|Steely Dan was founded by core members Walter Becker and Donald Fagen?, and others have joined the duo throughout the band’s years depending on its needs. Becker and Fagen have defied many rock ’n’ roll conventions by fusing elements of jazz, R&B and pop. The band’s complex sound is only exacerbated by eccentric and somewhat cryptic lyricism. In fact, the name Steely Dan come from a rather promiscuous reference to William S. Burroughs experimental novel, Naked Lunch. With the band’s remarkably esoteric sound, Steely Dan has garnered a cult following, critical acclaim and mainstream notoriety.
In the beginning
Becker and Fagen met in New York at Bard College in 1967 and quickly discovered they had a similar taste in music. They soon began playing in local bands together, including the Bad Rock Group, which featured the legendary comedian Chevy Chase on drums. It wasn’t long before the duo started composing their own tunes, and sought out to become professional songwriters. By 1970, the duo had joined the backing band for Jay & the Americans on tour. The next year one of their songs, “I Mean to Shine” was recorded by Barbara Streisand. Later that year, Becker and Fagen met producer Gary Katz, who suggested the duo form a band of their own.
Steely Dan was officially formed in 1972, and Becker and Fagen recruited Skunk Baxter and Denny Dias on guitar, David Palmer on keyboards, and Jim Hodder on drums. The band’s debut album, Can’t Buy a Thrill, was released the same year and included the hit singles “Reeling in the Years” and “Do It Again.” Though the album was well-received, the accompanying tour went poorly and Palmer left the band shortly afterward. Steely Dan’s sophomore effort, Countdown to Ecstasy, made less of an impact despite a supporting tour.
In 1973, the band released Pretzel Logic after making several more changes in staff. While Hodder exited, new additions included Michael McDonald on keyboards and back-up vocals, Jeff Porcaro on drums and Royce Jones as a percussionist and vocalist. However, by 1975 the group had disbanded, and Becker and Fagen stopped performing, and instead focused on solely working in the studio with various musicians. Throughout the 80s, the duo worked separately with numerous renowned artists, and Fagen also composed solo work.
In 1993, Steely Dan went back out on the road and continued with an international tour the following year. The album Two Against Nature hit store shelves in 2000, marking the first release by Steely Dan in more than 20 years. The album won four Grammy Awards, and both Becker and Fagen were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. Over the following decade, the band has continued wowing audiences around the world.