Steely Dan guitarist and co-founder Walter Becker died Sunday (Sept. 3) at the age of 67.
News of Becker’s death was announced on his official website. Further details of his passing were not revealed.
Becker was absent at both of Steely Dan’s performances during July’s Classic West and Classic East concerts due to an unspecified illness. In August, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen told Billboard that his bandmate was “recovering from a procedure,” but didn’t elaborate further.
After becoming musical collaborators as students at New York’s Bard College, Becker and Fagen went on to turn out numerous hit songs during the 1970s, including “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number,” “Deacon Blues,” “Kid Charlemagne,” “Hey Nineteen,” and “My Old School.”
The Grammy-winning band split up in 1981 but reformed in the 1990s, releasing a handful of successful albums.
Most of Steely Dan’s sales occurred before the advent of Nielsen’s Music SoundScan in 1991. Nevertheless, since then, the band’s albums have scanned 8.4 million units in the U.S., led by Two Against Nature, the duo’s 2002 album, which has moved 1.075 million units. Looking at track sales, the band’s song downloads total 4.4 million units, led by its first two singles: “Reelin’ In the Years” at 556,000 units, and its debut single, “Do It Again,” at 508,000 units. Meanwhile, on-demand streams total 270.7 million plays. “Do It Again” is the most on-demand streamed song with 30.7 million plays while “Reelin In the Years” is close behind at 29.1 million plays.
Becker’s two solo albums — 1994’s 11 Tracks of Whack and 2008’s Circus Money — have scanned 74,000 units, with Whack garnering the most at 60,000 units.
Steely Dan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
Shortly after Becker’s passing, Fagen shared a touching note about his longtime bandmate. Read his full statement below:
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.
PHOTO: Ebet Roberts/Redferns