of The Band and would later become Fagen's wife), and spontaneously performed with the group.

Becker produced Fagen's second solo album, Kamakiriad , in 1993. Fagen conceived the album as a sequel to The Nightfly.[ citation needed ]

Reunion, Alive in America (1993–2000)

Steely Dan, shown here in 2007, toured frequently after reforming in 1993. Steely Dan - Donald Fagen - Luzern 2007.jpg
Steely Dan, shown here in 2007, toured frequently after reforming in 1993.

Becker and Fagen reunited for an American tour to support Kamakiriad, which sold poorly despite a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. With Becker playing lead and rhythm guitar, the pair assembled a band that included a second keyboard player, second lead guitarist, bassist, drummer, vibraphonist, three female backing singers, and four-piece saxophone section. Among the musicians from the live band, several would continue to work with Steely Dan over the next decade, including bassist Tom Barney and saxophone players Cornelius Bumpus and Chris Potter. During this tour, Fagen introduced himself as "Rick Strauss" and Becker as "Frank Poulenc".

The next year, MCA released Citizen Steely Dan , a boxed set featuring their entire catalog (except their debut single "Dallas"/"Sail The Waterway") on four CDs, plus four extra tracks: "Here at the Western World" (originally released on 1978's "Greatest Hits"), "FM" (1978 single), a 1971 demo of "Everyone's Gone to the Movies" and "Bodhisattva (live)", the latter recorded on a cassette in 1974 and released as a B-side in 1980. That year Becker released his debut solo album, 11 Tracks of Whack , which Fagen co-produced.

Steely Dan toured again in support of the boxed set and Tracks. In 1995 they released a live CD, Alive in America , compiled from recordings of several 1993 and 1994 concerts. The Art Crimes Tour followed, including dates in the United States, Japan, and their first European shows in 22 years. After this activity, Becker and Fagen returned to the studio to begin work on a new album.

Two Against Nature and Everything Must Go (2000–2003)

In 2000 Steely Dan released their first studio album in 20 years: Two Against Nature . It won four Grammy Awards: Best Engineered Album – Non-Classical, Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Pop Performance by Duo or Group with Vocal ("Cousin Dupree"), and Album of the Year (despite competition in this category from Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP and Radiohead's Kid A ). In the summer of 2000, they began another American tour, followed by an international tour later that year. The tour featured guitarist Jon Herington, who would go on to play with the band over the next two decades. The group released the Plush TV Jazz-Rock Party DVD, documenting a live-in-the-studio concert performance of popular songs from throughout Steely Dan's career. In March 2001, Steely Dan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. [5] [6]

In 2003 Steely Dan released Everything Must Go . In contrast to their earlier work, they had tried to write music that captured a live feel. Becker sang lead vocals on a Steely Dan studio album for the first time ("Slang of Ages" — he had sung lead on his own "Book of Liars" on Alive in America). Fewer session musicians played on Everything Must Go than had become typical of Steely Dan albums: Becker played bass on every track and lead guitar on five tracks; Fagen added piano, electric piano, organ, synthesizers, and percussion on top of his vocals; touring drummer Keith Carlock played on every track.

Touring, solo activity (2003–2017)

To complete his Nightfly trilogy, Fagen issued Morph the Cat in 2006. Steely Dan returned to annual touring that year with the Steelyard "Sugartooth" McDan and The Fab-Originees.com Tour. [41] Despite much fluctuation in membership, the live band featured mainstays Herrington, Carlock, bassist Freddie Washington, the horn section of Michael Leonhart, Jim Pugh, Roger Rosenberg, and Walt Weiskopf, and backing vocalists Carolyn Leonhart and Cindy Mizelle. The 2007 Heavy Rollers Tour included dates in North America, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, making it their most expansive tour. [42]

