Sept 3, 2017: Walter Becker, Steely Dan Co-Founder, Dies

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Walter Becker (photo from his website)

A simple graphic on his web page that morning—two photos and the words “walter becker feb. 20 1950-sept. 03 2017”—confirmed fans’ fears since the Steely Dan co-founder missed a series of major concerts in July: an as-yet-undisclosed illness had claimed Walter Becker, who co-led the band with Donald Fagen since 1971. Becker died at his Manhattan home; he was 67.

Becker’s final performance with Fagen was on May 27, 2017, at the annual Greenwich (CT) Town Party.

The guitarist/bassist/songwriter’s absence from the high-profile Classic West and Classic East concerts in Los Angeles and New York in July fueled speculation that something was terribly wrong; Fagen had been touring with his own band, the Nightflyers, since early August.

At the time, Fagen said, “Walter’s recovering from a procedure and hopefully he’ll be fine very soon.” It was revealed later, that Becker died of esophageal cancer.

Our obituary: Walter Carl Becker was born Feb. 20, 1950, in the New York City borough of Queens. At first a saxophonist, he switched to guitar in high school and began playing with Fagen while attending Bard College. (An early band of theirs, called Leather Canary, included future actor Chevy Chase on drums.)

The announcement on Becker’s website

In 1969, Becker and Fagen moved to Brooklyn and began writing songs together, including the music for a 1971 Richard Pryor film titled You’ve Got to Walk It Like You Talk It or You’ll Lose That Beat. A move to California led to the formation in 1972 of Steely Dan, which took its name from a sexual device mentioned in the William Burroughs novel Naked Lunch.

At first a full group, with Fagen on keyboards and lead vocals, Steely Dan toured for its first few years, then became a studio-only aggregation, with Becker and Fagen the only constants. Their debut album, Can’t Buy a Thrill, was released in late 1972 and reached #17 on the Billboard album chart. The single “Do It Again,” also from the fall of 1972, made #6 on the trade magazine’s chart. In all, Steely Dan logged 16 chart singles, including the top 10 hits “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” (1974) and “Hey Nineteen” (1980), plus 14 albums, among them the top 10 sellers Pretzel Logic (1974), Aja (1977) and Gaucho (1980).

Related: A look back at Steely Dan’s classic Aja album

Steely Dan in 1977: Walter Becker (l.) and Donald Fagen

In June 1981, Becker and Fagen announced that they were disbanding Steely Dan. In 1988, Fagen wrote music for the soundtrack of a film called Bright Lights, Big City but Becker eschewed recording solo albums at that time. He kept a low profile until the reunion of Steely Dan with Fagen in 1993. The reconstituted band toured that year for the first time in nearly two decades and became a fixture on the touring circuit in subsequent years. They released the first new album of their second run, Two Against Nature, in 2000, which became a top 10 and won four Grammys, including Album of the Year.  Everything Must Go followed in 2003.

Becker released his first solo album, 11 Tracks of Whack, in 1994, followed by Circus Money in 2008.

Related: Becker got a street named for him in the Forest Hills section of Queens, NY, where he grew up

Steely Dan–Becker and Fagen–was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Watch Steely Dan perform “Reelin’ in the Years” on The Midnight Special in 1973

Fagen continues to tour as Steely Dan. Tickets are available here.

Best Classic Bands Staff

4 Comments so far

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  1. Bigjohn619
    #1 Bigjohn619 3 September, 2017, 13:26

    Too bad. Part of a great band. May rest and play in peace with our lord.

    Reply this comment
  2. Bob
    #2 Bob 3 September, 2017, 15:12

    Life just got shittier. 2017 a suck year.

    Reply this comment
  3. Whiskeyman
    #3 Whiskeyman 3 September, 2017, 22:14

    Heaven’s got one HELL of a band! RIP you two rockers!

    Reply this comment
    • LouisVA
      LouisVA 5 September, 2018, 18:26

      Only Becker died last year. Fagen is alive and well and touring with Steely Dan!

      Reply this comment

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