Editor’s Note: From 1987 through 1994, diehard Steely Dan fans turned to a small fanzine called Metal Leg for information about Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Published first by England’s Brian Sweet (who went on to write the unofficial band biography Steely Dan: Reelin’ In The Years) and later by New Yorkers Pete Fogel and Bill Pascador, Metal Leg set high standards by providing solid information without resorting to paparazzi-style tactics.
Metal Leg 1 Articles:
Welcome to what I believe is the first ever Steely Dan fanzine — Metal Leg. I have been a fan of the group for many years now and, as far as I know, a “fan club” or “information service” has never existed. I’ve always thought this was a great pity as I’m sure there are no shortage of Steely Dan fanatics out there who would be willing to support and contribute to such a publication.
Well, my patience has finally run out. Now that Donald and Walter have reformed, I think the time is just right for a magazine to bring all dedicated Steely Dan fans together. Let’s face it, there are magazines available which are devoted to much less worthy groups — not mentioning any names, of course! — and I’m hoping that within these pages we can discuss all aspects of their music, discover hitherto unknown facts and establish a contact point for Steely Dan fans everywhere.
There must be plenty of interesting information about Steely Dan available — all that’s require is for people to take time to get it down on paper and share it with the rest of us. It would seem to me that Steely Dan fans are among the most inquisitive of popular music fans: an example of this happened quite recently when I telephoned Castle Communications in London to enquire about the “Sun Mountain” album. The sprightly-sounding girl at the other end of the ‘phone was very helpful and she advised me that they had been inundated with calls from ardent Steely Dan fans eager to find out more about the recordings.
Let’s Stay Together
After hearing an advance tape of Steely Dan’s first album, “Cant’ Buy A Thrill,” and after seeing them perform their first ever live gig at a venue called Under The Ice House in Glendale in 1972, a Los Angeles Free Press reporter named Chris Van Ness interviewed Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. there are some interesting observations from both on how, at this early stage, they envisaged the future development of Steely Dan. Read on…
How was the band put together, and is it correct to assume that the band was put together around you?
WB: In a way it was put together around us. It was put together by Gary Katz, who’s our producer. When he came to work for Dunhill, we’d been working with him as musicians and writers. And a couple of other people he’d been working with were Jeff Baxter, our guitarist, and Jim Hodder, our drummer. He sort of put it together around the four of us, and then we added Denny Dias, the second guitar player whom we worked with before; and Dave Palmer, the singer, was the last member to join the group. He joined the gropu, actually, when we were half through with the album.
Oh, so that explains why everybody else sings on the album and Dave does all the vocals in live performance.
DF: Yeah, he would have done more, ’cause he sings better; but we got him late. But he’ll be doing most of the singing.
I guess the obvious question is: why is the band happening right now? You guys were writing together for a number of years before Steely Dan happened, right?
WB: Right. We met in college four years ago, and we’ve been writing for a while.
DF: We had a lot of strange material that no one could do. Until just now when we found these people who were able to play it and make it sound like music. For some reason, we had a lot of trouble finding musicians all those years.
Why do you classify it as strange material?
DF: It used to be stranger. I think it was a compromise both ways; we compromised on the material to a certain extent in making it easier to respond to, and I guess that’s why we now have musicians.
How was the material different?
DF: It was more complex — more sophisticated, to a certain extent — harmonically. And lyrically, too.
What songs that you do now come closest to your older strange material?
WB: Maybe “Fire In The Hole,” that’s an old one. Or “Turn That Heartbeat Over Again.” We used to have a lot of songs like that; but after you’ve written a song and had it sitting around for a couple of years, you’re more eager to do fresh material — do the things you’re learning now.
DF: We’ve simplified; and I have a feeling that whenever we look back on some of the songs we used to write, I think that aisde from being more complex and sophisticated, they’re also a little more pretentious. So I think the simplification, in fact, made it better.
I remember the first night I heard the group live, there were some things happening musically that told me that somebody was into some heavy jazz. Is that what you mean by “more complex and pretentious?”
WB: It wasn’t really jazz, but you’re quite right that Donald and I are really jazz fans.
DF: There’s a lot of jazz harmony.