The smaller Think Fast Tour followed in 2008, with keyboardist Jim Beard joining the live band. That year Becker released a second album, Circus Money , produced by Larry Klein and inspired by Jamaican music. In 2009 Steely Dan toured Europe and America extensively in their Left Bank Holiday and Rent Party Tour, alternating between standard one-date concerts at large venues and multi-night theater shows that featured performances of The Royal Scam, Aja, or Gaucho in their entirety on certain nights. The following year, Fagen formed the touring supergroup Dukes of September Rhythm Revue with McDonald, Boz Scaggs, and members of Steely Dan's live band, whose repertoire included songs by all three songwriters. Longtime studio engineer Roger Nichols died of pancreatic cancer on April 10, 2011. [43] Steely Dan's Shuffle Diplomacy Tour that year included an expanded set list and dates in Australia and New Zealand. Fagen released his fourth album, Sunken Condos , in 2012. It was his first solo release unrelated to the Nightfly trilogy.

The Mood Swings: 8 Miles to Pancake Day Tour began in July 2013 and featured an eight-night run at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. [44] Jamalot Ever After, their 2014 United States tour, ran from July 2 in Portland, Oregon to September 20 in Port Chester, New York. [45] 2015's Rockabye Gollie Angel Tour included opening act Elvis Costello and the Imposters and dates at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. The Dan Who Knew Too Much tour followed in 2016, with Steve Winwood opening. Steely Dan also performed at The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles with an accompanying orchestra.

The band played its final shows with Becker in 2017. In April, they played the 12-date Reelin' In the Chips residency in Las Vegas and Southern California. [46] Becker's final performance came on May 27 at the Greenwich Town Party in Greenwich, Connecticut. [47] Due to illness, Becker did not play Steely Dan's two Classics East and West concerts at Dodger Stadium and Citi Field in July. [48] Fagen embarked on a tour that summer with a new backing band, The Nightflyers.

After Becker's death (2017–present)

Becker died from complications of esophageal cancer on September 3, 2017. [49] In a note released to the media, Fagen remembered his longtime friend and bandmate, and promised to "keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band." [50] After Becker's death, Steely Dan honored commitments to perform a short North American tour in October 2017 and three concert dates in the United Kingdom and Ireland for Bluesfest on a double bill with the Doobie Brothers. [51] The band played its first concert following Becker's death in Thackerville, Oklahoma, on October 13. [51] In tribute to Becker, they performed his solo song "Book of Liars", with Fagen singing the lead vocals, at several concerts on the tour. [52]

Becker's widow and estate sued Fagen later that year, arguing that the estate should control 50% of the band's shares. [53] Fagen filed a counter suit, arguing that the band had drawn up plans in 1972 stating that band members leaving the band or dying relinquish shares of the band's output to the surviving members. In December, Fagen said that he would rather have retired the Steely Dan name after Becker's death, and instead have toured with the current iteration of the group under another name, but was persuaded not to by promoters for commercial reasons. [54]

In 2018, Steely Dan performed on a summer tour of the United States with The Doobie Brothers as co-headliners. [55] The band also played a nine-show residency at the Beacon Theatre in New York City that October. [56] In February 2019, the band embarked on a tour of Great Britain with Steve Winwood. [57] Guitarist Connor Kennedy of The Nightflyers joined the live band, beginning with a nine-night residency at The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas in April 2019. [58]

Musical and lyrical style

Music

Overall sound

Special attention is given to the individual sound of each instrument. Recording is done with the utmost fidelity and attention to sonic detail, and mixed so that all the instruments are heard and none are given undue priority. Their albums are also notable for the characteristically 'warm' and 'dry' production sound, and the sparing use of echo and reverberation.

