Walter Becker, guitarist, bassist and co-founder of band Steely Dan, died today. Co-founder, Donald Fagen promised,
“I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.“
Becker’s official site announced the death; no cause of death or other details were provided. Fagen wrote in a tribute to Becker,
“Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967. 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 and Fagen first became collaborators when they were both students and after working as songwriters, the duo moved to California in the early 70s 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, which produced the hits Reelin’ in the Years, Dirty Work and Do It Again. For 1975’s Katy Lied, the now-duo – with Becker also picking up guitar duties – surrounded themselves with a team of expert studio musicians.
When asked by Time Out in 2008 about Deacon Blues sneaking onto classic rock radio, Becker said,
“That’s sort of what we wanted to do, conquer from the margins, sort of find our place in the middle based on the fact that we were creatures of the margin and of alienation, and I think that a lot of kids our age were very alienated. To this day when I read some text that somebody writes about alienation, I always think to myself, ‘Gee, they make it sound like it’s a bad thing!’ So yeah, I think that’s great. Naturally that’s very satisfying to us to hear that something has slipped through the cracks.“
In 2001, Steely Dan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Moby said in his induction speech for the duo,
“The musical tradition that Steely Dan represent is certainly one that’s more cerebral and intellectual and beautiful as well. Although they always seemed to approach popular culture with a certain sense of irony and distaste, they also clearly have a love for beauty and beautiful music.“
Becker and Fagen used their Rock Hall acceptance speech to take questions from the crowd, below.
I’m a big Steely Dan fan and one of my favorite albums and songs in the latter years is Everything Must Go. Sadly, it must.
Walter Becker was 67.
(Photo, YouTube screen grab; via Rolling Stone)