By Melinda Newman
Donald Fagen isn’t the only ex-Steely Dan member with a new album coming out. Walter Becker is hard at work in his Maui recording studio recording his first-ever solo record to be released on Giant Records.
Becker, who hasn’t recorded since Steely Dan’s last album in 1980, was spurred on by producing other artists’ albums, particularly Rickie Lee Jones’ 1989 “Flying Cowboys.” “I became interested in the songwriting process again; it inspired me,” he says. “I also figured I’d be able to spend more time at home with my family, and I had a desire to be my own boss.”
The record reunites Becker with Giant label head Irving Azoff, who managed Steely Dan during his Frontline Management days. “Donald was working with Irving on the ‘New York Rock and Soul Revue,’ and he generously touted the tape to Irving, who called me up and said, ‘Let’s do it,’ just as I was getting ready to shop this thing around to a few cherished friends. I didn’t want to get too involved in any business thing. I was hoping someone would see the point and sign me.”
“I’ve always had great experiences with Irving,” Becker continues. “He takes the challenges of working with creative people in stride, and you never have to dread calling him and saying the worst. At one point, he renegotiated our ABC Records deal that included a tour. Tickets already were on sale, but after the very first rehearsal, we told him we were canceling. And his unforgettable response was, ‘I’m kinda glad [you’re canceling] because the tickets sold out so fast, I’m convinced you didn’t need to tour anyway.’”
Ironically, a tour that is proceeding as scheduled may delay Becker in finishing the record. Steely Dan is preparing to tour in August with Fagen and Becker performing old band material as well as each doing new solo tunes. Ideally, though admittedly unlikely, Becker says he’ll be through recording by June when he begins getting ready for Steely Dan’s tour. “If I haven’t finished my record by June, I’d need a break anyway,” he says. “And then I could come back to the studio after the tour and not like anything [I’ve already done] and start over.”
Though Steely Dan was known for its recording fastidiousness, Becker says working as a producer of jazz albums has increased his studio speed. (“Not that any of that did me any good with Donald’s album,” he quips.) “I’ve learned you have to temper your desire to make something perfect with some awareness of what’s practical.”
Becker penned all the songs on the new album, writing some with guitarist Dean Parks as well as with Fagen. “The ones I wrote with Donald were basically rewrites of songs that we’d never finished or that we’d done a long time ago,” he says. In addition to Parks, other musicians backing Becker include Windham Hill keyboardist John Beasley, and three members of Windham Hill act, the Lost Tribe: drummer Ben Perowski, guitarist, Adam Rogers, and bassist Fima Ephron.
The still-untitled record marks the first time Becker sings lead vocals — a process that grows less daunting as the project proceeds. “I came to grips that I’d do it myself and that I wouldn’t be able to execute with the power and precision that really good singers can, but I’d make up for that with enthusiasm and my flair for having a good time. I think it will be fine; I really don’t have any alternative.” Becker is hoping for a late-1993 release.