Remembering Walter Becker Of Steely Dan

Sep 4, 2017
Originally published on September 4, 2017 8:43 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Steely Dan - that band's debut album in 1972 fused together jazz, rock guitar, drums, keys. And they just created this sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO IT AGAIN")

STEELY DAN: (Singing) In the morning, you go gunning for the man who stole your water. And you fire...

GREENE: Over the next decade, their studio production grew sophisticated as their lyrics got darker and more cryptic. One of Steely Dan's founding members, Walter Becker, died yesterday at age 67. No cause of death has been given yet. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Walter Becker and Donald Fagan met in college - just a couple of music nerds looking for bands to play in. And they wound up forming their own.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY NINETEEN")

STEELY DAN: (Singing). Way back when in '67.

LIMBONG: Fagan actually heard Walter Becker before meeting him. Here's how he told it to WXPN's World Cafe in 2013.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD FAGAN: I heard this kid practicing in this campus club kind of. And he had a real sort of authentic-sounding, blues touch.

LIMBONG: They connected, hung out in Becker's room because he had the bigger dorm, pored over shared interests, records, books.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FAGAN: And we had the same sense of humor, essentially.

LIMBONG: That humor was reflected in their music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEACON BLUES")

STEELY DAN: (Singing) They got a name for the winners in the world. I want a name when I lose. They call Alabama the Crimson Tide. Call me Deacon Blues.

LIMBONG: The band is a favorite of audiophiles because of the attention Becker and Fagan paid to creating their layered sound. But they didn't seem to take themselves too seriously, as Walter Becker told NPR in 2003 when asked if he cared whether people got their opaque lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

WALTER BECKER: Yeah. I think we do care. But we don't necessarily care that everybody needs to get it. People can sort of listen to it at whatever level they - I mean, for example, I think our music - it's been universally agreed that our music is the best possible Muzak - rock Muzak - to play in the supermarket.

LIMBONG: But unlike most Muzak, Steely Dan was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. And though Walter Becker is gone, in a statement, Donald Fagan says he intends to keep the music of Steely Dan alive as long as he can. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIKKI DON'T LOSE THAT NUMBER")

STEELY DAN: (Singing) Rikki, don't lose that number. You don't want to call nobody else. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.