Walter Becker, the co-founder of the iconic band Steely Dan, has died at the age of 67.
Becker’s cause of death was not immediately released. Becker played lead guitar in the 1970s-era band and “formed Steely Dan with Donald Fagen, its keyboardist and lead vocalist.”
Steely Dan’s hits included “Reelin’ in the Years,” “Do It Again,” “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and “Deacon Blues.” Tributes have flowed in for the music great whose talent helped capture the tone of an era.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The New York-Born Becker Met Co-Founder Donald Fagen in College
According to Reuters, Becker was born in New York City in 1950, where he “grew up revering the jazz giants Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.”
He met Fagen at Bard College in New York in 1967 and the pair “would bond over their love of this music,” Reuters reported.
“We started writing nutty little tunes on an upright piano in a small sitting room in the lobby of Ward Manor, a moldering old mansion on the Hudson River that the college used as a dorm,” Fagen said in a statement on Sunday, according to Daily Variety.
2. Becker’s Personal Website Confirmed His Death & He Had Been Battling Health Issues
Sadly, Becker’s death was confirmed on his personal website.
He had recently been battling unspecified health problems.
“Becker had cancelled his appearances at the recent Classic West and Classic East concerts due to illness,” Daily Variety reported.
Fagen told Billboard in early August of Becker and the Nightflyers tour that “Walter’s recovering from a procedure and hopefully he’ll be fine very soon,” but did not elaborate.
3. Steely Dan Topped the Charts in the 1970s
The band was in its heyday in the 1970s, although it retained a following.
Daily Variety called Becker “the more retiring full-term member of the group” and reported that Becker “was partnered with singer-keyboardist and co-writer Fagen on a string of jazzy, sleekly produced singles and albums that ruled the charts during the ‘70s.”
In the 1990s, Steely Dan found additional acclaim. “Their 2000 album ‘Two Against Nature’ collected four Grammys, including one for album of the year,” Daily Variety reported.
4. Becker Had a Tough Childhood & Was ‘Smart as a Whip
In the lengthy statement that Fagen released to Daily Variety, he described Becker’s upbringing and personality and pledged to make sure Steely Dan’s musical legacy lives on.
“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,” the statement read. “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.”
You can read the full statement on the Daily Variety site here.
According to Rock Portraits, “Walter Carl Becker is born 20 February 1950 in Queens, New York. He is the ‘product of a broken home.’ Walter’s German father is in the business of importing heavy machinery. Walter Becker is raised mostly by his father and grandmother, alternating his place of residence between two areas of New York State, Forest Hills in Queens and Scarsdale in Westchester County.” His father died when he was 16.
5. Tributes Flowed in for Becker After His Death
In addition to Fagen, other celebrities and fans also lauded Becker’s musical contributions on social media.
Wrote Judd Apatow: “have played no band more often or enjoyed any music more than Steely Dan. They have always made me deliriously happy. RIP Walter Becker.”
Singer Ryan Adams wrote, “Walter Becker, you changed my life with your mystical music and guitar playing. You are so loved and I feel for your partner Donald Fagan and your fam. Straight to the stars…. My friend. You were every one of them, shining bright in my soul Showing us all what was really possible. You are loved RIP.”