RIP WALTER BECKER — Steely Dan legend Walter Becker has died of unknown causes at the age of 67.
The sad news was revealed over the weekend with a post on his official website, which paired childhood and recent photos of Becker with the caption Walter Becker Feb. 20, 1950 – Sept. 03, 2017.
Becker’s longtime bandmate Donald Fagen has also issued a statement confirming Becker’s death, and promising to “keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.”
Concern for Becker’s health was raised earlier this summer when he missed both of Steely Dan’s July appearances at the Classic Westand Classic East music festivals. During a press conference the following month, Fagen stated that Becker was “recovering from a procedure and hopefully he’ll be fine very soon.” He offered no further specifics on Becker’s ailment or condition.
Together with his longtime Steely Dan collaborator Donald Fagen, Becker brought revolutionary new levels of sophistication to rock and roll songwriting and studio production, incorporating elements of jazz, latin music, R&B, soul and traditional pop.
Becker was born in 1950 in New York City, and grew up there and on Long Island. Although he originally picked up the saxophone, he soon switched to guitar and took lessons from his neighbor and former Spirit member Randy Wolfe.
While attending Bard College, Becker met Fagen, and the two formed and played in several groups — including the Leather Canary, which featured classmate Chevy Chase on drums. Becker soon dropped out of school to focus exclusively on his songwriting partnership with Fagen.
In 1971, the duo left Brooklyn, where they had been working, for California. It’s there that Steely Dan was born. Initially, touring as a full band with Becker on bass, by 1974 they quit the road altogether and redirected their energies to studio work.
A year after the release of their seventh album, 1980’s Gaucho, the duo called it quits. Becker went on to produce albums for Rickie Lee Jones, Michael Franks, Fra Lippo Lippi and China Crisis.
12 years later, Fagen and Becker reunited for a Steely Dan tour. At the time, the pair also produced each other’s solo albums — Fagen’s Kamakiriad in 1993 and Becker’s 11 Tracks of Whack in 1994. 2000’s Two Against Nature, Steely Dan’s first new album in 20 years, earned them four Grammy awards. The following year, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2008, Becker released a second solo album, Circus Money, backed by members of Steely Dan.
I listened to the Dan-catalog last night and was amazed yet again the depth of their music. In particular, Aja, released in 1977, was my favorite. Check out this clip from TV’s legendary Midnight Special, from 1973, performing “Reelin In The Years,” with Jeff ‘Skunk” Baxter on guitar. A huge loss for sure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ea3Bofkmwlc
WAR PAINT — I went to see War Paint on the Great White Way over the weekend and tremendously enjoyed it. It tells the true story of beauty product-rivals Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, essayed by Christine Ebersol and Patti Lupone. The play covers their exploits between 1935, when Rubinstein re-launched her business in the U. S. and 1964. Ebersole and Lupone are most definitely the show. Ebersole, long a favorite of mine, is stunning, while Lupone is simply dazzlingly. A belter for sure, I hadn’t seen her since her award-winning role years back in Evita and she has not lost a step; watching her facial expressions and singing is almost worth the price of admission.
I like a good story and this one, deftly telling what went on between the two business rivals is terrific. David Korins set designs are simply terrific and one of the best I’ve ever seen on the stage. They were so good, and so inventive, I marveled over and over.
Another big favorite of mine, Douglas Sills, portrays Harry Fleming who worked for both of them and though he was absent this performance, I’m sure is terrific as the role fits him like a glove. I first became aware of him in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Tremendous talent.
My favorite scene was the final one, when the two finally meet. Aged and there to each receive an award, they talk and find they really do have much in common, especially when Arden is shown to be wearing a lipstick of Rubinstein’s design. They end up going on together to receive the award. Perfect!
Many, many years ago, someone said to me that the secret of a good play is to have the audience leave humming one or more numbers. Regrettably, this show did not have that. The one memorable number was “If I’d Been a Man,” but, sadly, that’s it. Still, Ebersole and Lupone dazzle and delight.
SHORT TAKES — Tonight’s the night for Micky Dolenz’s guest-turn on Difficult People, featuring Bill Eicher and Julie Klausner. On Hulu … One of New York City’s last major recording studios Avatar (nee The Power Station) has quietly closed up shop. It’s a sad commentary on the state of the music industry, or, what’s left of it. Check out a great article form Variety on the studio’s demise: http://variety.com/2017/music/news/power-station-avatar-recording-studio-sold-berklee-school-music-1202542408/ … Been re-listening to Sting’s 57 & 9th album, which came out earlier this year, and have been really loving it. Amazingly, I went onto the Amazon-site to read some customer reviews and found them all over the place; with some calling it his best in years, while others immediately dismissing it. I am loving it: especially the track “Pretty Young Soldier,” which to me, harks back to his Soul Cages-album. Check it out if you haven’t heard it … RIP comic Shelly Berman. He was the first comic to receive a Grammy Award. Brilliant, will be missed for sure … Speaking of Micky Dolenz: In advance of his show Thursday night at B. B. King’s; look for him on IMUS (ABC Radio) tomorrow morning and on Fox’s Good Day New York with Greg Kelly and Rosanna Scotto. We’ll have details on the show next week … Also, Mark Bego’s Eat Like A Rock Star (Skyhorse) out October 17 with a NY-fete soon to be announced … August 31 was Debbie Gibson’s Bday; here’s an early shot with PR-pasha David Salidor. HAPPY BDAY!