Guitarist Walter Becker, co-founder of the jazz rock band Steely Dan, has died at the age of 67. Becker’s website announced the death on Sunday. No other details, including the cause of death, have been released. He lived in Maui, Hawaii.
“Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967,” Steely Dan co-founder Donald Fagen wrote in a tribute to Becker on Sunday. “He was smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny. I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.”
Walter Becker was born on February 20, 1950 in Queens, New York City, and grew up in Westchester County and Forest Hills, Queens. He originally learned how to play guitar from a neighbor, Randy Wolfe, after Becker had already been playing the saxophone. After graduating from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, Becker attended New York’s Bard College where he met Donald Fagen. They soon became collaborators, playing in a number of different groups and writing songs for artists like Barbra Streisand.
It wasn’t until the early 1970s when the two decided to move to California to form the group Steely Dan, with Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Denny Dias, Jim Hodder and singer David Palmer. The group gets its name from a sex toy in William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. The band released their debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill in 1972, before Palmer exited the group. Becker and Fagen remained as Steely Dan’s core members while other musicians were rotated in and out.
Steely Dan toured from 1972 to 1974 before they decided to retire from live performances. in 1977, the group released what could be considered their greatest work, Aja.
In 2001, singer Moby was given the honor of inducting Steely Dan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As part of their Rock Hall acceptance speech, Becker and Fagen used this as an opportunity to take questions from the crowd. Showing, once again, that they were a band that would go the unconventional route.
Last year, the world lost another co-founder of a legendary rock group, Glenn Frey.
You can check out our interview with Jon Herington, lead guitarist who joined Steely Dan in 1999, here.