WB: But the older music was more jazz-influenced than, let’s say, what we do now is. I know the particular tune you’re referring to. That was one we wrote about three years ago, and even that one used to be a lot weirder than it is now. We straightened that one out.
DF: I guess what we used to write is what you might call classical and jazzical Third Stream. It’s the same kind of thing, only it was rock-and–jazz; and we didn’t feel it really worked. It was a very unstable combination.
Are you happy with where the music is right now?
DF: Yeah, I think it’s good, and it’ll get better. I think we’ll start working toward more ambitions musical things.
Right. You answered the hidden question there.
WB: Yeah. The thing is: When you start to work with a group of musicians…
DF: We didn’t want to scare them.
WB: … things evolve. To really play that kind of more complex music, there has to be a greater rapport; and that just takes time.
Do you feel that you music now — well, let’s take the album — is commercial?
WB: I think a lot of it is. I think “Do It Again” is commercial — without being compromised in any way.
DF: We’re going to do an edit to make it shorter for the single.
WB: And that’ll be the only compromise, really. But I’m glad that “Do It Again” was picked; that was my favorite cut on the album. And I think it’s a very good blend of commercial potential without being silly.
Is that what you’re going for right now? Do you feel that you need a good commercial hit to get you off the ground?
DF: It can’t hurt.
WB: It would help, but I don’t really think we need it.
DF: That’s the whole thing. What we used to do was try to widen the public’s appreciation of some more interesting rock ‘n’ roll than they’d been hearing. And for years we couldn’t get a bite until we did something like “Do It Again” which I think is very good, but we’d like to start working from there.
Do you feel the album represents where the group is right now?
DF: It’s the state of the art.
Do you feel the group is better represented in live performance?
DF: It will be very shrotly, if it isn’t now. I can see the way it’s going, and it’s growing very satisfactorily into what we’d like it to be.
WB: There’s a certain excitement that’s in the live performance visually — especially because Dave is the singer on stage, whereas he only sang two cuts on the album. I think that gives it a different appeal. We’re just starting to experiment, but I like it.
Do you feel, as the group’s only writers, that Steely Dan is your band; and if so — or if not — can you keep those six people together?
WB: Well, when we started out, because all of the material was ours and Donald was doing most of the singing, it was our band; but as we play together more, I think it becomes a group effort more fully. And because of that, I think it’s a sure thing that these six people will stay together.
DF: Especially as far as arranging goes. As far as material goes, yeah, I suppose it is our band, and we’ll always write the material. But as far as arranging goes, everyone makes a contribution.
WB: And so far it works pretty good. The six people involved are not near as egotistical as they might be,and they really want to work.
DF: They’re professional.
I don’t know if any of what I have said has gotten back to you, but I think the group is one of the most exciting new bands I’ve heard in a long time.
DF: I’m glad you like it; that’s the point, you know.
WB: We’ve sort of felt all along — although perhaps we’re deluding ourselves — we figured that what we do would probably appeal to critics even if it didn’t get any airplay or any immediate public response. I don’t know whether it has…
It has, but I think that’s almost a backwards wayto look at it, though.
WB: It is, but somehow it made sense to me. I knew that If I were a critic…
DF: Not that we cater to critics.
WB: Not at all. It just seems to me that a person with a fairly extensive musical background would be able to immediately appreciate what we did.
It’s that rare combination of a group that’s obviously versatile, obviously has more musical ability than most — I happen to think you guys are great writers — and yet, on another level entirely, it’s an exciting rock ‘n’ roll band.
DF: Thank you. That’s what we’re trying to do, and I think we’re heading in the right direction. I think we’ve got a good start.
Radio Free Steely Dan
In the early part of 1977 Walter Becker and Donald Fagen appeared on KPFK — a listener-sponsored radio station in Los Angeles — to play some of their favorite records and to answer listeners’ questions. The Captain Midnight show contains some very interesting facts as well as some fine examples of typical sardonic Steely Dan humor. A drastically abridged version of the interview once appeared in the L.A. Phonograph magazine in June 1977, but what follows here is the first part of a complete transcription.
