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Chloë Moloney pays tribute to Walter Becker, guitarist and co-founder of Steely Dan, after his death today aged 67.

Over the past few years, fate has been merciless in ripping the most talented artists out of our grasp. It is with great regret that it has struck once again with the death of Walter Becker – guitarist, bassist and co-founder of Steely Dan. The cause of his passing remains unconfirmed as of yet.

The rock-jazz duo Steely Dan (Donald Fagen and Walter Becker) met as students at Bard College, New York in 1967. With hits such as ‘Hey Nineteen, ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’ and ‘Barrytown’, Steely Dan proved to be utterly seminal in their work. Rising to fame in the 1970s with their debut LP Can’t Buy A Thrill, the dynamic duo went on to sell over fourty million albums and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Walter Becker was scheduled to perform with his bandmate in July 2017, during The Classic East and West concerts – heralding triumphs such as The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and The Doobie Brothers. However, Becker had to pull out of his set due to an unspecified illness and a subsequent surgery. He was advised not to leave his home in Maui in order to recuperate.

His death falls a month before the group are scheduled to perform as part of BluesFest, alongside The Doobie Brothers at The O2 Arena. It is unverified as to whether or not this still will go ahead.

Becker, born on 20th February 1950 in New York City, is famed for his unparalleled guitar playing. However, his twangy-electric delight did not burgeon directly from the guitar, but the saxophone. His early beginnings and transition from the golden sax to the strings can be heard in the melt of jazzy riffs and sweet syncopation of Steely Dan’s germinal œuvre.

The band split in 1981 yet were tied neatly back together by 1993. After their reunion, the pair churned out two more albums – with their 2000 record Two Against Nature winning four Grammy awards. Walter Becker spread his wings in 1994 and kick-started a fruitful solo career; nevertheless his decision to stray away from Steely Dan was not met with overruling hostility – with Fagen co-producing Becker’s solo debut album 11 Tracks of Whack.

Becker’s life nonetheless proved not to be all plain sailing. Fagen notes in Rolling Stone that his bandmate endured ‘a very rough childhood’. Later in life, Becker was plagued by several setbacks, including an addiction to narcotics.

Moreover his girlfriend Karen Stanley passed away of a drug overdose in 1978, alongside Becker sustaining injuries after being struck by a Manhattan taxi. This particular tribute declares Becker to be as ‘smart as a whip […] cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny’. Fagen likewise promises to ‘keep the music [they] created together alive as long as [he] can with the Steely Dan band.’

Becker as a musical talent and wordsmith, alongside his string of international hits both with and without Steely Dan, has deservedly earned the genius title and proved himself to be incomparable in his abilities. With The Guardian describing their lyrics as ‘cynical and enigmatic’, Steely Dan’s back catalogue has been so delicately graced with Becker’s musical aptitude. Playing host to the soundtrack of a generation, Walter Becker and his effortlessly virtuosic nature will be sorely missed.


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