LOS ANGELES >> Walter Becker, the guitarist, bassist and co-founder of the 1970s rock group Steely Dan, which sold more than 40 million albums and produced such hit singles as “Reelin’ In the Years,” “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number” and “Deacon Blues” has died. He was 67.
His official website announced his death Sunday with no further details.
Donald Fagen said in a statement Sunday that his Steely Dan bandmate was not only “an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter” but also “smart as a whip,” ”hysterically funny” and “cynical about human nature, including his own.”
“I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band,” Fagen wrote.
Although Steely Dan had been touring recently, Becker had missed performances earlier in the summer in Los Angeles and New York. Fagen later told Billboard that Becker was recovering from a procedure. Fagen said at the time he hoped that Becker would be fine soon.
Musicians were quick to mourn Becker on social media Sunday. Mark Ronson tweeted that Becker was “one half of the team I aspire to every time I sit down at a piano.”
Both Ryan Adams and the band The Mountain Goats tweeted that Becker changed their lives. Slash posted a photo of Becker on Instagram, simply writing “RIP #WalterBecker”.
A Queens native who started out playing the saxophone and eventually picked up the guitar, Becker met Fagen as students at Bard College in 1967 and founded the band in 1972 after they moved to California.
“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,” Fagen recalled in his statement. “We liked a lot of the same things: jazz (from the twenties through the mid-sixties), 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.”
From 1972 to about 1980, the band enjoyed both critical and commercial successes with the releases of seven studio albums, including “Pretzel Logic” and the seminal “Aja,” from 1977, but broke up in 1981 after the release of “Gaucho.”
Becker had suffered some personal hardships during this time, including his girlfriend’s death by overdose and a resulting lawsuit, and an injury he sustained after being struck by a cab. When Steely Dan disbanded, Becker retreated to Maui and began growing avocados.
Becker eventually reunited with Fagen and, after a nearly 20 year hiatus, released two albums: “Two Against Nature,” which won four Grammys, including album of the year in 2001, and “Everything Must Go.”
They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
“Like a lot of kids from fractured families, he had the knack of creative mimicry, reading people’s hidden psychology and transforming what he saw into bubbly, incisive art,” Fagen recalled.