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Donald Fagen honors Steely Dan ‘friend and writing partner’ Walter Becker, dead at 67

Steely Dan guitarist, bassist and co-founder Walter Becker has died at age 67.
Steely Dan guitarist, bassist and co-founder Walter Becker has died at age 67. AP file photo

Steely Dan guitarist, bassist and co-founder Walter Becker died Sunday at age 67, according to an announcement on his official website.

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, Rolling Stone reports.

Fellow co-founder Donald Fagen confirmed Becker’s death on Sunday and released this statement:

“Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967. We started writing nutty little tunes on an upright piano in a small sitting room in the lobby of Ward Manor, a mouldering old mansion on the Hudson River that the college used as a dorm.

“We liked a lot of the same things: jazz (from the twenties through the mid-sixties), W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, science fiction, Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Berger, and Robert Altman films come to mind. Also soul music and Chicago blues.

“Walter had a very rough childhood — I’ll spare you the details. Luckily, he was smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny. Like a lot of kids from fractured families, he had the knack of creative mimicry, reading people’s hidden psychology and transforming what he saw into bubbly, incisive art. He used to write letters (never meant to be sent) in my wife Libby’s singular voice that made the three of us collapse with laughter.

“His habits got the best of him by the end of the seventies, and we lost touch for a while. In the eighties, when I was putting together the NY Rock and Soul Review with Libby, we hooked up again, revived the Steely Dan concept and developed another terrific band.

I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.”

Named after a sex toy in William S. Burroughs’ novel “Naked Lunch,” Steely Dan debuted in 1972 with the album “Can’t Buy a Thrill.”

Steely Dan had little use for rock’s excesses, creating instead a sophisticated, jazz-inflected sound with tricky harmonies, The New York Times reports. Becker was the primary arranger.

Steely Dan released its masterpiece, “Aja” in 1977. The album, one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, features classics such as “Peg,” “Deacon Blues” and “Aja,” and sold more than 5 million copies.

Becker was born Feb. 20, 1950, in Queens, N.Y., and was raised in the borough community, Variety reports. Initially a saxophonist, he took up the guitar as a teen.

He encountered his future partner Fagen as a student at Bard College in New York while playing a gig at local club the Red Balloon.

Personality clashes led to the band’s 1981 dissolution.

Becker retreated to Maui, where he grappled with drug abuse and laid low, according to Variety.

“I spent a couple of years not doing any music or anything, just here in Hawaii trying to get healthy and adjust to the new regimen I was setting up for myself,” he told England’s Mojo magazine in 1995.

He began touring again with Fagen in 1993, after which Steely Dan released two new albums.

Becker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Fagen in 2001.

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