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teely Dan is an American jazz rock/rock band consisting of core members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. The band’s popularity peaked in the late 1970s, with the release of seven albums blending elements of jazz, rock, funk, R&B, and pop. Rolling Stone has called them
teely Dan is a Jazz fusion band led by founding members Donald Fagan and Walter Becker. They were one of the most prominent music acts of their time and despite the extreme saturation and trending of rock music, Steely Dan’s jazz inspired sound managed to breakthrough into the mainstream.
Though Steely Dan was not fully realized until 1972, the roots of the band trace back to 1968 when the core members, Fagan and Becker, first met at Bard College in New York. Fagan overheard Becker playing the electric guitar in a nearby cafe. Immediately impressed by his performance Fagan introduced himself and asked if he wanted to be in a band. The two shared similar tastes in music and ideas for strong constructions. They formed several bands in college one, which included Chevy Chase as the drummer.
The band played blues and rock cover songs by artists ranging from Willie Dixon to Moby Grape; however, they would focus more on their original compositions with their move to Brooklyn, New York in 1969. Fagan and Becker assumed various roles in the music industry contributing to the soundtrack of the Richard Pryor film “You’ve Got to Walk It Like You Talk It or You’ll Loose that Beat” and acting as touring members of the group Jay and the Americans.
Fagan and Becker eventually formed their own band and recruited the help of drummer Jim Hodder, singer David Palmer, and guitarists Denny Dias and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. Considering Fagan and Becker were advent enthusiasts of the Beat Generation movement, they named their newly formed group after a reference to William S. Burroughs’ novel “Naked Lunch”.
Steely Dan initially struggled to find their footing in the recording studios, releasing the poorly received single “Dallas”; however that reputation quickly dissipated with the release of their 1972 debut album “Can’t Buy a Thrill”. This album housed the classic rock standards “Reelin’ in the Years”, which reached #11 on the Billboard singles charts and “Do It Again” which peaked at #6. The band followed this release with the critically acclaimed, but commercially unsuccessful, “Countdown to Ecstasy”. This was the band’s first album without Palmer as lead vocalist. In addition to Fagan replacing Palmer as vocalist, Steely Dan also added future Doobie Brothers keyboardist Michael McDonald to the line up. The band put out another critical and commercial success with “Pretzel Logic” and made it to the #4 spot on the Billboard Charts with their hit single “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”.
After the release of “Pretzel Logic” Steely Dan abandoned touring and committed themselves completely to the studios. Fagan and Becker were utter perfectionist in recording sessions and would sometimes make their studio musicians play a total of 40 takes per track. As Fagan and Becker continued hiring incredibly talented studio musicians, the significance of the roles of the other members began to diminish and they would subsequently leave the band. Equipped with a diverse and highly competent set of studio musicians Steely Dan went on to record the most texturally elaborate and polished sounding albums of their career. 1977’s “Aja” was a landmark album for the band and a groundbreaking record for its time. This album raked in a number of accolades including two Grammys for Best Engineered Recording and Non-Classical album. The album was also immensely popular with the general public, reaching #5 on the US Charts and becoming one of the first American albums to be certified platinum. The album showcased the bands craft as innovative and complex songwriters and added validity to their reputation as masterminds in the studio. Aja also featured a long list of jazz aficionados such as saxophonists Wayne Shorter, Pete Christlieb and Tom Scott, guitarists Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour, and bassist Chuck Rainey (to name a few).
Steely Dan released their follow up to “Aja”, “Gaucho” 3 years later. Though the band endured personal, technical, and legal trouble during the album’s production, it ended up being another major success. Steely Dan’s next studio album would not be released until 20 years after “Gaucho”. Their long awaited comeback album, “Two Against Nature” dominated at the Grammy Awards, taking home Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Performance by Duo or Group with Vocal, and Album of the year. Steely Dan recorded yet another album entitled “Everything Must Go” and supported it with an extensive tour. The band’s “Two Against Nature” tour would be the band’s first time on the road since the ‘70s. Steely Dan continued touring well through out the 2000s and even did a tour in 2013 where they played “Aja” in its entirety.