Backing vocals

Becker and Fagen favored a distinctly soul-influenced style of backing vocals, which after the first few albums were almost always performed by a female chorus (although Michael McDonald features prominently on several tracks, including the 1975 song "Black Friday" and the 1977 song "Peg"). Venetta Fields, Sherlie Matthews and Clydie King were the preferred trio for backing vocals on the group's late 1970s albums. [59] Other backing vocalists include Timothy B. Schmit, Tawatha Agee, Brenda White-King, Carolyn Leonhart, Janice Pendarvis, Catherine Russell, Cynthia Calhoun, Victoria Cave, Cindy Mizelle, and Jeff Young. The band also featured singers like Patti Austin and Valerie Simpson on later projects such as Gaucho.

Horns

Horn arrangements have been used on songs from all Steely Dan albums. They are usually jazz-oriented, and typically feature instruments such as trumpets, trombones and saxophones, although they have also used other instruments such as flutes and clarinets. The horn parts occasionally integrate simple synth lines to alter the tone quality of individual horn lines; for example in "Deacon Blues" this was done to "thicken" one of the saxophone lines. On their earlier albums Steely Dan featured guest arrangers and on their later albums the arrangement work is credited to Fagen.

Composition and chord use

Steely Dan is famous for their use of chord sequences and harmonies that explore the area of musical tension between traditional pop sounds and jazz. In particular, they are known for their use of the add 2 chord, a type of added tone chord, which they nicknamed the mu major. [60] [61] [62] Other common chords used by Steely Dan include slash chords for example Bb/C or E7/A. This notation shows a chord (shown to the left of the slash) with a note other than the tonic (shown to the right of the slash) as the lowest pitched note. [63]

Lyrics

Steely Dan's lyrical subjects are diverse, but in their basic approach they often create fictional personae that participate in a narrative or situation. The duo have said that in retrospect, most of their albums have a "feel" of either Los Angeles or New York City, the two main cities where Becker and Fagen lived and worked. Characters appear in their songs that evoke these cities. Steely Dan's lyrics are often puzzling to the listener, [64] with the true meaning of the song "uncoded" through repeated listening, and a richer understanding of the references within the lyrics. For example, in the song "Everyone's Gone to the Movies," the line "I know you're used to 16 or more, sorry we only have eight" refers not to the count of some article, but to eight-millimeter film, which was lower quality than 16 mm or larger formats, underscoring the illicitness of Mr. Lapage's movie parties.

Thematically, Steely Dan creates a universe peopled by losers, creeps and failed dreamers, often victims of their own obsessions and delusions. These motifs are introduced in the Dan's first hit song, "Do It Again," which contains a description of a murderous cowboy who beats the gallows, a man taken advantage of by a cheating girlfriend, and an obsessive gambler, all of whom are unable to command their own destinies; similar themes of being trapped in a death spiral of one's own making appear throughout their catalog. Other themes that they explore include prejudice, aging, poverty, and middle-class ennui.

Many would argue that Steely Dan never wrote a genuine love song, instead dealing with personal passion in the guise of a destructive obsession. [65] Many of their songs concern love, but typical of Steely Dan songs is an ironic or disturbing twist in the lyrics that reveals a darker reality. For example, expressed "love" is actually about prostitution ("Pearl of the Quarter"), incest ("Cousin Dupree"), pedophilia ("Everyone's Gone to the Movies"), pornography ("Peg") or some other socially unacceptable subject. [66] However, some of their demo-era recordings show Fagen and Becker expressing romance, including "This Seat's Been Taken", "Oh, Wow, It's You" and "Come Back Baby".

Steely Dan's lyrics contain subtle and encoded references, unusual (and sometimes original) slang expressions, a wide variety of "word games." The obscure and sometimes teasing lyrics have given rise to considerable efforts by fans to explain the "inner meaning" of certain songs. [67] [68] Jazz is a recurring theme, and there are numerous other film, television and literary references and allusions, such as "Home at Last" (from Aja), which was inspired by Homer's Odyssey .

Some of their lyrics are notable for their unusual meter patterns; a prime example of this is their 1972 hit "Reelin' In the Years", which crams an unusually large number of words into each line, giving it a highly syncopated quality.

