Walter Becker – co-founder, co-songwriter, guitarist and bassist of the era-defining, jazz-savvy rock band Steely Dan – died yesterday. The news was announced on his official website. He was 67, and had missed Steely Dan performances in July.
With his partner in Steely Dan, Donald Fagen, in the 1970s, Becker bridged the gap between jazz fusion and popular music in ways that earned a rare confluence of critical and commercial success. Harmonic knowledge gleaned from postbop met the stuff of pop hooks, and Becker and Fagen made a habit of employing only the sharpest jazz and studio musicians to record their music, continuing that practice into their more recent years of consistent and successful touring. As a guitarist Becker was enormously effective, and influential. In a time of much loud and limited blues-based language in rock guitar, Becker was a kind of pop ambassador for the flourishing fusion school of the day. Bluesy string bends, quick-fire phrasing and a tastefully dirty tone gave his playing visceral impact, but his solos addressed the chord changes and the narrative of the tune in the style of a jazz musician.