© 2020, MJ Ostrander
(Apologies for posting this so late! Yesterday was a complicated day.)
To me, Steely Dan was downtown cruising music. Tunes that combined great fusion and gritty lyrics. I used to say that if I bought a yacht, Donald Fagan & Walter Becker would loom large on my playlist. Go figure.
The duo joined forces in New York circa 1967 and released their first LP, Can’t Buy A Thrill in 1972 followed by Countdown to Ecstasy in 1973. Pretzel Logic and Katy Lied ensued in 1974 and 1976. The Royal Scam was also released in 1976 but produced no hit singles in the US. Aja (1977) on the other hand produced several and was their most jazz-influenced release. Gaucho, an album that was released only after much personal and legal trouble, was for all intents and purposes Steely Dan’s final effort. The band came apart in 1981.
Fagan & Becker were not fond of touring and you were lucky if a tour wasn’t cancelled before you had the chance to see them. Legal entanglements were many and some exist to this day. Drug abuse plagued Walter Becker’s life, possibly exacerbated by his girlfriend’s death due to overdose in New York City, resulting in a lawsuit against him for seventeen million dollars. The action was later settled out of court. Becker was struck by a taxi not long after, breaking his right leg in several places. In 1981, Becker ceased his drug use and moved to Maui where he owned an Avocado ranch. He died from complications of esophageal cancer in 2017. Donald Fagan was sued by Becker’s widow for fifty percent of the band’s share. Fagan counter-sued, declaring that any band members leaving the group, whether alive or dead, relinquished their share.
Fagan completed two tours following Becker’s death still using the name Steely Dan. The first with Doobie Brothers in 2018, and the second with Steve Winwood in 2019.
For those who remain confused about the band’s name – yes. Steely Dan was the name of a dildo in William Burrough’s 1950’s “beat” generation novel Naked Lunch.