"Name dropping" is another Steely Dan lyrical device; references to real places and people abound in their songs. The song "My Old School" is an example, referring to Annandale (Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, is home to Bard College, which both attended and where they met), and the Two Against Nature album (2000) contains numerous references to the duo's original region, the New York metro area, including the district of Gramercy Park, the Strand Bookstore, and the upscale food store Dean & DeLuca. In the song "Glamour Profession" the conclusion of a drug deal is celebrated with dumplings at Mr. Chow, a Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills. The band even employed self-reference; in the song "Show Biz Kids," the titular subjects are sardonically portrayed as owning "the Steely Dan T-shirt."

The band also often name-checks drinks, typically alcoholic, in their songs: rum and cokes ("Daddy Don't Live in That New York City No More"), piña coladas ("Bad Sneakers"), zombies ("Haitian Divorce"), black cows ("Black Cow"), Scotch whisky ("Deacon Blues"), retsina ("Home at Last"), grapefruit wine ("FM"), cherry wine ("Time Out of Mind"), Cuervo Gold ("Hey Nineteen"), kirschwasser ("Babylon Sisters"), Tanqueray ("Lunch with Gina"), Cuban breeze (Fagen's solo track "The Goodbye Look"), and margaritas ("Everything Must Go") are all mentioned in Steely Dan lyrics. [69]

Members

Current members

Former members

Timeline

Steely Dan

Note: Although Becker and Fagen were the group's only official members after 1974, Dias, McDonald, and Porcaro contributed occasionally as studio musicians through 1980.

Discography

Studio albums

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Cant Buy a Thrill</i> 1972 studio album by Steely Dan

Can't Buy a Thrill is the debut studio album by the American rock band Steely Dan, released in November 1972 by ABC Records. It was produced by Gary Katz and written by band members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. The album was recorded at The Village Recorder in Los Angeles.

<i>Aja</i> (album) 1977 studio album by Steely Dan

Aja is the sixth studio album by the jazz rock band Steely Dan. Originally released in 1977 on ABC Records, the album peaked at number three on the US charts and number five in the UK. It was the band's first platinum album and ultimately became their best-selling studio release, eventually selling over 5 million copies. It spawned a number of hit singles, including "Peg", "Deacon Blues", and "Josie". In July 1978, the album won the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording. The credits for Aja list nearly 40 musicians, as band leaders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker pushed Steely Dan further into experimenting with different combinations of session players.

<i>Katy Lied</i> 1975 studio album by Steely Dan

Katy Lied is the fourth studio album by American rock band Steely Dan, released in 1975 by ABC Records. It went gold and peaked at No. 13 on the US charts. The single "Black Friday" charted at No. 37.

<i>The Royal Scam</i> 1976 studio album by Steely Dan

The Royal Scam is the fifth studio album by Steely Dan, originally released by ABC Records in 1976. The album went gold and peaked at #15 on the charts. The Royal Scam features more prominent guitar work than the prior Steely Dan album, Katy Lied, which had been the first without founding guitarist Jeff Baxter. Guitarists on the recording include Walter Becker, Denny Dias, Larry Carlton, Elliott Randall and Dean Parks.

<i>Gaucho</i> (album) 1980 studio album by Steely Dan

Gaucho is the seventh studio album by the American rock band Steely Dan, released on November 21, 1980 by MCA Records. The sessions for Gaucho represent the band's typical penchant for studio perfectionism and obsessive recording technique. To record the album, the band used at least 42 different musicians, spent over a year in the studio, and far exceeded the original monetary advance given by the record label.

<i>Everything Must Go</i> (Steely Dan album) 2003 studio album by Steely Dan

Everything Must Go is the ninth and final studio album by American rock group Steely Dan. It was released on June 10, 2003, by Reprise Records, and was the band's second album following their 20-year studio hiatus spanning 1980 through 2000, when they released Two Against Nature. Everything Must Go is the last studio album with founding member Walter Becker before his death in 2017.

