Walter Carl Becker (Feb. 20, 1950 - Sept.. 03, 2017), was an American musician, songwriter, guitarist, bassist and record producer who grew up in Queens, New York. A brief childhood move to Scarsdale was immediately remedied by a return to the borough. Classmates at Stephen A. Halsey Junior High School remember that he arrived there with a reputation ("In NYC you can get a big reputation in the 6th grade"). Walter attended the prestigious Stuyvesant High School, where he impressed fellow students with his wit, intelligence, and intimate understanding of musical structure, even before picking up an instrument.
At Bard College in 1971, Walter Becker and his partner, Donald Fagen, met when the later overheard Walter playing blues guitar on his red Epiphone in one of the school's common rooms. The pair would eventually form the jazz-rock band Steely Dan, creating music that was highly regarded by critics, fans, and fellow musicians alike. His partnership with Fagen produced music that sustained a devoted audience for over 40 years, and Becker's solo output enjoyed uncommon critical success.
Steely Dan sold more than 40 million albums worldwide and helped define the soundtrack of the '70s with hits such as "Reelin' in the Years," "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," "F.M.," "Peg," "Hey Nineteen," "Deacon Blues," and "Babylon Sisters," culled from their seven platinum albums issued between 1972 and 1980 (including 1977's ground breaking Aja). They reunited in the early '90s, launching over a dozen sold-out tours which continued into 2017.
Once Steely Dan dissolved in 1981, and finding himself outside the confines of a recording studio for the first time in nearly a decade, Becker moved to Hawaii with the proclaimed intention of becoming a 'gentleman avocado farmer' -- perhaps not surprisingly, most journalists missed the irony in this stated career move. But the lure of music led him back to the studio in the role of producer for artists including Rickie Lee Jones, Michael Franks, China Crisis, Lost Tribe, and a stable of diverse jazz artists.
During this time, his love of the studio was exceeded only by love for his two children, who were and remained the light of his life.
Much of the music Walter produced during this period was recorded at "Hyperbolic Sound", the studio he built on the slopes of Maui's dormant Haleakala volcano. It was here that he began recording the tracks that would eventually come to comprise his debut solo album 11 Tracks of Whack (1994), having noticed that artists had more fun than producers. New York Times critic Jon Pareles spoke for many when he opined that "Fifteen years later, we find out who put the edge into Steely Dan. It was Walter Becker...On his first solo album, "11 Tracks of Whack," Becker brings back everything fans cherished about Steely Dan."
Having traded production credits on their intervening solo efforts, Becker returned to the studio with Fagen, and in 2000 Steely Dan released the multi-Grammy winner (including Album of the Year) Two Against Nature, next producing its acclaimed follow-up, Everything Must Go in 2003. They received The ASCAP Founder's Award in 2000 and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
In 2008 Walter Becker released his long awaited sophomore solo album. Produced by and co-written with Larry Klein, Circus Money, became an instant classic among critics and fans alike. Reviewers described the album as "melodic, funky and as smart as you like" (John Bungey, The Times), "immaculately played, produced and conceived" (Neil McKay, Belfast Telegraph), and "a joy to behold - great understated singing, ultra-tight reggae bass & drums grooves, and tunes so beautifully arch they'd make you cry if you weren't laughing at the lyrics" (Paul Zolo, American Songwriter). Elysa Gardner of USA Today asked, "Who says that they don't make pop music for grownups anymore?"
Becker continued to tour with Steely Dan through 2017. His death from an aggressive esophageal cancer was announced on his website on September 3, 2017. In a statement, his wife expressed that
The tsunami of tributes and remembrances that have followed Walter's passing has been deeply moving. I would... not have predicted anything close to the depth and breadth of public expressions from those whose lives were enriched by Walter -- by his talent, his kindness, and his skill at inspiring some wicked fun.
This "wicked fun" is well remembered by his fans, who recall his humor on display on Steely Dan's website (a prescient and eerily foreshadowing letter to Rudy Giulliani stands out), call outs to fan groups and their Danfests from the stage, and in his Grammy acceptance speech for Two Against Nature, which he began by saying "this is really great for our fans".
Walter truly appreciated his fans, they knew it, and they appreciated him right back.
Currently, Becker's Estate is offering free, hi-fidelity downloads of his unreleased songs at walterbeckermedia.com. The site also includes discussion boards, where Beckerphiles can discuss Walter's solo work, finding evermore breadth and depth to his talent, and continuing to appreciate his utterly unique artistry.
Singular, sublime, and just a little warped; there can be no imagining this music as coming from anyone else.