Walter Becker, the guitarist, bassist and co-founder of the rock duo Steely Dan, one of the most successful and adventurous groups of the 1970s and early ‘80s, died on Sunday. He was 67.
His death was announced on his official website, which gave no other details. He lived in Maui, Hawaii.
Becker had missed performances in Los Angeles and New York earlier this year. Donald Fagen, the band’s other co-founder and lead singer, told Billboard last month that Becker had been “recovering from a procedure, and hopefully he’ll be fine very soon.” He gave no other details.
Steely Dan had little use for rock’s excesses, creating instead a sophisticated, jazz-inflected sound with tricky harmonies. Becker was the primary arranger.
Starting in 1972, after Becker and Fagen had met at Bard College, the group produced hit singles like “Do It Again,” ‘Reelin’ In the Years,” “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and “Deacon Blues,” as well as a raft of critically lauded albums, including “Pretzel Logic,” “The Royal Scam,” “Aja” and “Gaucho,” the latter two widely regarded as their most artistically accomplished.
The typically calm tempos of Steely Dan’s music held unlikely musical twists and inventive lyrics on an eclectic range of topics, among them stock-market crashes, Puerto Rican immigration, junkies, cheating lovers, a space alien and a suicidal couch potato.
Becker and Fagen went their own ways for much of the 1980s, producing solo albums. They reunited in 1993 with “Two Against Nature,” which earned a Grammy Award for album of the year.
Steely Dan has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide, and the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
In recent years Becker and Fagen have toured extensively with a large band and backup singers. Last fall they had an extended run at the Beacon Theater in New York, in which each evening was devoted to the songs from a single Steely Dan album.
In a statement released on Sunday, Fagen said: “Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967. We started writing nutty little tunes on an upright piano in a small sitting room in the lobby of Ward Manor, a mouldering old mansion on the Hudson River that the college used as a dorm.
“We liked a lot of the same things: jazz (from the ‘20s through the mid-’60s), W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, science fiction, Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Berger, and Robert Altman films come to mind. Also soul music and Chicago blues.”
He added, “I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.”