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 5 Articles:
- Outre Daniel Update
- Donald Fagen interview with Charlie Gillett
- Review of bootleg Bent Over Backwards
- Lyrics to Century’s End
- Audiophile issues
Hello again. It’s April now and that means my Steely Dan calendar is open at the color shot of Donald Fagen, minus sunglasses, at the top of the World Trade Center, hands in pockets, peering through a viewfinder towards the Hudson River. It’s the same shot that was used for the cover of the 12″ single for “New Frontier”… What’s that you say? No, it can’t be! Well, no, it can’t, but it is April 1st as I write this!
No, but seriously, when I learned at the end of January that Donald Fagen had composed the soundtrack to Michael J. Fox’s new film Bright Lights, Big City, I could hardly wait to hear the new music. I obtained my copy in mid-March, and that six-week wait was an interminable one. It was worth it. The song took a few plays to find its way into my head, but it’s there now all right. Century’s End comes out as a single at the end of April, and it’ll be interesting to see how a 5 1/2-minute film number fares against the current “sample” of chart pap. We won’t, however, be treated to the man himself actually appearing on camera to promote the record. A video has been made to support the single, but initial reports indicate that not only is he nowhere to be seen but neither is he overly pleased with the result.
Fagen is credited with having written the whole soundtrack, so I suppose we’ll just have to go and see the film when it comes around. I’m certainly looking forward to it, because in the past Fagen has said he wasn’t particularly interested in writing film music since he/they would be continually vulnerable to the director’s whim.
Returning to the subject of the reunion, apparently the idea has been temporarily shelved after things didn’t work out in the studio, and there is no likelihood of them even contemplating resuming recording until the end of the year. About a year ago, Walter Becker spoke to John Stix in a U.S. magazine interview and this is how he viewed the situation then.
Stix: Let’s start with the burning question. There’s been talk of another Steely Dan album. Is this true?
Becker: Donald and I have been working on some tunes and if it goes well, we might do another album. If not, we might go our separate ways. It would be great, from our point of view, if we decided we don’t want to do it, just to forget about it. We’d like to do this with as little fanfare as possible. I know it’s kind of foolish to say so at this point, but I think the less hubbub about it the better.
Later, Stix asked: Let’s say your current project with Donald doesn’t work, would you do a solo album?
Becker: “It’s not impossible. The problem for me is singing. I’m not really a singer. I wouldn’t rule anything out.”
Becker also admitted that these days music is “a lot less of a compulsion than it was. I think of music now as just a source of enjoyment, a great avenue of creativity to explore.”
It’s pleasing, though, to hear that he has put all his personal problems behind him and has found contentment living in Hawaii with his partner and adapting to his new(ish) role as a father.
Outre Daniel Update
Here are a couple of omissions from the list which appeared in the April and July, 1987 issue:
Far Cry – “The More Things Change.” Donald sings background vocals on three songs, “The Hits Just Keep On Comin’,” “It’s Not as Simple as That,” and “Some Things Will Never Change.” The album also features many Steely Dan session regulars such as Rob Mounsey, Steve Khan, Will Lee, and Ralph McDonald. Columbia Records 1980.
Michael Franks – “The Camera Never Lies.” Special thanks to Donald Fagen. Warner Bros. Records, 1987.
Donald Fagen talks to Charlie Gillett
After the release of The Nightfly, Donald Fagen visited the U.K. to promote it, and one of the few “interviews” he permitted was with Charlie Gillett on Capital. He selected some of his favorite songs and talked briefly about each one.
CG: So your new album is called The Nightfly?
DF: Yes that’s right.
CG: Is that a current expression in America meaning a nighttime DJ?
DF: No, actually I made it up all by myself. It’s kind of a combination of a lot of disc jockeys that I used to listen to when I was a kid.
CG: Did you ever try it yourself? Have you ever been a DJ?
DF: Well, I’ve been in a few interviews on radio shows and so on. Once a jazz station in Los Angeles invited Walter and myself to play some jazz sides and we did that. That was the only time really.
CG: Did you always have the idea that it was a musician you were going to be?
