Walter Carl Becker (February 20, 1950 – September 3, 2017) was an American musician, songwriter, and record producer. He was best known as the co-founder, guitarist, bassist, and co-songwriter of the jazz rock band Steely Dan.
Becker in 2013
|Birth name||Walter Carl Becker|
|Born||February 20, 1950|
Queens, New York, U.S.
|Died||September 3, 2017 (aged 67)|
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
|Occupation(s)||Musician, songwriter, record producer|
|Labels||ABC, MCA, Giant, Reprise, Warner Bros.|
|Associated acts||Jay and the Americans, Steely Dan, Donald Fagen, China Crisis|
Becker met future songwriting partner Donald Fagen while they were students at Bard College. After a brief period of activity in New York City, the two moved to Los Angeles in 1971 and formed the nucleus of Steely Dan, which enjoyed a critically and commercially successful ten-year career. Following the group's dissolution, Becker moved to Hawaii and reduced his musical activity, working primarily as a record producer. In 1985, he briefly became a member of the English band China Crisis, producing and playing synthesizer on their album Flaunt the Imperfection.
Becker and Fagen reformed Steely Dan in 1993 and remained active, recording Two Against Nature (2000), which won four Grammy Awards. Becker released two solo albums 11 Tracks of Whack (1994) and Circus Money (2008). Following a brief battle with esophageal cancer, he died on September 3, 2017.
Early life and career (1950–1971)Edit
Becker was born in Queens, New York City. After Becker's parents separated when he was a boy, his mother, who was British, returned to England. He was raised in Queens and Scarsdale, New York by his father and grandmother. His father sold paper-cutting machinery in Manhattan. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan in 1967. After starting out on saxophone, he switched to guitar and received instruction in blues technique from neighbor Randy California, who later formed the band Spirit.
Donald Fagen overheard Becker playing guitar at a campus café when they were both students at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. In an interview many years later, Fagen said, "I hear this guy practicing, and it sounded very professional and contemporary. It sounded like, you know, like a black person, really." They formed the band Leather Canary, which included fellow student Chevy Chase on drums. At the time, Chase called the group "a bad jazz band."
Becker left the school in 1969 before completing his degree and moved with Fagen to Brooklyn, where the two began to build a career as a songwriting duo. They were members of the touring band for Jay and the Americans but used pseudonyms. They also composed music for the soundtrack to You've Got to Walk It Like You Talk It or You'll Lose That Beat, a film starring Richard Pryor that was released in 1971.
With Steely Dan (1971–1981)Edit
In 1971, Becker and Fagen moved to Los Angeles and formed Steely Dan with guitarists Denny Dias and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, drummer Jim Hodder, and vocalist David Palmer. Fagen played keyboards and sang, while Becker played bass guitar. Steely Dan spent the next three years touring and recording before swearing off touring in 1974, confining themselves to the studio with personnel that changed for every album. In addition to co-writing all of the band's material, Becker played guitar and bass guitar and sang background vocals.
Pretzel Logic (1974) was the first Steely Dan album to feature Becker on guitar. "Once I met (session musician) Chuck Rainey", he explained, "I felt there really was no need for me to be bringing my bass guitar to the studio anymore".
Despite the success of Aja in 1977, Becker suffered from setbacks during this period, including an addiction to narcotics. After the duo returned to New York in 1978, Becker's girlfriend Karen Roberta Stanley, who was an employee of ABC Dunhill Records and personal manager for the band, died of a drug overdose in his apartment on January 30, 1980, resulting in a wrongful death lawsuit against him. Soon after, he was hit by a cab in Manhattan while crossing the street and was forced to walk with crutches while recovering. His exhaustion was exacerbated by commercial pressure and the complicated recording of the album Gaucho (1980). Becker and Fagen suspended their partnership in June 1981.
Work in record production (1981–1993)Edit
Following Steely Dan's breakup, Becker and his family moved to Maui. Becker ceased using drugs, stopped smoking and drinking, and became an "avocado rancher and self-styled critic of the contemporary scene."
