Thursday, January 18, 2018
News Roundup

Steely Dan co-founder, guitarist, Walter Becker dies at 67

LOS ANGELES — Walter Becker, the co-founder of Steely Dan who was known for his acerbic wit and his proficient work with the guitar, has died. He was 67.

As one of the key architects of Steely Dan, Becker and longtime musical partner Donald Fagen were responsible for numerous hit songs and albums throughout the band's 1970s heyday. Often low-key and influenced by jazz or R&B, Steely Dan's patiently calm arrangements contrasted with the band's dark sense of humor and heavily poetic lyrics — word puzzles that were often caked in cynicism and subtle perversity.

No cause of death was given, and Becker's death was first announced by the artist's official website early Sunday. Shortly after, Fagen released a statement through a publicist in which he pledged to keep Steely Dan's music alive and praised his collaborator as "smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter."

"He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny," Fagen wrote. "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."

Becker had recently missed the band's July performances in Los Angeles and New York as part of the Classic West and Classic East festivals. "He took ill shortly before he was to come to California," Fagen said on stage at Dodger Stadium on July 15. "We wish him a speedy recovery."

Steely Dan, named after a William Burroughs term for a marital aid in his book Naked Lunch, formed in the early 1970s, years after Becker and Fagen met at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. The act was known for heady songs full of unexpected sonic detours, and the band's ornately and painstakingly produced albums, such as 1974's Pretzel Logic and 1977's Aja, are today considered signature works of the decade.

Pretzel Logic became the band's first album to reach the top 10 in the U.S., its success fueled heavily by the single Rikki Don't Lose That Number, a tune that documents an overly confident, arguably delusional and likely ill-advised romantic pursuit. The song broadcast Steely Dan's love of jazz, as it pulled its riff from pianist Horace Silver's light-stepping, Brazilian-tinged staple Song for My Father.

Becker and Fagen were essentially the only constants of Steely Dan, which by the mid '70s had ceased touring and increasingly relied upon a revolving cast of ace musicians. For 1975's Katy Lied, for instance, the act underwent significant lineup shifts and the work was the first to highlight Michael McDonald, who would later go on to fame with the Doobie Brothers, as a vocalist on a Steely Dan album.

Becker and Fagen were often a study in contrasts themselves. Fagen, wrote former Los Angeles Times music writer Richard Cromelin, "always seemed the more human half of Steely Dan — his sarcasm was downright benign next to Walter Becker, a baby-faced sadist who delighted in turning interviewers into whimpering wrecks."

The Steely Dan creation myth often notes that Becker and Fagen were drawn to each other via a mutual disdain of hippie culture as well as an adoration for jazz, comedy, science fiction and writers such as Vladimir Nabokov and Kurt Vonnegut. In the late '60s, the two worked with pop act Jay and the Americans before heading to Los Angeles to work as songwriters and eventually embarking on a career with themselves at the forefront as Steely Dan.

Early on, Becker largely played bass, and he said he was encouraged to focus on the guitar by Fagen. In time, he developed a languid and loose style that could seamlessly drift among jazz, blues and rock — a proficient and reassuring sound that tempered his off-stage or between song satirical incisiveness.

"Donald wanted me to play guitar because he felt that we'd end up with something weirder and more interesting if I did it," Becker told the Times in 1994. "A lot of times, we'd get somebody to come in and try something and we'd listen to it, and it would be too ordinary or (the guitarist) wouldn't understand it in any unusual tonal way. That was the problem we had a lot of time back then."

The band drifted after the release of 1980's Gaucho, regularly citing fatigue, personal disagreements and drug abuse, but reunited in 1993. In 2000, the act released its first studio album in two decades with Two Against Nature. The album would eventually win the Grammy Award for album of the year and help Steely Dan remain a touring force well into its fifth decade.

Becker was born Feb. 20, 1950, in Queens, N.Y., and in the early 1980s he retreated to Hawaii to focus on living a cleaner lifestyle. During Steely Dan's hiatus, Becker stayed out of the spotlight, occasionally working as a producer for such artists as Rickie Lee Jones and China Crisis, but not releasing his debut solo album until 1994 with 11 Tracks of Whack.