DF: Not actually. I guess it was just kind of a hobby with me for a long time, and then come the ’60s I decided it was definitely an option that I should pick up on.
CG: Ok, well this is your turn as DJ. The first artist is Ray Charles. What about him?
DF: He’s always been one of my favorites. He’s kind of legendary and the track I selected is basically a blues with a big band arrangement.
Plays “I’ve Got News For You.”
CG: Whew! Aside from sounding great it sounded very very loud. People don’t make records that have that volume any more.
DF: No. You don’t hear many records with a big band like that. It’s a great sound.
CG: Originally I remember that on “Genius + Soul = Jazz.” That one I remember listening to as a kid, I guess you do, too.
DF: Yeah, right.
CG: This next one — I didn’t know about Little Willie John until much later.
DF: No, actually, I didn’t either. I heard it much later. It’s a great record. I think Little Willie John eventually came to a rather bad end in prison. He was a great singer. I think he was most well know for “Fever” — the original version of Fever that Peggy Lee made famous.
CG: And also “Need Your Love So Bad” is a song that’s quite well known over here. But this, really sexy for some reason…
DF: Yeah, it’s a terrific track.
Plays “Leave My Kitten Alone”
CG: Both those records sound like they were done all in one go in the studio.
DF: Oh yeah, I’m sure in those days it was strictly live recording.
CG: Presumably by the time you started recording that wasn’t on at all?
DF: Not in pop music, for the most part.
CG: Do you ever yearn for those days?
DF: It would be nice, but with all the modern recording techniques, it’s hard to resist using.
CG: So you don’t really yearn for them. You settle for that and that’s fine. I mean, it’s a very slow process, isn’t it, that’s the thing?
DF: Yeah it is. You get better stereo separation and there’s a lot of other technical reasons that make the overdubbing technique better to use.
CG: I’m interested because the records you’ve chosen have generally predated that kind of …
DF: Oh, yeah, well the kind of music that I like comes from mainly the late ’50s and early ’60s, so it’s mostly all live dates.
CG: So the next one up is Erma Franklin.
DF: Yeah, that’s Aretha Franklin’s sister and this is a really good tune. I guess there’s a more famous version by Janis Joplin.
CG: Is there any preference towards this one on your part?
DF: Yeah, I always liked this one better, for some reason, although I once saw Janis Joplin do it live and I liked hers as well.
Plays “Piece Of My Heart”
CG: A lot of emotion coming out of these records. Did you actually go and see any of these people? You grew up in New York, did you?
DF: I grew up about 50 miles outside New York in the suburbs, but I used to get the broadcasts out of Manhattan by late night DJs playing rhythm and blues and jazz and that’s how I became familiar with a lot of these records.
CG: So for a music fan in those days live music wasn’t necessarily a part of it?
DF: Well, sometimes we used to take the bus into Manhattan and go to jazz clubs, but only when I had the funds, you know, ’cause I was quite young.
CG: And who would’ve been the jazz people that you would’ve seen?
DF: Oh, I used to see Charles Mingus and Miles Davis, you know, the big jazz stars of the late ’50s.
CG: OK, well, Marvin Gaye doesn’t fit into that category but he’s coming up next. What about him?
DF: A great singer. He made lots and lots of classic records and I like his new record, too.
CG: This one, I think, was written by Smokey, wasn’t it?
DF: I’m not sure.
Plays “One More Heartache”
CG: I take it back, I think that is jazz.
DF: Yeah, he has got a very jazz-like style.
CG: The whole arrangement is actually very sophisticated.
DF: Yeah, it’s a great record.
CG: Was there a lot of difference in the process of making a record on your own as compared to with Steely Dan?
DF: Not too much, it was a little more difficult writing material because I’m used to bouncing ideas off my partner a little bit, and also if I get stuck for lyrics I could always look over my shoulder and ask him for a line. But I think it came out pretty well.
CG: Just to go back to the beginning again, I gather he was quite important to you as far as giving you the confidence that you were on the right track in the first place?
DF: Yeah, well, he was a producer at ABC Records in Los Angeles. I think he persuaded the record company to let us come out and have jobs as staff writers. And that’s how we got started.