CM: Captain Midnight
HK: Harvey Kubernik
RC: Richard Cromelin
DF: Donald Fagen
WB: Walter Becker
RC: With us here tonight on KPFK, we have the good Captain, Melody Maker’s Harvey Kubernik, Walter Becker — say good evening Walter…
WB: Good evening Walter.
RC: …and Donald Fagen…
DF: Hi there, folks.
RC: …of Steely Dan…
CM: What a pleasure to have them here tonight.
RC: …a pleasure indeed.
DF: Ah, don’t speak too soon, Richard.
RC: Okay, okay. (laughing)
DF: By the way, is this an illegal broadcast, or do you need a license or something?
RC: You wanna see my license?
WB: For the time being, I have a license. I’d like to give a personal message to my girlfriend, Karen, which is, of course, against the FCC regulations. Karen, you out there? Hi, honey.
RC: Okay, what say we start off by reliving your days of glory?
WB: Well, that would be fun.
Plays “Do It Again,” “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” “Reelin’ In The Years.”
RC: Well, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are sitting here in the studio reading the press and the KPFK folio as they bask in the sounds that catapulted them into the forefront of the rock world. Those were the days, just like the Four Seasons.
DF: Yeah, well, just like the Four Seasons.
WB: There’s only one original Season left that I know of, unless Joe is still with them.
DF: We used to play with the Four Seasons a lot. I mean not with the Four Seasons…
WB: Donald used to play with the Four Seasons a lot.
DF: We used to open for the Four Seasons.
RC: Was this with Jay and the Americans?
DF: That’s right. With Jay and the Americans.
WB: There’s only one American left…
DF: The White Drifters.
WB: Jay and the other Americans is what it is now. Jay Black and the other Americans.
DF: Course, the Eagles are the new White Drifters.
RC: How long did you play with Jay?
WB: As long as we had to.
RC: Did you ever do any records with him, or was it just touring?
WB: Yes, we did one record with them. We recorded a record of theirs called “Capture The Moment.” That was banned in Washington, DC, which ended its meteoric rise to hitdom.
RC: Produced by Kenny Vance.
WB: Uh, no.
DF: Thomas Jefferson Kaye.
WB: Was it?
DF: I think so.
WB: He wasn’t there.
DF: Sure, he was in the room there. Yeah, Engine Tommy Kay.
RC: So why did the record get banned in Washington?
WB: It had a line in it that went: “Capture the moment/The joyful explosion that we’ve just shared.”
RC: Jay Black wrote this?
WB: No, no, Kenny and Tommy, was it?
WB: Anyway, it was a dirty song, it was in three-quarter time. It should have been banned.
DF: I heard it a couple of times on the good music stations of New York.
RC: What was life on the road with Jay and the Americans like?
DF: We were well protected.
RC: By? From?
WB: From other human beings primarily.
DF: There were these large Sicilians that used to follow us around and make sure everything was going smoothly.
WB: Jay had a more than adequate following in the organized crime society.
DF: You looking for a beating, fella, huh?
RC: You played bass and piano respectively?
WB: Well, you’re looking at us the wrong way for respectively, but yes.
WB: I played disrespectfully, I don’t know how you were playing.
DF: That’s right, I played respectfully because I had this little RMI electronic piano.
WB: Was that your idea of making clicking noises on the keyboard?
DF: Yeah, well, I thought that sort of enhanced the show, you know what I mean?
RC: Did Jay Black think it enhanced the show?
WB: Jay didn’t know what was going on because one of the other members of the group was a guitarist and he was very bad. Sorry, Marty.
DF: Anyway, when we kept modulating up a half-tone, it used to throw them a little bit, but they got used to it.
WB: They dug it, they really dug it.
HK: What kind of wages were you earning during that two-year stint?
DF: The wages of fear, my friend.
WB: At one point we were earning $100 a week — $100 a show rather. And then what happened was a person who I fear to defame publicly took over the managership of Jay and the Americans. He was also Sly Stone’s manager, I believe, at that time.
DF: Gimme a receipt.
WB: He was known as “Gimme a receipt” and he cut our wages in half — the whole rhythm section — and so then we earned 50 dollars a show or 200 dollars a weekend, whichever was more.
