AKA Donald Jay Fagen
Birthplace: Passaic, NJ
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Keyboards and vocals for Steely Dan
Born in New Jersey to an accountant and a former entertainer, Donald Fagen was given a thorough introduction to the popular music of the early twentieth century by his mother, who spent her youth singing professionally in the Catskills. Fagen absorbed these influences, later adding to them the R&B and pop music of his own generation, before ditching all of it in favor of the modern jazz genre that was emerging in the 1960s. He spent his teens immersed in the recordings and live performances of seminal jazz figures such as Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane, while also struggling against an attention disorder in his efforts to learn how to play the piano. By the completion of high school Fagen had put togther his first jazz ensemble, and he continued to pursue his muscial activities while working towards an English degree at New York's Bard College between 1965 and 1969. It was during his third year at Bard that he met Walter Becker, a first-year student who shared many of his interests; the two formed a succession of short-lived groups over the next two years, amongst which were The Leather Canary (which also occasionally featured future first season SNL comedian Chevy Chase on drums) and the more conventionally-named Don Fagen Trio.
After completing his degree, Fagen relocated to Brooklyn along with Becker, where the pair attempted to establish themselves amongst the team of songwriters housed within Manhattan's famous Brill Building. The attempt was not successful, but it did provide them with an introduction to Kenny Vance of the group Jay and the Americans. With Vance's help they assembled a demo recording of some of their songs, which evetually led to a job creating the score for the Richard Pryor film You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It. Between '70 and '71 Vance also drafted Fagen and Becker into the ranks of the Americans, utilizing them on piano and bass (respectively) for live shows, and as instrumentalists and arrangers in studio sessions for the band. This situation quickly ceased to offer any useful opportunities, and in 1971 the two threw their lot in with producer Gary Katz, who managed to get them both positions as staff songwriters for ABC-Dunhill Records in Los Angeles before the year was over.
Not particularly satisfied with their roles concocting pop songs for ABC's stable of artists, Fagen and Becker assembled their own band soon after arriving in L.A. and secretly began putting tracks together with nuclear engineer turned recording engineer Roger Nichols. Adopting the name Steely Dan (after a monstrous dildo featured in William S. Burroughs' subversive classic Naked Lunch) their first album Can't Buy a Thrill was issued late in 1972, its two singles Do It Again and Reelin' In The Years unexpectedly landing in the top 20 and the album itself achieving gold status. Pushed suddenly into the limelight, the band found itself burdened with the expectation from ABC Records to produce more hit singles and to tour constantly in support of them. The albums Countdown to Ecstasy (1973) and Pretzel Logic (1974) continued to build their popularity, but by the end of the '74 tour the pressures of life performance prompted Fagen and Becker to focus exclusively on studio work.
In the remaining years of the 1970s, the constantly shifting line-up assembled around Fagen and Becker produced four more critically-lauded albums: Katy Lied (1975), The Royal Scam(1976), Aja (1977) and Gaucho (1980); however, the numerous technical, business and personal difficulties that plagued the release of Gaucho ultimately convinced Fagen and Becker to abandon Steely Dan by the beginning of the 1980s. Once again living in New York, Fagen then launched a short-lived solo career (issuing The Nightfly in 1981) before retiring from the spotlight to concentrate on composing. He spent the rest of the decade making occasional song contributions to film soundtracks (Heavy Metal (1981), The King of Comedy (1983), Bright Lights Big City (1988), Say Anything (1989)), as well as creating material for artists such as Diana Ross and The Manhattan Transfer.
Fagen's return to live performance did not arrive until the early 1990s, taking the form of a series of small club appearances in which he revisited of the soul music of his youth. The success of these shows prompted him to put together The New York Rock and Soul Review, enlisting the help of guest performers that included Boz Scaggs, Michael McDonald, Phoebe Snow and, eventually, Walter Becker. A resident of Hawaii since Steely Dan's demise, Becker had returned to New York to produce Fagen's second solo effort Kamakiriad (1993); the success of the album and the revue convinced the two to renew their partnership, and The All New Steely Dan Orchestra was founded later in the year. Tours with the ensemble took place throughout '93, '94 and '96 and culminated in sessions for Two Against Nature, a collection of new Steely Dan material that would finally materialze in 2000. The band continued to be active with recording and touring in the 00s, releasing another album Everything Must Go in 2003.
Father: Joseph Fagen (accountant)
Sister: Susan (younger)
Wife: Libby Titus (music producer, m. 1993)
University: BA English, Bard College, NY (1969)
Steely Dan Keyboardist/Vocalist (1971-)
The New York Rock and Soul Review Keyboardist/Vocalist (1990-92)
Grammy 2000 for Two Against Nature (pop vocal, with Steely Dan)
Grammy 2000 for Two Against Nature (album of the year, with Steely Dan)
Grammy 2000 for Cousin Dupree (pop performance, with Steely Dan)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2001 (with Steely Dan)
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