Saturday, September 16, 2017

Steely Dan Guitarist Walter Becker - His Life - His Guitars - His Guitarists

Steely Dan - Becker and Fagan
Some of the greatest songs from the 1970’s came from the “group” Steely Dan. Although for two years, Becker and Fagan toured as a group, most of their creations took place in the studio.  Becker originally played bass with the original group before switching to the instrument he loved; the guitar.



Walter Becker
Walter Becker cannot be defined as “guitar god”. All of the solos played on the recordings were done by studio pros. But Becker’s gift was songwriting, production, and the knowledge of what to leave in, what to leave out. Fagan did most of the vocals, and stands out as the front man, but Becker added more to the group than was ever acknowledged.


The foundation of the group was to write, and produce rock songs with a hint of rhythm and blues, and jazz. And they were very good at that.

Becker originally played saxophone, but took guitar lessons from his neighbor Randy Wolfe (aka Randy California of the group Spirit). Becker had a troubled childhood. He attended Bard College in New York, and it was there that he met fellow student Donald Fagan. Fagan heard him playing electric guitar and asked if he wanted to start a band. This prompted the two guys to begin writing songs together.

They originally played covers of some not-so-well-known songs, along with their own compositions. One of the drummers in this early group was comedy star Chevy Chase.

Jay and the Americans 1965
Both guys landed gigs in the touring band of Jay and the Americans. Jay Black, the groups front man, and lead singer, was a clean-cut, all-American, while Becker, and Fagan were left-overs from the “Beat” era. Becker and Fagan left when their salaries were cut in half by Black and his manager.



Streisand - I Mean To Shine
Barbara Steisand recorded a song written by Fagan and Becker called I Mean To Shine. After they determined they could make a career in the music business, the men moved to California and landed a deal as staff songwriters for ABC records. And it was there that Steely Dan became a band.

Along with Fagan and Becker were guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, drummer Jim Hodges, and singer David Palmer, who joined as a singer when Fagan was unable to overcome his stage-fright. They recorded a single called Dallas, that tanked.

Can't Buy A Thrill
It was not until 1972 when the LP, Can’t Buy A Thrill was released, that the band got any recognition. Among the songs were Reelin’ In The Years, Do It Again, and Dirty Work (sung by Palmer). Their second album Countdown to Ecstacy, released in 1973, was another hit and contained the FM hit Bodhisattva.



Pretzel Logic



Their 1974 album, Pretzel Logic, had the hit, Rikki Don’t Loose That Number. During this era, Becker and Fagan wanted to concentrate on writing and producing, so the did not want to tour.



Members of their band left and were replaced by session men, including Michael McDonald, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, sax player Phil Woods, bass player Winton Felder, and some members of the group that would go on to become Toto.

Aja
Subsequent albums were released including Kathy Lied and The Royal Scam, and finally Aja, which included such hits as Peg, and Deacon Blues.

The men were asked to write the music for a movie called FM, which became another hit song.

During most of 1978, Becker and Fagan took a break, but were writing songs for the album Gaucho.

Gaucho
That year Becker’s girlfriend died of a drug overdose in his apartment, which resulted in a lawsuit. During the same year Becker was struck by a taxi and his leg was shattered. Gaucho finally surfaced and contained the hit Hey Nineteen.

But internal disagreements caused  Steely Dan to disband in 1981.

Walter Becker moved to Hawaii and purchased an avacado farm. He also quit using drugs and became sober. Becker occasionally produced recordings for other artists, including Rikki Lee Jones.

In 1986 Becker and Fagan performed together on an album by Rosie Vela, and artist signed by their former manager, Gary Katz. The record was called Zazu.

Fagan's Kamikiriad
Becker went on to do production for Fagan’s solo LP Kamakiriad. In 1994 MCA records release Citizen Steely Dan, a boxed set of their recordings. Becker and Fagan went on tour to support the effort.

Subsequent tours took place in 2000 and 2003. Fagan continued to perform, sometimes with Becker.

Becker released his solo LP, Circus Money, in 2008.

Becker's Final Performance

The Steely Dan band played its final performance with Walter Becker on May 27th. Becker was supposed to join Fagan for more shows, but had to cancel for undisclosed reasons.


Becker passed away on Sunday, September 3, 2017, due to an undisclosed illness. He left behind an approximate net worth of $17.0 million. He leaves behind his wife Elinor and his two children.