He produced albums for the new wave bands Fra Lippo Lippi and China Crisis, and is credited on the latter's 1985 album Flaunt the Imperfection as a member of the band. He also produced albums for Michael Franks and John Beasley. Becker produced Rickie Lee Jones's album Flying Cowboys and played bass on the main title track co-written by Pascal Nabet Meyer, which was certified Gold by the RIAA in 1997. Becker and Fagen reunited in 1986 to collaborate on Zazu, the debut album by Rosie Vela. In 1991, Becker appeared in Fagen's New York Rock and Soul Revue.
Steely Dan reformation (1993–2017)Edit
Also in 1993, Steely Dan began touring for the first time in nineteen years, resulting in the 1995 release of their first live album, Alive in America, a compilation of live recordings from different American tour dates in 1993 and 1994.
In a column for Guitar Player magazine published in 1994, Becker coined the acronym G.A.S. ("Guitar Acquisition Syndrome") denoting the uncontrolled accumulation of music gear. The term was later adapted as Gear Acquisition Syndrome in online forums and music magazines.
In 2000 they released Two Against Nature, their first album of new material in twenty years. The album won four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. In 2001 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received honorary doctorates from the Berklee College of Music, which they accepted in person. In 2003, they released the album Everything Must Go with Becker singing lead vocal on "Slang of Ages". They followed the album with a tour.
In 2005, Becker co-produced and played bass guitar on the album All One by Krishna Das and played guitar on the album Tough on Crime by Rebecca Pidgeon. He co-wrote "I'm All Right" from the album Half the Perfect World (2006) by Madeleine Peyroux and "You Can't Do Me" and the title track from her album Bare Bones (2009). He was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
In 1984 Becker married Elinor Roberta Meadows, a yoga teacher, and the couple had two children, including adopted daughter Sayan. They divorced in 1997. Becker wrote the song "Little Kawai" for his son, and it became the final song on the album 11 Tracks of Whack.
Becker was also married to Delia Cioffi and Juanna Fatouros.
On September 3, 2017, Becker died of esophageal cancer at his home in Manhattan, New York City. At the time of his death, no cause or other details were announced, but a statement released in November by Becker's widow, Delia Becker, detailed his struggle with the disease.
Musicians such as Julian Lennon, Steve Lukather, and John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats made public statements mourning Becker's death. Rickie Lee Jones, whose album Flying Cowboys was produced by Becker, recalled her long friendship with him in an editorial she wrote for Rolling Stone.
In a statement released to the media the day of Becker's death, Fagen recalled his long-time friend and musical partner as "smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter," and closed by stating that he intended to "keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band."
As sideman or producerEdit
- 1969 Alias Boona, Terence Boylan
- 1974 First Grade, Thomas Jefferson Kaye
- 1985 Flaunt the Imperfection, China Crisis
- 1986 Zazu, Rosie Vela
- 1987 Light and Shade, Fra Lippo Lippi
- 1989 Diary of a Hollow Horse, China Crisis
- 1989 Flying Cowboys, Rickie Lee Jones
- 1993 Kamakiriad, Donald Fagen
- 1994 Mose the Fireman, John Beasley
- 2005 All One, Krishna Das
- 2005 Tough on Crime, Rebecca Pidgeon
- 2011 Fra Lippo Lippi, Fra Lippo Lippi
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Walter Becker was born on Monday, February 20, 1950, in the Forest Hills area of Queens in New York
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- Walter Becker: "The Dreaded G.A.S.", in: Guitar Player, April 1994, p. 15.
- "Commencement 2001 – Berklee College of Music". Berklee.edu. Retrieved September 3, 2017.
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- "Long Island Music Hall of Fame – Preserving & Celebrating the Long Island musical heritage". Limusichalloffame.org. Retrieved September 3, 2017.
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- Lennon, Julian [@JulianLennon] (September 3, 2017). "So, so sad to hear this news.. SD played locally a few years ago, they were as amazing as ever... I asked to go" (Tweet). Retrieved September 3, 2017 – via Twitter.
- Lukather, Steve [@stevelukather] (September 3, 2017). "Really sad to hear Walter Becker has passed... Steely Dan music touched me deep. My desert Island music. RIP Walter. Condolences Donald." (Tweet). Retrieved September 3, 2017 – via Twitter.
- Darnielle, John [@mountain_goats] (September 3, 2017). "Steely Dan changed the way I understand music forever; I started writing songs under the name "the Mountain Goats" the same month 1/2" (Tweet). Retrieved September 3, 2017 – via Twitter.
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