On Sunday, over Labor Day Weekend, the world suffered the loss of Steely Dan guitarist Walter Becker at the age of 67. Steely Dan, co-founded by Becker and Donald Fagan, was a hugely influential group that helped shape the sounds of the 70’s, offering a unique approach to pop music—a slick combination of jazz, off-center chord progressions, meticulous arrangements, and introspective lyrics—and more or less creating their own genre. This, plus the group’s prodigious work ethic, unwavering stylistic integrity, and far-spanning cultural appeal helped the group rise to stardom and remain there for decades after their inception.
Given Steely Dan’s influence on the music of the 1970’s and beyond, Becker’s loss particularly tough on musicians as well as fans. One such musician who penned a touching tribute to Becker after his death is Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes, who took the time on Sunday to speak out about the influence on the group via a Facebook post. You can read Warren Haynes’ full comments on the loss of Walter Becker below.
RIP Walter Becker- tough year. The music world has suffered a lot of loss and today yet another. Walter was a great guitarist, songwriter, and producer. Steely Dan was a one-of-a-kind group and I dare to say there will never be another. The music he and Donald Fagen wrote together was masterful. The bar they set for songwriting, both musically and lyrically, was astounding. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when their music was in heavy rotation on the radio alongside the commercial rock and pop acts of the day, none of which they resembled in any way.
Although in the beginning they were a little more of a “rock” band, from the start they relied heavily on the jazz influences that separated their melodies and chord changes from any music before or since. That combined with the brilliantly witty lyrics, often actual stories, created timeless songs that defied categorization. Although I definitely have my favorites, I acknowledged to myself recently that there’s not one Steely Dan song that’s not masterfully constructed. When you add to that the amazing musicianship they brought and surrounded themselves with, what follows is a catalogue of music that raised the bar for anyone who was paying attention. I’ve mentioned in interviews that The Royal Scam is one of my all-time favorite albums but in actuality they all are. I still have a near-visual recollection of hearing Aja for the first time. A friend who had just bought the album had an amazing high fidelity stereo system and provided some “herbal ambience” and the perfect environment and opportunity to listen to, uninterrupted, what I consider to be one of the greatest recorded albums of all time.
I never got to play with Walter but we had several meaningful conversations, mostly at Studio Instrument Rentals in NYC where we would often run in to each other during rehearsals. One story in particular he told me that stands out is about him seeing the original Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East for the first time and how much it blew his mind. I never realized until that moment that the ABB’s music had made an impact on him- as it had me- as had Steely Dan’s.
I’m doing a lot of thinking these days, about a lot of things- but one thing that weighs heavy on my mind is how much a part of my life music has been. I really can’t imagine life without it. The music created by the bands and artists that moved me so much, many who are now gone, really set the bar at an awesomely high level that many of us feel is getting lower and lower. I know that times change and technology sets the path for the future. Nostalgia is normal and change is sometimes falsely perceived as the deterioration of culture. I know that some things are inevitable. I can only hope that losing the “magic” of music is not one of them.
Let us all hope that a new wave of artists/bands will come along that reminds newer generations how important the “magic” of music is and that the bar hasn’t been lowered to the point that what is perceived as “magic” gets less and less inspired to the point that music itself isn’t important.
The world is forever grateful for the music that Steely Dan bestowed upon us. Thank you, Walter.