Walter Becker who, with Donald Fagen were the core members and provided the creative genius of Steely Dan, passed away Sunday (8/3) at 67.
The Queens, New York born Becker took up the saxophone during his school years but set that aside to become a guitarist. Becker became a proficient guitarist with help from Randy Wolfe, who later changed his name to Randy California and was a founding member of the band Spirit.
Becker met Walter Fagen while the two were enrolled at Bard College. For a time, the two were in a band named Leather Canary that had Chevy Chase on drums. Becker and Fagen ditched Bard before graduating and set out to become professional song writers and, briefly, were members of Jay and the Americans under assumed names.
In 1971, the two relocated to the west coast and soon after arriving formed Steely Dan. Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter, Denny Dias (guitars) and Jim Hodder (drums) rounded out the band. Becker contributed some guitar at the outset, but his primary instrument was bass. Once the band acquired the services of bassist extraordinaire Chuck Rainey, Becker was free to shift entirely to guitar, and made his recording debut as Steely Dan's guitarist on Pretzel Logic (1974).
Steely Dan as a band was soon distilled down to Becker and Fagen, giving the pair the option to base which musicians they worked with on the nature and style of each album. Taking this approach allowed them to fine tune the sound for the studio but made concerts difficult, and Steely Dan became one of the least regular touring acts in Rock during Becker & Fagen's most active years of releasing popular albums. The two dissolved their writing partnership in 1981, the year after releasing Goucho, the final Steely Dan album released during the consecutive years of the collabortation of Becker and Fagen. Free of the pressures and obligations of needing to reinvent the band each time they did an album, the pair eventually began to tour somewhat regularly.
Walter Becker contended with a number of health issues, including injuries sustained when he was struck by a taxi while crossing the street in New York in 1978 and substance problems. He got that in check after the final album was released and went on to produce albums for Rickie Lee Jones (Flying Cowboys), Michael Franks, China Crisis.
Becker and Fagen reunited in 1993 for a tour after Becker had produced Fagen's album Kamakirird. The following year, Fagen returned the favor, producing Becker's 11 Tracks of Whack. They then collaborated as Steely Dan, releasing Two Against Nature (2000), an album that collected four Grammy Awards, including Album Of The Year.
Becker & Fagen were inducted into the Rock Hall OF Fame in 2001.
A cause of death has not been released. News of his passing was not a shock as it was common knowledge that he had health issues, but the circumstances under which we learned of his death because numerous sites seem to have announced it before it actually happened.
We always await substantiation before firing off a story. So, when people in a position to know cast doubts about reports that emerged going into the weekend that Walter Becker of Steely Dan fame had passed away and a chorus of claims of a hoax grew, we awaited verification. His passing was confirmed. But the assuming the date of death indicated on his web site is accurate, the initial reports of his death were false. While many repudible people and sites got duped into spreading news of his death prematurely, the misinformation had to have started with someone. We hope whoever that was feels remorse over having made a difficult time for Becker's loved ones and friends even more painful.