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.
Hi again. After listening to Kamakiriad for the past 4 months, I realize why I spend all my spare time working on this magazine. For whatever the reason it takes Donald and Walter so long to do a record, as a fan, and I think I speak for everyone who gets this magazine, I sure hope it doesn’t take as long for the next one.
Since the album was released and the tour was announced, we’ve been overwhelmed with subscriptions and if things get any crazier, there won’t be enough hours in the day to do it all. We’ve been getting the issues out on a pretty timely basis lately, but my partner and I are pretty worn out and we’re going to slow down the pace a little bit. You will still get your four issues per subscription, but they will not always be out every three months.
Bill and I try to make every issue better than the last and I think we did it again with this one. I interviewed Chris Parker who played most of the drums on Kamakiriad and the band “Lost Tribe” who is backing Walter on his first solo album. I am not a professional interviewer but I think that that’s actually a positive since I tend to ask questions from a fan’s point of view. I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of you on the road since I will be attending all the shows (I hope). Enjoy the issue and have a great summer.
I Got The News
On Friday the 13th of August, 1993, Steely Dan will kick off the first leg of its first tour since July 1974 at The Palace of Auburn Hills on the outskirts of Motown. The 1993 version of Steely Dan is a blend of great musicians with diverse musical backgrounds, but with strong jazz and blues roots.
There was a lot of speculation about who would be asked to join the band in the initial planning stages. Pat Metheny and Michael McDonald were both asked to join the tour but had to decline due to prior commitments. Other speculation entailed whether any of the old touring members of Steely Dan (Jeff Skunk Baxter, Denny Dias) or studio giants (Larry Carlton, Steve Gadd) would be a part of the show. Well, keeping with the tradition of always trying something new, Donald and Walter put together a brand new band.
The backbone of the band will be Peter Erskine, who has been at the forefront of world-class jazz/fusion ensembles for nineteen years. Peter spent five years with Weather Report recording five albums including the Grammy award-winning 8:30. Following his work with Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, and the late Jaco Pastorius, he recorded four albums with Steps Ahead as co-leader and composer. Erskine has also played with other top musicians such as Freddie Hubbard, Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton (with whom Erskine began his career). Peter’s most recent solo album is called You Never Know and is available on ECM Records.
The musical director for Steely Dan is pianist Warren Bernhardt. In the early 1960’s Warren became close friends with the late, great jazz pianist Bill Evans who influenced his style tremendously. Since 1972, Bernhardt has appeared a great deal with vibraphonist Mike Mainieri. He has also toured and recorded with Jack DeJohnette, Gerry Mulligan, Jeremy Steig, Michael and Randy Brecker, Richie Havens, Carly Simon and Liza Minnelli. This tour will also not be the first time Bernhardt has teamed up with Erskine. They both worked together on Warren’s Trio recording available on DMP records. Warren’s most recent solo release is called Reflections and is also available on DMP.
Donald Fagen will also be playing keyboards and his partner Walter Becker will be playing guitar.
Also on guitar will be NY Rock & Soul Revue veteran Drew Zingg. While serving as musical director of the NYR&S 1992 tour, Drew also did some great solo work on the Steely Dan songs that were performed and really got the critics’ and crowd’s attention. Drew will now have the opportunity that countless other guitarists have only dreamed of.
Tom Barney, who performed at one of the New York Nights showcases at the Lone Star Roadhouse when Pat Metheny was a special guest, will be the bass player.
The Steely Dan tour will have a unique horn section set-up. It will consist of three, yes three saxophones: Cornelius Bumpus from the NYR&SR and the Doobie Brothers; Bob Sheppard whose recent solo efforts have been produced by Becker for Triloka Records; and Chris Potter who is a member of the Mingus Big Band which plays every Thursday night at NYC’s Time Cafe. The three-saxophone Steely Dan sound isn’t something new, actually. On Aja, Tom Scott “triple tracked” many of the saxophone parts which could give you an idea of what the whole concept could sound like.