CG: And always with a lot of jazz, but maybe people hadn’t appreciated how much R&B might have been hidden in there?
DF: Yeah, we always liked R&B and blues — Chicago blues.
CG: And what do you feel is reflected in this new single, “New Frontier,” any of that?
DF: You’ll hear a little blues guitar played by Larry Carlton, and it’s kind of a track reflecting the spirit of the times. The storyline is basically about a bunch of kids who have a party in a fall-out shelter while their parents are away for the weekend.
Plays “New Frontier”
CG: That track sounded like it has a reggae influence there on the keyboards.
DF: Yeah, a bit, that kind of backbeat.
CG: ‘Cause reggae hasn’t really taken off in America in any big way, but I think musicians like it, don’t they?
DF: I think its influence has been felt more than the authentic reggae.
CG: And are there people that you’ve particularly liked yourself, that you’ve listened to, reggae artists, I mean?
DF: Bob Marley especially, I guess. Most people are familiar with him, I guess I am too.
CG: Ok, well all the records we’ve played before yours were R&B records of one kind or another. Lovin’ Spoonful coming up.
DF: John Sebastian is a singer I’ve always liked. There’s something about his voice that’s always been very attractive to me — charming sound.
CG: You never actually saw them or had any particular contact with them?
DF: No, although he’s done music for films– he still does some occasionally — and whenever I hear his voice in films, it always brings me back to those days when I used to hear him on the radio.
Plays “Wild About My Lover”
CG: So we go from there to Shirley Bassey. How are we gonna do that?
DF: (chuckling) That’s a difficult transition, I think I’ll leave that one up to you.
CG: No, I’m just sittin’ here playin’ the records. Your choice.
DF: Well, it’s kind of a novelty record. I think it’s typical of a certain kind of very slick kind of record they used to make in the ’60s and, of course, it’s for a James Bond film, and I hear Shirley Bassey’s very popular in England.
CG: Other than being amused by it, you like that kind of singing?
DF: Yeah, I think she’s a good singer. There is something incredibly bizarre about that record. I don’t know, they milk it for all it’s worth. A melodramatic sort of arrangement.
CG: I’ve always found her to be very theatrical. But to me it’s a criticism, but perhaps to you it isn’t?
DF: I see what you mean. I mean, I do listen to it with a bit of irony.
CG: Whereas Irma Thomas goes straight to the heart.
CG: What’s the next one? I know it’s one I don’t know very well ’cause it’s on tape ’cause I don’t have a record of it. Oh yes, Ray Charles and Betty Carter.
DF: This is a beautiful record. Oh, I must have bought this when I was 14 or 15 years old and it’s extremely romantic, and it’s also an illustration of what Betty Carter sounded like when she was very young.
Plays “Every Time We Say Goodbye”
CG: An unusual duet, ’cause one of them sings one half then the other the other half.
DF: Yeah. They made an album — I guess it was all duets — and that was one of the tracks. Cole Porter song.
CG: Is Betty Carter still good to see, I know I’ve seen her live.
DF: Yeah, she plays quite a bit in New York and her style’s become more abstruse lately. She’s very modern and almost avant-garde, but she’s quite good still, yeah.
CG: One record that I’d like to mention which we couldn’t find at all — although you’ve requested it — was Buddy Johnson and Ella Johnson singing “Since I Fell For You.”
DF: Yeah, right. Too bad we couldn’t find that one. (2013 Note: Now available on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuEphXmJbGQ)
CG: Sorry about that. Was there a special reason or just a record you like?
DF: Yeah, I think it was one of the original versions of “Since I Fell For You,” which was covered many times after.
CG: Well, we’ll continue to hunt it and if any listener’s got it, we’ll be back to play it — if not during the event, then after the event. Now another kind of master singer, although this is a track I don’t actually know. Frank Sinatra and the Count Basie Band.
DF: This is off one of those Count Basie/Frank Sinatra records and I always like it. It’s a great groove and I think Frank Sinatra, when he sang with Count Basie, changed his style. It’s very sharp and it’s a good record.
Plays “Pennies From Heaven”
CG: Surprisingly enough, that’s the second time for the Count Basie Band in as many months, because when Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller came in here they played a track from Joe Williams singing with Count Basie. And they played Frank Sinatra, too. And we played your version of Ruby Baby, which they liked.