Thought it leaned, albeit slightly, a little more rock 'n' roll than some of Steely Dan's material, it showed Becker hadn't lost any of his edge.

"I came up with that title when I realized that a lot of the songs I wrote were not motivated by my love of my fellow man," he once told the Times. "As much as anything else, they rank on people or are lashing out or, in some cases, are about people who are dead."

Yet Becker and Fagen proved far more potent together than separate, and after returning as a touring entity in 1993, Steely Dan slowly returned to active recording duty. In 2003, the band released its second album since reuniting, Everything Must Go, and in 2015 Steely Dan represented the classic rock set at the youth-focused Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

There was no information immediately available on Becker's survivors.

Comments

High school scoreboard for Jan. 17

Wednesday’s scoreboardBoys basketballBoca Ciega 62, Clearwater 52Boys soccerPalm Harbor U. 3, Dunedin 0Girls soccerPalm Harbor U. 5, Dunedin 0
Updated: 4 hours ago
‘All I see is fire’: 911 calls released from Florida casino boat fire

‘All I see is fire’: 911 calls released from Florida casino boat fire

PORT RICHEY — The first call came into emergency dispatch at 4 p.m. on Sunday from shore, reporting a ‘giant’ boat on fire in the Pithlachascotee River."It’s urgent," the caller said.Others followed quickly, one woman crying as she described from her...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Shelters offer escape from the cold for those who need it

Shelters offer escape from the cold for those who need it

On warmer nights, Jerry Hardison can sleep for a few hours at the recycling center. He works 11-hour shifts there. He gets off at 2:30 a.m., then waits until the buses start running again.But not Wednesday."Getting out that time of the morning in the...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Apple to build second campus, hire 20,000 in $350B pledge

Apple to build second campus, hire 20,000 in $350B pledge

Associated PressSAN FRANCISCO — Apple is planning to build another corporate campus and hire 20,000 workers during the next five years as part of a $350 billion commitment to the United States that will be partially financed by an upcoming windfall f...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Michigan father deported after three decades in community; AIDS crusader Mathlide Kim dies; more in U.S. news

Michigan father deported after three decades in community; AIDS crusader Mathlide Kim dies; more in U.S. news

Michigan This was his home for 30 years, then ICE forced dad from familyWith two immigration agents hovering nearby, Jorge Garcia pulled his wife and their 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son close for a final hug at the Detroit airport. Soon af...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Gibsonton man faces 50 counts of child porn

Gibsonton man faces 50 counts of child porn

GIBSONTON — A 46-year-old man was arrested Wednesday by Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents on 50 counts of possession of child pornography and one count of promoting a sexual performance by a child.Authorities said they received several tip...
Updated: 8 hours ago

He still has nightmares: Deckhand recalls prior casino boat fire

Cory Byrd said he still has nightmares about the smoke. In them, he is back in the cabin of the Express Shuttle II, scrambling to reach the white rectangle of an open door. The smoke was so thick, he said, you could barely see an outstretched hand. ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Wallaby bounds down Sydney Harbour Bridge; North, South Korea to march as one in Olympics; more in world news

Wallaby bounds down Sydney Harbour Bridge; North, South Korea to march as one in Olympics; more in world news

AustraliaWallaby infiltrates Sydney bridgeA wayward wallaby disrupted downtown traffic by bounding across the Sydney Harbor Bridge on Tuesday with police in pursuit. The adult male was captured without any apparent serious injury and is expected to b...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Pinellas sheriff, feds announce changes to controversial immigrant detention policy

Pinellas sheriff, feds announce changes to controversial immigrant detention policy

LARGO — For years, county sheriffs in the United States have faced a quandary when asked by federal officials to hold undocumented immigrants in their local jails. They could continue to hold them for up to two days past the time they were legally fr...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Water Street Tampa developers seek artist and design for $600,000 outdoor art near USF med school

Water Street Tampa developers seek artist and design for $600,000 outdoor art near USF med school

TAMPA — Water Street Tampa called Wednesday for artists to send in their ideas for a big piece of public art for the outdoor plaza between one of the $3 billion project’s office buildings and the new University of South Florida Morsani College of Med...
Updated: 10 hours ago