AKA Walter Carl Becker
Birthplace: Queens, NY
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Co-Founder of Steely Dan
Raised in Queens, Walter Becker made his entrance into the world of music-making during childhood, doing so by way of the instrument that has launched nearly every popular performer in the modern era: the melodica. Not wishing to compete against the hordes of melodica virtuosos already crowding the New York music scene, the astute youth soon switched to saxophone, inspired in his choice by the music of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. The rigorous training required by the instrument eventually left him exhausted and uninspired, and a year later -- having fallen under the dangerous, counter-cultural influence of Bob Dylan -- the sax was traded in for an acoustic guitar. This third choice proved to be the best fit, and by his teen years the ambitious young musician was writing and performing his own licks in a high school blues band.
After graduation Becker enrolled in New York's Bard College, where he met and musically bonded with third-year student Donald Fagen. By this time he had added electric bass to his repertoire, and, accompanying Fagen's piano with his varying string count, the two began performing with a variety of other musicians under names such as The Leather Canary and The Don Fagen Trio. Such was their bond that, when Fagen left Bard after completing his English degree the following year, Becker made the decision to leave as well, relocating with his friend to Brooklyn in the hopes of establishing themselves as a songwriting duo in the Tin Pan Alley tradition. It was not long before these hopes were revealed to be ill-founded, but the attempt did provide them with the opportunity to gain some experience both on stage and in the studio as backing musicians for the oldies pop ensemble Jay and the Americans.
Eager to improve their circumstances, in 1971 Becker and Fagen formed an association with producer Gary Katz; before the end of the year Katz had secured positions for both as staff songwriters at ABC Record in Los Angeles, where they were immediately put to work penning pop hits for the label's roster of performers. At the same time, the two surreptitiously assembled their own band and began writing and recording material for an album, enlisting Katz as producer and initiating a long-standing relationship with engineer Roger Nichols. Can't Buy A Thrill, the first album by Steely Dan (a band name appropriated from a sinister sex appliance in the William S. Burroughs novel Naked Lunch), subsequently materialized late in 1972, it's lead single Do It Again unexpectedly elbowing its way into the top 10. The second single Reelin' In The Years was given a similar reception and reached #11, while the album itself broke the top twenty -- all of which conspired to burden the hapless band with sudden international stardom and the unhealthy expectations that accompany it.
Steely Dan punctuated the remainder of the decade with 6 more popular releases, but after the appearance of 1980's Gaucho the absurd demands of fame had finally gotten the better of its two founding members. By this time Fagen had returned to New York, where he briefly launched a career as a solo artist; Becker retired to Hawaii and removed himself from the music scene entirely for several years. In the mid-80s he resumed activity once again, but as a producer rather than a performer: helming the third and fifth albums by China Crisis (Flaunt the Imperfection, 1985, and Diary of a Hollow Horse, 1989), before moving on to releases by Rickie Lee Jones, Michael Franks, and then numerous others in the 1990s. This new career as a producer eventually brought about the renewal of his association with Donald Fagen, his role as co-producer on Fagen's second solo album Kamakiriad (1993) instigating a resumption of their work under the name Steely Dan the following year. Between tours with the band in 1993 and 1994 Becker released his first solo effort 11 Tracks Of Whack (1994), and after a third tour in 1996 recording for a new Steely Dan album was initiated. It would finally materialize as Two Against Nature in 2000 and earn Fagen and Becker their first three Grammy awards. The duo continued their collaborative output in 2003 with Everything Must Go.
Wife: Elinor (div. 1997)
Son: Kawai (b. 1985)
Daughter: Sayan (adopted)
High School: Stuyvesant High School, New York City, NY (1967)
University: Bard University
Steely Dan Multi-instrumentalist (1971-81 and 1994-)
The New York Rock and Soul Review Guitarist/Bassist (1992)
Grammy Best Pop Vocal Album, Two Against Nature (2000) (with Steely Dan)
Grammy Album Of The Year, Two Against Nature (2000) (with Steely Dan)
Grammy Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal, Cousin Dupree (2000) (with Steely Dan)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2001 (with Steely Dan)
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