DF: Oh yeah? It’s great that they liked it.
CG: Right, well, we’ve almost come to the end. This next one I’m particularly pleased you’ve chosen, ’cause Clyde McPhatter’s one of my favorite singers. Do I take it he’s one of yours?
DF: Yeah, he’s terrific. This is very early Drifters. The Drifters went through many changes of personnel. I think it’s one of their first records.
CG: Great. Does sound good. Sounds like he was at the end of a session ’cause his voice really tired out.
DF: Yeah, it does sound raspy.
CG: I’d like to thank Donald Fagen very much for coming in. Thank you very much, I’ve enjoyed it.
DF: I’ve enjoyed it too. Thanks.
Bent Over Backwards
By Dave Edney
This Canadian bootleg comes in a plain white sleeve but with a professional-looking insert showing the title and listing the songs. It also comprises an often-used photograph of Becker and Fagen seated before a recording console; however, the desk has been obliterated completely and superimposed on to the dark background between our two heroes is an Edwardian-type plain Jane. She is cradling an acoustic guitar whilst standing on the midriff of a man who is gymnastically arching his back and clutching what seems to be a tambourine to his chest!
The notes state “For distribution by fan club only,” NOT TO BE SOLD.
Side A — Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More; Chain Lightnin’; Black Friday; Rose Darling; Throw Back The Little Ones
Side B — Doctor Wu; Your Gold Teeth II; Do It Again; Reelin’ In The Years; Unmitigated Authority Records SD7000
Starved, as we have been, of new material (one album and three items of miscellany in eight years is a poor ratio), the chance to hear something new (in this case old/new) is very rewarding indeed.
Times are hard — if a bootleg of Walter Becker tuning his guitar became available, I’d buy it.
Apart from feeding on morsels like “Century’s End” (a juicy morsel nevertheless), it’s bootlegs like this one that keep our insatiable appetites at bay — and as bootlegs go, this is a tasty one!
“Bent Over Backwards” has been with us a few years now. Basically, it’s nine cuts taken from two different sources, the Katy Lied sessions of 1974/75 and some supplementary live concert material from circa 1972/73.
The sound quality if generally good, especially on the studio cuts, and even though the tracks should be familiar to all and sundry, it’s interesting to hear this music under slightly different circumstances. The studio outtakes provide the album with most of its material (seven out of nine tracks).
It’s hard to determine exactly what this selection represents, but it sounds very much like the finished product, just prior to the final overdubs. For example, there is a distinct lack of guitar solos on several of the songs and Phil Woods’ tantalizing sax on Doctor Wu is conspicuous by its absence, and only a smattering of background vocals exist.
What we have, therefore, is a skeleton of the Dan’s full-bodied sound. Stripped to the bare bones, and without its extra embellishments, it’s fascinating to hear the band working away at the core of the music. Indeed, most of the items on display sound “live,” maybe one-take efforts, all superbly executed with Denny Dias’ guitar solo on “Your Gold Teeth II,” an exemplification of the skills on show.
Already recorded for posterity, his work is good enough for Donald Fagen to exclaim excitedly, “Holy fuck, that’s great!” during the middle section of the solo — an embellishment that was wisely omitted from the final recording!
It’s a pity, of course, that there are no obscurities or unreleased gems to salivate over and some of the cuts end rather abruptly, but it’s fascinating to hear these songs in their slightly-embryonic form.
The aforementioned Mr. Dias comes off rather well on this record, actually. (Whatever Happened to Denny Dias? T-shirts will be available with the next issue!) His sterling guitar work drives along the live percussion-orientated version of Do It Again, with Royce Jones singing lead and taken from an American concert performance. Along with “Reelin’ In The Years,” the other live cut — which incidentally sounds like the soundtrack to the only surviving TV clip of the band in action and the one that BBC gives an airing to now and then — these two tracks not only showcase the dexterity of the two Dan guitarists but give a good indication of how exciting the band was in concert back in those heady days of 1973/74.