RC: So how long did you go through this?
WB: About a year and a half.
DF: It didn’t take long to go through the 50 dollars.
WB: The 50 dollars I went through in perfunctory manner.
RC: Jay Black is the guy who dubbed you the Manson and Starkweather of rock ‘n’ roll, right?
WB: He did used to call us that, yeah.
HK: What did you used to call him?
WB: Mr. Black.
RC: Who was Starkweather?
WB: We never found out who was Manson and who was Starkweather. I assume he…
RC: Explain who the real Starkweather was.
WB: Oh, the real Starkweather was a popular mass murderer of the ’50s who went on a killing spree with a machine gun and his girlfriend.
RC: Before my time.
WB: Before your time. He was the Texas Tower of his day.
CM: Yeah, the town that fears to go to sleep.
RC: So Jay and the Americans was in New York, after college, before California.
WB: Or Jay and the Jews as they call themselves.
RC: So you fit right in along there?
WB: I’ll admit that I fit in right along there if it makes you happy.
DF: I thought you were going to say speak for yourself.
WB: No, nothing like that. May I readjust this microphone, it’s rather…
RC: It’s not easy, but…
WB: Never mind. (In a high girlish voice) Never mind.
RC: So you guys are fresh out of a grueling year in the studio, right?
WB: Well, I wouldn’t call it fresh and I wouldn’t call it out, but like Voltaire said of the Holy Roman Empire, it’s neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire, so you’re right in all respects.
RC: But you’ve got an album?
WB: We have some sort of acetate.
RC: Does that mean that you’ve got an album?
RC: And it was supposed to be out soon?
WB: Oh, it was supposed to be out months ago.
RC: Yeah, but now it’s going to be out in August.
WB: That’s what they say.
RC: So all these Steely Dan fans are again deprived for two months.
DF: Depraved. They’re depraved because they’re deprived.
WB: Steely Dan fans, we like to think, are probably the ones that can keep it up for the longest.
DF: Course we don’t have to worry about that ’cause the phones aren’t exactly buzzing.
RC: Yeah well, we’d like to remind anybody that…
DF: We tell you, Richard, we like to keep our audience small. This is a small business. We’re small businessmen.
WB: On the other hand, I’ve been looking through your program here for tomorrow, Sunday the 26th, and I find that…
DF: Pretty morbid lineup.
WB: Abutting on this show is the Gospel Caravan. I don’t know if that would capture my interest…
DF: Good grief.
RC: I gotta recommend it to you. It comes on at 6 a.m. and is hosted by 400 pounds of soul.
WB: I’ll still be up at 6 a.m., but I won’t be listening to the Gospel Caravan. Biomeditation I think I’ll skip that too. Folk Dance with Mario, I…
DF: (laughing) Is that the real folk blues from Sicily, or something?
WB: No, and then we have Dorothy Ealing whatever that is, and then we have Krishna Murty speaks, which is 30 years out of date. Tenor of the Times and then we have Don’t Be Misled By The Name. And finally, we have the big hit show of the day, Carlos Hagan Presents the Sounds of Rural America.
RC: Hey, you’ve got a phone call.
WB: Alright, let’s have it.
RC: You’re on the air.
Caller: Hi, I have a question for Donald or Walter.
Caller: I’d like to know if you’re ever going to go on tour again, for one thing.
DF: Well, what do you think?
Caller: Well, I’m sure hoping for it.
WB: Wait a minute. This guy didn’t do anything to hurt your feelings. Just take it easy on the guy, all right?
DF: Hey, I’m just in a hostile mood tonight, what can I tell you?
WB: Just because Richard Cromelin promised he would never interview us again, and he’s interviewing us again. Yes, we’re planning to go on the road in September.
Caller: What kind of instrumentation are you planning to use?
WB: Full instrumentation.
DF: We’re gonna leave the tubas home this time.
WB: No tubas this time, and none of these Wagner bass things with the ladder, but everything else.
DF: Sarouzaphone, that stuff.
WB: It’ll be an enormous orchestration. We’ll have at least four keyboard players and I think you’re gonna like it.
Caller: Four keyboard players. Wow. Is Denny Dias going to be playing with you?