Throughout his career, Becker's on stage guitars and basses were usually Gibson or Fender style instruments.

Becker with Epiphone acoustic


One of the earliest pictures shows Becker on an acoustic archtop Epiphone Broadway guitar.




Becker with Fender Bass
In the early days when Steely Dan was touring, the guitar parts were left to  Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, while Becker played bass.

Here is Becker with a modified PJ Fender bass. Baxter is playing the Telecaster.

Becker with Gibson Thunderbird bass


In a later photo from that era,  Becker is playing a modified Gibson Thunderbird bass.





Becker with a Sadowsky bass



We do not see many photos of Walter Becker playing an instrument until he and Fagan got back together in 1986.





Walter Becker - Grimes Guitar
Becker played a variety of guitars in the studio including this Grimes model jazz guitar.




Sadowsky Walter Becker Signature model
Becker was fond of guitars made by New York luthier, Roger Sadowsky. Here Becker plays his signature model. This guitar has a built-in preamp, with a gain switch.


This guitar also has a push-pull EQ control, and a 5 position slider switch to control its three P90 style pickups. Becker also has a similar model with twin humbuckers.

Hahn Telecaster

Becker also played an all mahogany Telecaster-style guitar made by New York luthier Chihoe Hahn.






Mid-2000 Fender No-Caster


Becker occasionally used a Fender mid 2000 relic'd No-caster in concerts.


Hahn Stratocaster Model


Becker played several Stratocaster-style guitars that were also made by Hahn Guitars.




Frye Guitar

Becker also owns and tours with a unique single pickup guitar made by Frye Guitars of  Green Bay, Wisconsin by luthier Ben Frye.



Sadowsky Strat-style
Walter Becker owned several Sadowsky guitars including this Silver stratocaster-style model that has three P90 style pickups, a built-in preamp, and EQ control.



Sadowsky Guitar
Another Sadowsky guitar is this one that was Becker's favorite studio guitar. It has two single coil pickups, and a bridge humbucker, and the EQ, and preamp features found on his other Sadowskys, but this one includes tune-able bridge saddles.

Blue Sadowsky Strat


Becker seemed to be very fond of Sadowsky Stratocaster-style guitars.




Sunburst Sadowsky Strat
Though the shape and contour of the Sadowsky guitaar a similar to a Fender Stratocaster, the cut on the sides of the Sadowsky guitars are not as beveled as one would find on the original Fender models

Kaur Banshee
Walter also owned and played a unique guitar that looks a lot like a Gibson Firebird, but it has a gold finish, and two P90 style pickups. It was made by Kaur Guitars of California, and is their Banshee model. This model came with Steinberger tuners.

Fano Alt de facto



Becker also owned and played a Fano Alt de facto RB6 guitar that is equipped with twin Lindy Fralin P90 style pickups and a unique "ToneStyler" control.







Becker's Flying Vee



Becker also owned, but seldom played a Gibson Flying Vee, which was based on the original 1958 model.





Dean Parks


As the early touring band only existed for around two years, most all of the groups music took place in the studio using session guitarists. These included Dean Parks, who is one of LA's busiest session men.




Larry Carlton

Probably the best known session player for Steely Dan was Mr. 335, Larry Carlton. Carlton's first appearance was on the song Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More from the Katy Lied Album. Carlton reappeared on the groups fifth album; Royal Scam, where his excellent licks were on Kid Charlemagne. He was an important part of the Steely Dan sound.

Rick Derringer



A lesser known session player for Steely Dan was Rick Derringer, who appeared on the Katy Lied LP.






Jay Graydon


Another popular session player of that era was guitarist, Jay "Wah-wah" Graydon. The only track he played on was their hit Peg.




Hugh McCracken



Guitarist Hugh McCracken was hired to play rhythm on Kathy Lied.








Steve Khan


Guitarist Steve Khan played on both the Aja and Gaucho albums. For him it must have been like going back in time since he was an original member of Steely Dan.







Lee Ritenour

Jazz player and session man Lee Ritenour was also a session player called up for the Aja LP.







Chuck Rainey


LA Bass veteran, Chuck Rainey, was called up to do the bass guitar part on Peg.


Click on the links below the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for more information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)








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Jack Bond said...

Steve Khan was not an original member of Steely Dan. Also, you forgot to mention Denny Dias, who was an original member of Steely Dan and Elliot Randall, who worked with Steely Dan as well.