Unfortunately, “Reelin’ In The Years” sounds “doctored” (it’s longer than it should be) and the sound quality of these tracks isn’t so great, but they both stand up well in comparison with the live version of “Bodhisattva,” which appeared on the “B” side of the “Hey Nineteen” single (a bootleg-type recording if ever I heard one).
So, overall a good album, essential listening for fans starved of their favorite Dan delicacies. If you don’t own a copy of this LP, shame on you!
If you do, stay hungry!
Lyrics to “Century’s End”
Those trucks in the street
Is it really Monday?
Time to find some trouble again
Make a bid for romance
While the dollar stands a chance
Dumb love in the city at century’s end
We cut to this blonde
Dancing on a mirror
There’s no disbelief to suspend
It’s the dance, it’s the dress
She’s a concept, more or less
Dumb love in the city at century’s end
At century’s end
Nobody’s holding out for heaven
It’s not for creatures here below
You just suit up for a game
The name of which we used to know
It might be Careless Rapture
This kid’s got the eye
Call it Pirate Radar
She’s scoping out the room for some trend
But there’s nobody new
So she zeroes in on you
Dumb love in the city at century’s end
Scratch the cab
We can take the local
Time to shoot the love scene, my friend
Which means look, maybe touch
But beyond that not too much
Dumb love in the city at century’s end.
Audiophile issues of Steely Dan albums
A point of interest for all you fans out there is the fact that to my knowledge three Steely Dan albums have been issued in half-speed master audiophile editions. These are “Katy Lied,” “Aja” and “Gaucho.” Two (“Katy Lied” and “Aja”) are products of an American outfit dedicated to producing the best possible cuts from original master tapes, and the other (“Gaucho”) was produced by MCA and issued only in North America.
Katy Lied MFSL 1-007
Aja MFSL 1-034 1980
Gaucho MCA 6102 1980
The MFSL issues also included an audiophile cassette release of “Aja” which claimed to be a direct copy made in real-time of the master tape on a high quality cassette. As far as I’m aware the cassette was only released in the USA. A highly desirable item for those of you with decent hi-fis, I’m sure you’ll agree.
The half-speed mastering process involves slowing down to half-speed both the master tape and the cutting lathe. This simple expedient places less demand on the cutting electronics and the cutting head. When pressed on high quality vinyl originally developed for Quad, by JVC in Japan, the result is an improved bass response and better stereo imagery due to better high frequency response, in excess of that attainable by standard cutting techniques.
The mention of quadrophonic sound prompts me to mention that in the USA, two Steely Dan LPs were issued in that format:
Can’t Buy A Thrill CQD 40009 1974
Pretzel Logic CQD 40015 1975
Whether anyone still has the equipment to play them or whether they have a different mix that is obviously different when played back in stereo, I don’t know.
Lastly, an article in a hi-fi magazine in 1979 included an interview with Stan Ricker, the MFSL cutting engineer, which reveals the fact that during the recording of “Katy Lied” the multi-track recording was done by using the DBX noise reduction system instead of the more common Dolby A and it malfunctioned. The improved MFSL cut reveals this as an occasional rise and fall in the levels of various instruments in the mix and can be disconcerting when listening on headphones. Perhaps you don’t want to hear of a rare imperfection from an otherwise almost perfect group, but it does put the technical gibberish on the back sleeve into perspective.
Now that Matthew has raised this subject, I think it might be fitting to include here some quotes from Gary Katz and Walter and Donald regarding their own feelings about the problems they encountered recording Katy Lied.
GK: There were some real problems with that record and, although there are some songs on there that to this day are still my favorites, it is my biggest disappointment of any of the albums — in the sense of acceptance. We had some real problems in recording that album, and that eventually came out on lacquer for electronic reasons. So I don’t listen to it any more, as a rule. The album was recorded and it was, in hi-fidelity terms, the best sounding thing we had done — far and away — and something had got messed up in the electronics before it was done and it didn’t quite ever sound the same. For me personally, I thought the album would have been accepted on a much broader scale than it was, so that was somewhat of a disappointment, too.
Interviewer: Your picture was on it.
GK: That was the beginning of the disappointments, you see.
