Walter Becker is one-half of the critically acclaimed, jazz-rock veterans Steely Dan. The group which also includes Donald Fagen first issued its meticulously produced and engineered sounds on Can't Buy a Thrill (1972).
Becker was born Feb. 20, 1950, in Queens, N.Y. He attended Bard College in Upstate New York, where he met future partner Fagen. The two played in many amateur progressive-rock outfits, one of which featured future "Saturday Night Live" comedian Chevy Chase on drums.
Playing guitar and bass, Becker began writing songs with keyboardist Fagen. The two also toured in the early '70s (under the aliases Gustav Mahler and Tristan Fabriani) with pop group Jay and the Americans.
The pair released You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It (1971), the soundtrack to the film of the same name, which was produced by Kenny Vance of the Americans.
After successfully selling the song "I Mean to Shine" to Barbra Streisand, Becker and Fagen were hired as staff songwriters by ABC/Dunhill Records in Los Angeles. Producer Gary Katz convinced them to form a band named after Steely Dan, a dildo in William Burroughs' book "Naked Lunch."
With guitarist Denny Dias, drummer Jim Hodder and keyboardist David Palmer, Becker and Fagen issued Steely Dan's first LP, Can't Buy a Thrill. The album spawned two hits: "Do It Again" and "Reeling in the Years."
After an unsuccessful tour, however, Countdown to Ecstasy (1973) yielded no hits. Future Doobie Brothers' singer/keyboardist Michael McDonald joined the group and appeared on the top-10 Pretzel Logic (1974), which featured the top-5 "Rikki Don't Lose That Number."
After Steely Dan stopped touring in 1974, only Dias continued to record with Becker and Fagen. Steely Dan released Katy Lied (1975), containing the top-40 hit "Black Friday."
The Grammy Awardwinning Aja (1977) was Steely Dan's most successful album. It featured radio favorites such as the #11 "Peg," the top-20 "Deacon Blues," and "Josie," as well as the title track (RealAudio excerpt). The following year, they had a hit with the title song from the movie "FM."
In 1980, the group had a top-10 hit with "Hey Nineteen" from Gaucho. That year, Becker was hit by a car during a walk in New York and suffered a broken leg.
Becker and Fagen then separated professionally, though they never officially split. In 1993 Becker produced Fagen's Grammy-nominated Kamikiriad. Becker spent most of his time apart from Steely Dan producing for Windham Hill, a New Age music label, and Triloka, a jazz label. He also produced rock group China Crisis and Rickie Lee Jones' 1989 set Flying Cowboys.
After his girlfriend died from an overdose, the woman's mother unsuccessfully sued Becker who battled substance abuse himself for encouraging her daughter's drug habit.
Becker and Fagen toured with the New York Rock and Soul Revue, also featuring McDonald, Phoebe Snow and others, in the early '90s. The combo issued Live at the Beacon (1991).
Almost two decades after their last show, Becker and Fagen resurrected Steely Dan for a 1993 tour, documented on Alive in America (1995). In 1994 Becker issued 11 Tracks of Whack.
In addition to the best-selling Decade of Steely Dan (1995), the band issued the CD box set Citizen Steely Dan: 19721980 (1993).
On February 29, Steely Dan are scheduled to release their first studio LP in 20 years, Two Against Nature, featuring "Cousin Dupree" and "Gaslighting Abbie."
Other birthdays on Sunday: Barbara Ellis (Fleetwoods), 60; Buffy Sainte-Marie, 59; Lew Soloff (Blood,Sweat and Tears), 56; J. Geils, 54; Billy Zoom (X), 52; Jon Brant (exCheap Trick), 46; Sebastian Steinberg (Soul Coughing), 41; Ian Brown (Stone Roses), 37; Doodlebug (Digable Planets), 33; Brian Littrell (Backstreet Boys), 25; Randy California (Spirit), 19511997; Kurt Cobain, 19671994; and Jimmy Yancey, 18981951.