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,” died Sunday. He was 67.
His official website announced his death Sunday but offered 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 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, writing “RIP #WalterBecker”.
A Queens, New York, native who started out playing the saxophone and eventually picked up the guitar, Becker met Fagen as a student at Bard College in 1967. They played with the 1960s pop group Jay and the Americans and penned the song “I Mean to Shine,” performed by Barbra Streisand in 1971, before moving to California and founding the band, which they named after a sex toy in William S. Burroughs' 1959 novel “Naked Lunch.”
“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.
Their first album as Steely Dan, “Can't Buy Me a Thrill,” was released in 1972, and featured both “Do It Again” and “Reelin' In the Years.” They scored a big hit with “Rikki Don't Lose that Number” in 1974 before hitting a high point in 1977 with the album “Aja.”
But it wasn't quite enough to sustain Steely Dan past their next studio album, “Gaucho.” They broke up in 1981 after the release of the album.
Becker suffered personal hardships during this time, including addiction, his girlfriend's death by overdose and a resulting lawsuit, and a serious injury he sustained after being struck by a cab. When Steely Dan disbanded, Becker retreated to Maui and began growing avocados, while Fagen attempted a solo career.
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.