Donald Fagen and Walter Becker met at college in 1967 and began playing in local groups. The Bad Rock Group included Chevy Chase on drums but lineup last only a short time. In 1969 Donald Fagen and Walter Becker tried their luck as professional songwriters before Kenny Vance (Jay and the Americans) took an interest through his production company. In 1970, they joined Jay & the Americans' backing band, performing under pseudonyms; Gustav Mahler (Becker),and Tristan Fabriani (Fagen).
In 1971, the pair wrote a film score for a movie and a song for Barbra Streisand, called “I Mean To Shine”.
Gary Katz signed them for ABC Records and they moved to LA. Katz recognised the duo would do better recording their own material and they formed their own band with Denny Dias (rhythm guitar) and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (lead guitar), Jim Hodder (drums), Walter Becker (bass and backup vocals) and Donald Fagen (keyboards). Donald Fagen was prone to stage fright and so David Palmer became the lead singer. The group now called Steely Dan and took their name form from a dildo in William Burroughs' Naked Lunch. In 1972 the band released their first single “Dallas,” but it failed to make an impact.
Their first album, Can't Buy A Thrill was produced by Gary Katz and recorded by engineer, Roger Nichols at ABC Studios. The singles "Do It Again", and "Reelin' In The Years" hit the Top Ten on the Billboard singles chart.
"Reelin' In The Years" also featured an acclaimed guitar solo by Elliott Randall. David Palmer left the group during the recording of the second album, and Donald Fagen reclaimed the position of lead singer. Countdown to Ecstasy was released in 1973 but was less successful due to its jazz blues orientation.” My Old School" and the live "Bodhisattva" become popular with fans but not commercially successful.
Their third album Pretzel Logic was released in 1974 and returned the group to prominence. "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" was a Top Ten hit in the US and "Any Major Dude Will Tell You" became a firm favourite with fans.
Steely Dan toured from 1972 to 1974, but from the years between 1975 to 1980 they became a studio-based band. On tour Jeff Porcaro (former Sonny and Cher and later a member of Toto) and Michael McDonald (keyboards) joined the line up for back-up vocals. Both become prominent on subsequent Steely Dan recordings. Disagreements among members of the band and a rift arose when Becker-Fagen decided to cease touring to concentrate solely on writing and recording. Gradually the band broke up. Jeff Baxter and Michael McDonald joined The Doobie Brothers. The next two albums Katy Lied (1975) and The Royal Scam (1976) saw Becker-Fagen use a diverse group of session players. Katy lied went gold and "Black Friday" and "Bad Sneakers" were by far the most popular tracks.
"Kid Charlemagne" and "The Fez" were the most favourite songs from the Royal Scam album.
Aja (1977) is widely considered Steely Dan best works with hit singles "Peg," "Deacon Blues" and "Josie".
Due to contractual problems and legal complications the duo took a rest from studio work. On return they were further troubled with recording issues and release dates. Gaucho was finally released in 1980 and was another major success with two hit singles, "Hey Nineteen" and "Time Out of Mind".
In 1981 the Fagen and Becker partnership was temporarily suspended and the two relocated to Maui (Hawaii). Donald Fagen released a solo album in 1982, but stopped writing and recording for several years.
In 1986 the two got together again and started to work as a team they reformed Steely Dan and toured the US in 1993. Donald adopted the persona of Frank Poulenc and William was "Rick Strauss". They toured to great acclaim during 1993-96, performing mainly songs from the later Steely Dan albums plus a selection of re-arranged Dan classics. In 2000 the band released a new album entitled Two Against Nature to public acclaim and continue to tour and record new material.
Worth a listen:
Do It Again (1972)
Reeling in the Years (1973)
Rikki Don't Lose That Number (1974)
Dr. Wu (1974)
Black Friday (1975)
FM (No Static at All) (1978)
Deacon Blues (1978)
Hey Nineteen (1980)