The ‘Major Dudes’ of Steely Dan

When Steely Dan’s Walter Becker died just over a year ago there was not an outpouring of grief like those public displays afforded to other recent celebrity deaths.  However, in certain sections of the community his passing was as significant as the loss of Bowie, Prince and Lemmy.  This community is largely filled with people who are of a certain age, malcontents and music snobs.  I am proud to be part of this community.

As one half of Steely Dan, Walter Becker, along with Donald Fagen sold a whopping 40 million plus records, had hit singles that are still mainstays of “Classic Rock Radio” all while refusing to tour and maintaining a relationship with the press that could be best described as prickly.  Their songs were sophisticated, drawing on jazz structures, top session players and offbeat, often subversive subject matter.

The studio was where Steely Dan were most comfortable creating classics, such as their 1977 album Aja, with a rotating cast of session musicians.  In their relentless quest for studio perfection they tormented the most skillful musicians they could find with the highest of standards and multiple takes. All this quality control lead to Steely Dan being inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Cover of Major Dudes by Barney HoskynsIn Major Dudes Barry Hoskyns compiles interviews and articles from across their singular career starting from their early days as a brilliant but relatively conventional band – they did tour in the early days – to their retreat into the studio.  Steely Dan went on hiatus after releasing Gaucho in 1980 and the solo albums recorded by Fagen and Becker during this period are also covered in this book.  The book ends with coverage of their celebrated reunion tours (they visited Christchurch twice – in 2007 and 2011) and albums including the Grammy winning Two Against Nature.

The wit, wisdom and attitude of Fagen and Becker are captured in articles written by respected music journalists including Sylvie Simmons, Robert Palmer and Charles Shaar Murray.  The pieces are taken from a range of respected music publications including MOJO, Uncut, Rolling Stone and NME.

This is a lovingly put together collection using pieces ranging from in-depth interviews and reviews to short puff pieces.  Occasionally, a harsh or uncomprehending review is included, just to balance out the praise.  Major Dudes is a treasure trove for those who love the band and a great place for the curious to start their journey with the great Steely Dan.

Looking for more about Steely Dan?  Check out Rocks Back Pages for a treasure trove about Steely Dan and a host of other bands.

Also check out Bloomsbury Popular Music for Don Breithaupt’s lovely, in-depth book on Aja.

Simon,
New Brighton Library

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