Throwback Video of the Week!

Throwback Video of the Week!

Throwback Video of the Week!

Steely Dan founding members Walter Becker, left, and Donald Fagan arrive at the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards on February 21, 2001 in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Laura Farr/Newsmakers via Getty Images)

Steely Dan is opening for the Eagles’ final tour, which includes a stop at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center on November 7th. By blending elements of rock, jazz, Latin music, R&B, and blues, Steely Dan was one of the defining and most interesting American musical acts of the 1970s. Let’s reel in those years with this Throwback Threesome.

College Boys

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen met in 1967 at Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Discovering that they had similar music tastes, the two began writing songs together. Becker and Fagen then performing as various groups, including the Don Fagen Jazz Trio, the Bad Rock Group, and the Leather Canary. For a time, future comedy star Chevy Chase was their drummer.

After a few years of writing songs and working as touring musicians for other acts out of New York City, Becker and Fagen moved to Los Angeles and put together a new band with guitarists Denny Dias and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, drummer Jim Hodder, and singer David Palmer. They called themselves Steely Dan, a bawdy reference from William S. Burroughs’ 1959 novel, Naked Lunch.

Steely Men

Between 1972 and 1980, Steely Dan recorded seven critically-acclaimed and commercially-successful studio albums, including their 1977 masterpiece, Aja. By 1974, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen decided they wanted to stop touring and concentrate solely on writing and recording. This caused a rift in the band, with Baxter and Hodder eventually leaving. To fill some of the gaps, Becker and Fagen enlisted the talents of singer-keyboardist Michael McDonald, as well as drummer Jeff Porcaro and pianist David Paich, who would later form their own band, Toto.

Following the release of their 1980 album, Gaucho, Steely Dan disbanded. In 1981, Walter Becker moved to Maui, where he stopped using drugs and became an avocado rancher. Donald Fagen released a solo album, The Nightfly (1982), which went platinum in both the U.S. and the UK. In 1988, Fagen wrote the score for the Michael J. Fox movie Bright Lights, Big City and a song for its soundtrack.

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen reunited for a U.S. tour in 1993 after Becker had produced Fagen’s second solo album, Kamakiriad, that same year. Steely Dan released a live album in 1995 and two more studio albums in the early 2000s. The band also toured frequently until Becker’s death from esophageal cancer in 2017. Fagen has continued to tour as Steely Dan since then.

Throwback Threesome: Steely Dan

  • Do It Again (1972)

    Steely Dan recorded the bulk of their catalog before the 1981 launch of MTV so they didn’t make music videos. However, in 1973, the band made a couple of appearances on a show called The Midnight Special, where the musical acts actually performed live, unlike on other shows like American Bandstand, where everything was lip-synched. In the clip below, Steely Dan performs “Do It Again” from their debut album, Can’t Buy a Thrill. The single peaked at #6 on the pop charts in the U.S. and Canada. While Donald Fagen sang lead on the recording, David Palmer handled those duties on the February 9, 1973 episode of The Midnight Special.

  • Reelin' In The Years (1972)

    The next single to come off Can’t Buy a Thrill was the guitar-driven “Reelin’ in the Years.” The guitar solo on the original recorded version, by session player Elliott Randall, was recorded in one take. According to Songfacts, Randall’s playing earned high praise from Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, calling it his favorite guitar solo of all time. Despite being one of Steely Dan’s most popular songs, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen told Rolling Stone magazine in 2009 that it’s one of their least favorites to play. Nevertheless, they played it during their August 31, 1973 appearance on The Midnight Special.

  • My Old School (1973)

    Released in 1973 as the second single from Steely Dan’s sophomore album, Countdown to Ecstasy, “My Old School” tells the story of a May 1969 marijuana bust at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. It was orchestrated by then Dutchess County assistant district attorney G. Gordon Liddy, referred to in the lyrics as “Daddy Gee.” Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were among 44 students arrested. According to a 2014 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Fagen’s long hair was even cut off in the Poughkeepsie jail. Although he sings that he’s “never going back to my old school,” Fagen did return to Bard College for an honorary degree in 1985.

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