In an interview in the Melody Maker just after the release of Katy Lied, Donald Fagen virtually refused to discuss it, saying, “The recording and mixing didn’t take that long. But there was a technical problem, which I don’t want to get into. These are things the public doesn’t want to know.” He was, however, persuaded to elaborate just a little. “The problems are very complicated and boring. It took us a long time to figure out what it was and then undo it. Machines 10, Humans Nothing, as the engineer says.”
Walter Becker said, “It sounds acceptable. I mean, I can’t listen to it now, but like the rest of the albums, I’ll get to it later.”
In 1979 in an American radio station interview, they admitted having learned a very costly lesson from the disastrous experiment with the state-of-the-art equipment.
Donald Fagen: “We had a problem with “Katy Lied” from a technical standpoint. We went through a noise-reduction system which had just come out on the market and it ruined our record; it broke our record and as Walter says, the moral is…”
“I’ll tell you, the moral of the story is: don’t be so hasty to use the latest and the greatest piece of equipment.”
Richard Clark of Kirkcaldy, Fife, writes:
I have several questions to ask concerning Steely Dan:
What Steely Dan tracks did Woody Herman’s band cover on the Chick, Donald, Walter and Woodrow album?
The tracks Woody Herman’s band covered are: Green Earrings, Kid Charlemagne, I Got The News, Aja and FM.
On the New Year’s Eve edition of “Whistle Test,” Reelin’ In The Years was shown and dated as 1978. This obviously can’t be from 1978 as the band consisted of all the original members, plus the fact that they stopped touring in 1974. When was this film made and are there any video tapes of Steely Dan commercially available?
1978? A “Whistle Test” blooper! An earlier version I saw of that particular piece of film was dated 1972, but I don’t know where it was shot. I’m not aware of any commercially available videos of Steely Dan in action, though Roger Nichols was working on one of them in the studio around 1980 when legal complications put an end to that project. Let’s hope this situation is remedied forthwith!
Is the David Palmer mentioned on the Danny Wilson record credits the same one who sang with Steely Dan? And is David Palmer’s Big Wha-Koo still going, and if not, what is he now doing?
I don’t know for certain, but I would doubt it’s the same David Palmer. Does anyone out there know what has happened to the Big Wha-Koo and Dave Palmer?
Was it Rosie Vela who appeared in the film Heaven’s Gate playing a “beautiful girl.”
Yes, she was credited as Roseanne Vela and it was definitely her. I’d recognize that hair anywhere!
David King of Abingdon, Oxon, writes:
What was the origin of “Here At The Western World” which only appears on “Greatest Hits”? And secondly, am I right in assuming that the original “Dallas/Sail The Waterway” singles were mono, as they are on the Plus Fours 12″?
“Year(sic) of the Western World” was originally slated for inclusion on “The Royal Scam.” Donald Fagen said in a 1977 “Sounds” interview, “We had it laying around and we liked it a lot but it didn’t fit on “Scam” and we thought we had too many songs in that tempo on this album (“Aja”) so it’s still sitting around. We’ll get it out sooner or later.”
Certainly a stereo version of Dallas exists, as it’s to be found on one side of a white-label promo copy of that single. As for “Sail The Waterway,” I can’t say.
Al Smith of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, writes:
Whose is the extra hand on the “Countdown To Ecstasy” photo, as pictured on the back cover of the October ’87 issue of “Metal Leg.”
The extra hand on the board belongs to Roger Nichols.
Should “Berry Town” (last Metal Leg) in fact be “Barry Town”?
As I see it, there are two possibilities here: one is that Becker and Fagen altered the phonetics of the name when the song finally appeared on “Pretzel Logic”; (“Barrytown” is much better in my opinion). The other is that it’s a pure misprint on Bellaphon’s part.
Murray Coelho of Romford, Essex, asks:
Do you know what Steely Dan songbooks are available?
Songbooks include: Steely Dan Vol. 1 (Can’t Buy A Thrill/Countdown to Ecstasy); Vol. 2 (Pretzel Logic/Katy Lied); Double Deluxe (Royal Scam/Aja); Complete to Aja; Gaucho; The Nightfly; The Great Songs of Steey Dan. Anyone know of any others?