The backup singers are straight off of Donald’s Kamakiriad. They are Diane Garisto, Brenda White King and Catherine Russell. Brenda King was a member of the NYR&SR 1992 tour. Miss Russell was also a member of the NYR&SR tour and was a member of Jimmy Vivino’s Little Big Band when Donald was making his low-key guest appearances at Hades (dive bar) in 1990. Born in Brooklyn, Catherine’s mother Carline Ray is a singer and bass player with Ruth Brown. Catherine has also played with Buster Pointdexter, Samantha Fox and recently finished touring with Cyndi Lauper.
In the initial stages of tour planning, Donald and Walter were thinking about not having dedicated backup singers and instead using horn players who could also sing. That didn’t work out so the girls got the gig. At press time, Donald and Walter had just added a vibe player Bill Ware whose group The Groove Collective has recently been signed to Warner Brothers Records.
The next question is “What songs will they play?” Don’t expect a nostaglia show with a bunch of hits from the early ’70s. The show will focus on the stuff they’ve done from 1977 till the present. Expect about 5 songs from Kamakiriad, a couple from The Nightfly, about 3-4 songs from Walter’s solo album-in-the-works, several songs from Gaucho and Aja, with some old gold nuggets thrown in for good measure. It seems that everyone wants to keep the song list a surprise. We think that’s a good idea but we would be neglecting our journalistic responsibilities if we failed to divulge at least one of the definite possibilities: Hint: It’s a song about a “sweet thing from Boston.”
The tour dates that have been confirmed are as follows:
8/18-NYC-Madison Square Garden
8/20-Mansfield, MA-Great Woods
8/21-Mansfield, MA-Great Woods
8/24-Wantaugh, NY-Jones Beach
8/25-Wantaugh, NY-Jones Beach
8/27-E.Rutherford, NJ-Meadowlands (Indoor)
9/3-Woodlands, TX (Houston)-Cynthia Woods Pavilion
9/4-Woodlands, TX-Cynthia Woods Pavilion
9/6-Phoenix-Desert Sky Pavilion
9/7-Los Angeles-Greek Theatre
9/8-Los Angeles-Greek Theatre
9/10-Irvine, CA-Irvine Meadows
9/11-San Bernardino, CA-Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion
9/12-Mountain View, CA-Shoreline Amph.
9/13-9/16-Other dates to be announced (expected to include Philadelphia, and Raleigh, NC)
9/18-on (No additional dates confirmed, keep your ears open)
The shows at the Woodlands, TX (also known as the Steambaths) are also rumored to be recorded for a live double-CD release.
To say that this tour is the hottest show of the year would be an understatement. Many of the shows have sold out in record time. For example, the Madison Square Garden show in NYC sold out in less than 45 minutes. If you started calling Ticketmaster on the phone at 9:00 a.m., you were told that their supply of tickets was sold out by 9:10 a.m. At the MSG box office, people started lining up at 2:00 a.m. for bracelets that determine your place in the ticket line, but the majority of people in the line at that hour were lowlifes working for area “ticket agencies” — in other words — SCALPERS. In fact, after the show sold out on Monday, a ticket agency was advertising Steely Dan tickets for sale on Tuesday morning on NY’s WFAN-AM radio station. It seems like that was the case in most of the major tour cities. For the Great Woods shows, Boston area ticket agencies are getting $250 a ticket for a seat in the first 5 rows and that’s the going rate for comparable seats at the MSG show.
At press time, there are still a few outdoor venues that have some lawn seats available (Pittsburgh, Houston, Phoenix, San Bernardino). You might want to give your area Ticketmaster a call to find out if there are any left if you got shut out. If you want to avoid dealing with scalpers, we can only offer a couple of suggestions: One is to run a classified ad in your local paper asking to buy tickets from people who bought tickets, but for one reason or another, can’t go anymore and just wants face value for the tickets. Another is to chance it and show up a couple of hours before showtime and see if anyone has extra tickets for sale. Ticket scalpers are scumbags and you should do what you can to avoid them. The money you save can buy you a couple of Steely Dan T-shirts.
