After a sudden bout of illness in July that left him unable to perform at several of Steely Dan’s shows, guitarist Walter Becker has been found dead at the age of 67, his website has announced.
As one half of the songwriting duo who released a string of ’70s hits including ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’ and ‘Kid Charlemagne’, Walter Becker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 alongside the rest of his Grammy-winning band, who split in 1981 but reformed in the 1990s.
Billboard had reported that Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen had told them last month that Becker was “recovering from a procedure”, but the band have given no details beyond that on the cause of death of their guitarist.
Fagen did, however, share a heartfelt tribute to his late bandmate on the band’s website, which you can read in full below, expressing his intent for the band to continue on.
Steely Dan’s huge 1970’s hit, ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’
Donald Fagen pays tribute to Steely Dan guitarist Walter Becker
Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967. 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.
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.
Walter had a very rough childhood — I’ll spare you the details. Luckily, he was smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny. 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. He used to write letters (never meant to be sent) in my wife Libby’s singular voice that made the three of us collapse with laughter.
His habits got the best of him by the end of the seventies, and we lost touch for a while. In the eighties, when I was putting together the NY Rock And Soul Review with Libby, we hooked up again, revived the Steely Dan concept and developed another terrific band.
I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.