Walter Becker, co-founder of the influential jazz-rock band Steely Dan, died Sunday at age 67, according to his website, which did not disclose the cause of death.
Becker, who played lead guitar, formed Steely Dan with Donald Fagen, its keyboardist and lead vocalist. In its heyday in the 1970s, the band scored hits with “Reelin’ in the Years,” “Do It Again,” “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and “Deacon Blues.”
Born in New York City in 1950, Becker grew up revering the jazz giants Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. He and Fagen would bond over their love of this music after meeting as students at Bard College in New York in 1967.
“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 Sunday published by Variety.
After working as touring musicians they moved to Los Angeles, releasing the first Steely Dan album in 1972, “Can’t Buy a Thrill.” The band took their name from a fanciful dildo that appears in the beat novelist William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch.”
The band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 2001, where their official biography describes their 1970s albums as “wry, nuanced and hyper-literate” that are “highly regarded by connoisseurs of pop hooks, jazz harmony and desiccating wit.”
Fagen described his bandmate on Sunday as “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,” Fagen’s statement said.
After a long hiatus, the band reunited in the late 1990s to record its first studio album in 20 years, according to the Steely Dan website. That album, “Two Against Nature,” would go on to win Album of the Year in 2000 at the Grammy Awards.
Becker missed concerts earlier in the year as he recovered from an unspecified medical procedure, Fagen told Billboard.