Walter Becker, guitarist, bassist and co-founder of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted band Steely Dan, died Sunday at the age of 67.
Becker’s official site announced the death; no cause of death or other details were provided.
Becker missed Steely Dan’s Classic East and West concerts in July as he recovered from an unspecified ailment. “Walter’s recovering from a procedure and hopefully he’ll be fine very soon,” his band mate Donald Fagen told Billboard. Becker’s doctor advised the guitarist not to leave his Maui home for the performances.
Becker and Fagen first became collaborators when they were both students at New York’s Bard College. After working as songwriters (Barbra Streisand’s “I Mean to Shine”) and members of Jay and the Americans’ backing band, the duo moved to California in the early Seventies to form Steely Dan – named after 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, the lineup would change again with Palmer’s exit; while Steely Dan would routinely rotate musicians, Becker and Fagen remained the group’s core members. Despite the ever-changing lineup, Steely Dan made their stamp on music with a string of pristine, musically sophisticated albums with “calculated and literary lyrics” that blurred the lines of jazz, pop, rock and soul.
“I’m not interested in a rock/jazz fusion,” Becker told Rolling Stone in 1974. “That kind of marriage has so far only come up with ponderous results. We play rock & roll, but we swing when we play. We want that ongoing flow, that lightness, that forward rush of jazz.”
He added, “I learned music from a book on piano theory. I was only interested in knowing about chords. From that, and from the Harvard Dictionary of Music, I learned everything I wanted to know.”
With Becker on bass, Can’t Buy a Thrill produced the hits “Reelin’ in the Years,” “Dirty Work” and “Do It Again.” Countdown to Ecstasy followed in 1973 with Fagen now entrenched as lead singer. Following 1974’s Pretzel Logic – which yielded the band’s biggest hit, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” – the band experienced as a major upheaval as Dias, Baxter and Hodder all exited the quintet; for 1975’s Katy Lied, the now-duo – with Becker also picking up guitar duties – surrounded themselves with a team of expert studio musicians that included Toto’s Jeff Porcaro, guitarist Hugh McCracken and Michael McDonald.
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