WB: He sure is.
Caller: Oh, that’s great.
DF: If we can get him off the floor.
WB: Barring extraordinary hazards.
DF: What’s wrong with that guy, anyway?
WB: Nothing anymore. He’s up and around. Denny is much better. He’s gotten over the untimely demise of Hampton Hawes which I regret very deeply.
RC: Local boy.
WB: And so we’ll be out in September.
Caller: Will you be using two lead guitarists this time, or just one?
WB: At least two lead guitarists.
Caller: How very interesting.
DF: And, of course, we’ll give Glenn Frey a call and see what he’s doin’.
Caller: Of the Eagles, right?
WB: No, this is the other Glenn Frey. This is a guy that lives near us, and he doesn’t sing very good, but he’s real strong and he’s gonna be a roadie and hopefully he’ll be satisfied.
Caller: Uh, okay.
WB: You have another question, don’t you?
Caller: I have another question. How about the Doobie Brothers?
DF: How ’bout the Doobie Brothers.
WB: Hey, how ’bout those Doobie Brothers!
DF: Have you seen that guy Mike McDonald on TV? I saw him the other day — he was great. He made the rest of those guys look like a bunch of bums.
WB: Hey, what about Granny Baxter?
Caller: I think you guys ought to take some of the credit for the resurgence of the Doobie Brothers.
WB: I will take absolutely none of the blame and contumely for the resurgence of the Doobie Brothers.
RC: Do you wanna take some of the money?
DF: I could use some contumely right now. Give me some of that…
WB: We don’t get any of the money and we’re not taking any of the contumely or blame or any other…
DF: Not bad.
WB: Are you drinking on the air?
Caller: I think that band has improved a lot since Skunk and Mike McDonald got in there.
WB: I haven’t heard the band since Skunk and Mike McDonald got in there, but I’m sure that they’ve improved a lot.
RC: At least their golf has. (Laughter all around)
HK: I’d like to add that the stint with Fagen and Becker has prepared Mike McDonald and Jeff Baxter to be playing with Dinah Shore at the Century City Hotel.
DF: Well, it’s a worthy cause.
WB: I’d like to further add that the stint with Fagen and Becker has prepared Mike McDonald and Baxter to enjoy whatever it is they’re doing, even if it is touring with the Doobie Bros. And we’re close personal friends of the Doobie Bros. and … what was that comment?…
RC: We might mention that Mike McDonald contributed to the upcoming Steely Dan album.
WB: Mike McDonald did sing on the upcoming Steely Dan album and I’m looking at it lying over there in the corner. We’re thinking of playing part of it, but I’m not going to mention that and it’s not up and it’s not coming and it’s not going anywhere. It’s just sitting there, laying there like a lox.
RC: Nobody’s mentioned Tom Johnston’s name and he is the Doobie Bros.
WB: Tommy Johnson is the Doobie Bros. That’s why I’ve always found it so strange that Mike McDonald and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter should be able to add so much to their resurgence.
RC: We might mention that Mike McDonald did a fine job on some Steely Dan songs on the last tour. Show Biz Kids.
WB: I’ve never known Mike McDonald do anything but a fine job. He’s also the author of “Takin’ It To The Streets” — what streets I don’t know — and “It Keeps You Runnin’,” which is his finest work to date insofar as I’m concerned.
New caller: Hello. Hi, this is Robbie Luff calling.
HK: Robbie — Holloway Cleaners.
Caller: Right, how’re you doin’, Harvey?
HK: How you doin’?
DF: Hey, can you have my shirts back by five o’clock?
HK: Budding songwriter. What would you like to ask, Robbie?
Caller: Should I use Jeff Porcaro on my session?
WB: Yes, you should.
DF: What do you need, a pressing? What’s he gonna do?
WB: Press rolls. He’s gonna do press rolls.
Caller: I’m a singer/songwriter/critic/cashier.
DF: What’s that have to do with the laundry?
WB: I would use either Jeff Porcaro — Jeff “Skunk” Porcaro as we call him — or his father Skinny Joe Pops.
Caller: What I really wanna know about is “You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It.” What in the world is?…
DF: That’s true. You do have to walk it like you talk it or else you’re gonna lose that beat.