<i>The Nightfly</i> 1982 studio album by Donald Fagen

The Nightfly is the debut studio album by American singer-songwriter Donald Fagen. Produced by Gary Katz, it was released October 1, 1982 by Warner Bros. Records. Fagen was previously best known for his work in the group Steely Dan, with whom he enjoyed a successful career in the 1970s. The band separated in 1981, leading Fagen to pursue a solo career. Although The Nightfly includes a number of production staff and musicians who had played on Steely Dan records, it was Fagen's first release without longtime collaborator Walter Becker.

Roger Nichols (recording engineer) American record producer and audio engineer

Roger Scott Nichols was an American recording engineer, producer and inventor.

Deacon Blues 1978 single by Steely Dan

"Deacon Blues" is a song written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen in 1976 and recorded by their group Steely Dan on their 1977 album Aja. It peaked at number 19 on the Billboard charts and number 17 on the U.S. Cash Box Top 100 in June 1978. It also reached #40 on the Easy Listening chart. In Canada, it peaked at #14, a position it occupied for two weeks, and #20 Adult Contemporary.

<i>A Decade of Steely Dan</i> 1985 compilation album by Steely Dan

A Decade of Steely Dan is a compilation album by Steely Dan, released in 1985. It was the band's first compilation specifically for the compact disc market, and was certified a gold record by the RIAA.

<i>Citizen Steely Dan</i> 1993 box set by Steely Dan

Citizen Steely Dan is a four-CD box set compilation album by Steely Dan, released in 1993. The set is a collection of all of Steely Dan's albums in chronological order, and also contains a non-album single, a non-album B-side, a rare compilation track recorded during the sessions for The Royal Scam but released only on the 1978 Greatest Hits, and a previously unreleased demo of "Everyone's Gone to the Movies".

<i>The Best of Steely Dan: Then and Now</i> 1993 greatest hits album by Steely Dan

The Best of Steely Dan: Then and Now is a compilation album by Steely Dan, released in 1993.

Pretzel Logic (song) song

"Pretzel Logic" is a song written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen that was released as a single by Steely Dan from their album Pretzel Logic, originally released in 1974 by ABC Records. It reached number 57 in the Billboard charts.

"Bad Sneakers" is a song by jazz rock band Steely Dan. It was released as the second track on their 1975 album Katy Lied. Producer Gary Katz later regretted not releasing the song as the first single.

FM (No Static at All) Steely Dan song from the movie "FM"

"FM " is a song by American jazz-rock band Steely Dan, the title theme for the 1978 film FM. It made the US Top 40 that year when released as a single, a success relative to the film. Musically, it is a complex jazz-rock composition driven by its bass, guitar and piano parts, typical of the band's sound from this period; its lyrics look askance at the album-oriented rock format of many FM radio stations at that time, in contrast to the film's celebration of that medium.

Josie (Steely Dan song) 1978 single by Steely Dan

"Josie" is a song written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen and first released by Steely Dan on their 1977 album Aja. It was also released as the third single from the album and performed modestly well, reaching #26 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #44 on the Easy Listening chart that year. It has appeared on several Steely Dan live and compilation albums.

"Aja" is a jazz rock song by the American rock band Steely Dan from the album of the same name, released in 1977. It was composed by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the band's two members, who respectively play guitar and synthesizer on the track, with various studio musicians playing the other parts; Fagen sings lead vocals. Production duties were handled by Gary Katz; ABC Records released the album. Musically, it is a tonally sophisticated and structurally complex work that was praised on its release as the most ambitious song the duo had ever attempted. The song's lyrics are the interior monologue of a man who "run[s] to" the title character to escape the stresses of his life "up on the hill." Fagen claims it was inspired by a relative of someone he knew, who had married a Korean woman named Aja. He has described the song as being about the "tranquility that can come of a quiet relationship with a beautiful woman."

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