WB: I think an epigram is what you would call that.
RC: We’re gonna get to that in a little while — maybe in a half hour or so.
HK: For you, Robbie, we’ve got an autographed copy of that album and we’ll be playing it and exploring it. We’re getting all their skeletons in the closet tonight.
Caller: I’m another Mike McDonald fan, too. Where did you find him?
WB: You know I wish you guys could see this — the swinging of the microphone back and forth in front of the talk box — it’s really Mickey Mouse here.
RC: We’re understaffed and underbudgeted.
WB: What was the question?
Caller: Where did you find Mike McDonald?
DF: He was takin’ it to the streets when we found him.
WB: Oh yeah, Denny found Mike McDonald in a bar in the San Fernando Valley.
Caller: Okay, well I knew him a long time ago when he was making records for Rick Gerard Productions and I was really thrilled to see him on the “Katy Lied” album. I love that.
WB: I wouldn’t go so far as to mention Rick Gerard.
Caller: Well, I wouldn’t either. I know the man.
DF: Actually, it’d be great if Mike would give us a call here tonight ’cause this guy here can press your suit. I saw that white suit you had on the Dinah Shore Show and I thought it was really nifty.
Caller: Before I go I think you should tell me where’s Bager… Fagen… which ear are you comin’ out of in my headphones? I don’t know who’s who.
WB: This is Becker.
DF: And this is Fagen.
RC: The New York gangster.
Caller: Okay, now it’s all on tape.
Caller: And I’m gonna sell it.
RC: Well, keep the price reasonable.
Caller: All right, bye bye.
The following is part one of a list of records which in some way involve Walter Becker and/or Donald Fagen and/or Gary Katz and which have not yet appeared on any Steely Dan releases. Part two will follow in the July issue.
- 1969: Eric Mercury, “Electric Black Man.” Produced by Gary Kannon (later Katz), who also co-wrote one song, “Long Way Down,” with Shelly Weiss. Avco Embassy AVE 33001.
- 1970: Boylan, “Alias Boona.” Bass and guitar: Walter Becker. Piano and organ is credited to Don Fagen. Verve Forecast FTS-3070.
- 1970: Jay and the Americans, “Capture the Moment.” Becker and Fagen arranged strings and horns on four tracks: “Capture the Moment,” “Tricia (Tell Your Daddy),” “She’ll Be Young Forever” and “Thoughts That I’ve Taken To Bed.” United Artists UAS 6762.
- 1970: Original soundtrack, “You Gotta Walk It Like You Talk It or You’ll Lose That Beat.” Bass and guitar: Walter Becker. All keyboards: Donald Fagen. All songs written or co-written by Becker/Fagen. Spark SPA 02.
- 1970: Barbra Streisand, “Barbra Joan Streisand.” Features a Becker-Fagen composition, “I Mean To Shine,” and Donald plays organ on the same cut. CBS 564459.
- 1972: Navasota, “Rootin’.” Features a Becker-Fagen song, “Canyon Ladies,” and Donald Fagen plays piano on “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “That’s How It Is (Playing In A Rock & Roll Band),” “Canyon Ladies,” “I’m Leavin’,” and “Spring Creek.” Walter does not play on the album, but arranged horns and/or strings with Donald on “Western Boots” and the latter three tracks listed above. Co-produced by Gary Kannon with Dennis Collins. ABCX 757.
- 1973: Thomas Jefferson Kay, “Thomas Jefferson Kay.” Walter plays bass on “I’ll Be Leaving Her Tomorrow” and “Hole In The Shoe Blues,” Donald sings background vocals on “The Door Is Still Open,” “Learning How To Fly,” and “I’ll Be Leaving Her Tomorrow.” Produced by Gary Katz. ABC DSX 50149.
- 1973: John Kay, “My Sportin’ Life.” With “Giles of the River,” a Becker-Fagen composition. Probe SPBA 6274.
- 1974: Thomas Jefferson Kaye, “First Grade.” Two Fagen-Becker songs appear: “Jones” and “American Lovers.” Donald plays piano on “Northern California” and Walter plays bass on both Steely Dan songs. Produced by Gary Katz. ABC DSX 50142.
- 1976: Dirk Hamilton, “You Can Sing On The Left Or Bark On The Right.” Produced by Gary Katz. ABCD 920.
- 1977: Terence Boylan, “Terence Boylan.” Donald Fagen plays piano on “Don’t Hang Up Those Dancing Shoes” and “Shame.” Asylum 7E-1091.
- 1977: Poco, “Indian Summer.” Donald plays synth and string ensemble on title track and string ensemble only on “Win Or Lose.” ABD AB989.
- 1978: Marc Joran, “Mannequin.” Donald plays piano on unspecified track(s) and receives “special thanks for all his help and time” on the sleeve notes. Produced by Gary Katz. Warner Bros. BSK 3143.
- 1978: Pete Christlieb/Warne Marsh Quintet, “Apogee.” Produced by Donald and Walter and containing a song of theirs entitled “Rapunzel,” which is based on a Burt Bacharach and Hal David tune called “Land of Make Believe,” recorded by Dionne Warwick. Warner Bros. BSK 3236.
- 1978: Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band with the Rootettes, “Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band with the Rootettes.” Produced by Gary Katz, Warner Bros. BSK 3160.
- 1979: Dr. Strut, “Dr. Strut.” Released on the Motown lbel and featuring an instrumenta Becker-Fagen composition called “Canadian Star.” Motown STML 12120.
- 1981: Sneaker, “Sneaker.” Included here is an old Fagen-Becker song called “Don’t Let Me In,” which subsequently appeared on “The Early Years” album. Produced by Jeff Baxter. Handshake FW 37631.
Zazu – Rosie Vela
Recently ex-model Rosie Vela has been attracting a considerable amount of publicity in the U.K., especially for a new artist, and there are two principle reasons for this: the appearance of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker on her first album, “Zazu,” and her stunning good looks.
Despite her obvious beauty, Rosie Vela has been playing down her modeling exploits and going to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate her determination to succeed on her own musical terms. When denied the money required for the video of the single, “Magic Smile,” she paid for the director and crew to fly to Barbados out of her own money; she also paid for a reshoot of the cover photo on Zazu after failing to obtain a satisfactory result with the original photographer — Herb Ritts.
Classically trained on the piano, Galveston-born Rosie Vela has been writing songs for many years but, over the past ten years or so, has been consciously developing her songwriting ability. The nine songs on this album are real evidence of the achievement of her goal — sophisticated, frequently lyrically obscure and yet still with enough hooks to snare you in their trap.
Zazu opens with “Fools Paradise,” an uptempo song with a prominent snare drum beat, relentless high-hat and a sinuous synthesizer part.
This is followed by the hit single, “Magic Smile,” where Miss Vela thinly disguises her feelings for her late husband. It contains a chorus with the lines:
I been dyin’ to see ya baby, I been dyin’ to keenovay
the latter being part of a personal dialect invented by Miss Vela to both veil her own emotions and to add variety to her songs.
“Tonto,” the strangest and also the longest track at five-and-a-half minutes, has a descending Jimmy Haslip bass line running right through the song, enhanced here and there by a rare piece of improvisation on synthesizer from Walter Becker.
The introduction to “Taxi” is very reminiscent of an earlier Donald Fagen song, “Love Will Make It Right,” which appeared on Diana Ross’ 1983 album “Ross,” also produced by Gary Katz — whose work here is, as ever, pristine and restrained throughout.
Miss Vela reserves her best vocal performance for the title cut, weaving an inpenetrable web of mystery and intrigue and finally admitting, “I’m the one with the secret code.”
Unquestionably, “Zazu” marks the debut of an interesting newcomer, and with Fagen and Becker already keen to hear her ideas for a second album, all the signs are that Rosie Vela’s future is indeed very bright.
Rumors about that Rosie Vela will tour the U.K. in the spring with a band that may very well include Jim Keltner, Jimmy Haslip, Michael Been and Rick Derringer, but sadly no Becker and Fagen who are currently working on the new Steely Dan album in New York. Whatever the lineup, I’ll be one of the first in the queue for the tickets.