Metal Leg will be providing indepth tour coverage and will be at every show (depending on whether Pete can get one more week off from work). There are also many Metal Leg subscribers who are taking their summer vacations at that time so that they can see several shows. You might run into one of your fellow subscribers at the airports. We also expect that the tailgate parties will be a lot of fun and you should go early and participate in the festivities.
We would really like you to clip any previews or reviews of the shows that appear in your local papers and send them to us for the next issue. Also, if Donald and Walter do any radio shows, see if you can tape it and send it our way.
We don’t know if another Steely Dan tour will ever happen again, so enjoy this while it’s happening.
Donald gets hitched, and other news
Sorry, girls, but Donald Fagen is no longer New York’s most-eligible bachelor. In April, Donald married his longtime girlfriend Libby Titus. Libby, also a singer and songwriter, wrote Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Has No Pride” and got co-writer credit with Donald on Kamakiriad’s “Florida Room.” Libby Titus can also take credit for putting together the informal New York Soul shows which slowly developed into the New York Nights and then the New York Rock & Soul Revue. Donald originally met Libby at a Dr. John show in NY and the rest is history. Metal Leg and its readers send their best wishes to the couple.
Donald also has another reason to celebrate: Kamakiriad debuted at #10 on Billboard’s national Top 200 albums chart, which is one place higher than the peak position reached by “The Nightfly” in 1982. Steely Dan had three Top 10 albums in their history Aja reaching #3 in 1977, Pretzel Logic reaching #8 in 1974 and Gaucho reaching #9 in 1981. In the major metropolitan markets across the country Kamakiriad reached even higher chart positions in New York and Los Angeles. We haven’t gotten any of the foreign chart numbers yet, but we heard that Kama reached #1 in Japan.
The first single “Tomorrow’s Girls” had received a lot of radio play in many markets. The song is being played on both Album Oriented Rock stations and Contemporary Jazz stations. The Classic Rock stations have only been playing “Tomorrow’s Girls” as part of “Yesterday and Today” sets in conjunction with old Steely Dan songs. In New York, AOR station WNEW-FM has been playing the heck out of both “Tomorrow’s Girls” and “Trans-Island Skyway.” In fact, in conjunction with the Madison Square Garden ticket sales, WNEW held a “Black Friday” where they played one Steely/Fagen song per hour and gave away tickets and a gold CD version of Kama to each winning caller. New York’s contemporary jazz station CD 101.9 has been playing “Snowbound” a lot along with “Tomorrow’s Girls.”
The gold CD version of Kamakiriad was issued as a promotional-only/not-for-sale release to radio stations and the press. The gold CD is pretty cool to have, but it’s hard to tell the difference in sound. According to the CD package, “This disc is the product of three exciting technologies designed to enhance the digital listening experience and increase the quality off the disc itself.”
In the last issue, we talked about the “Tomorrow’s Girls” CD single release which is now out in the stores. In the U.S. it ended up only having one alternate track, “Confide In Me” instead of three. “Confide” was recorded around 1991 and doesn’t give credit to the players, but we’ve found out that they are Drew Zingg on guitar, Lincoln Schleiffer on bass, Denny McDermott on drums and Mindy Jostyn on harmonica and backing vocals. The song was actually a rough demo cut and is a lot less produced than the songs on Kamakiriad. You should definitely pick up a copy at your local record store or have them special order it.
Donald also did a video for “Tomorrow’s Girls” which has appeared sporadically on the VH-1 cable channel. The video features Rick (Honey, I Shrunk The Kids) Moranis as a man who unwittingly married a space alien. Donald also appears throughout wearing shades and doing some lip-synching. It’s actually pretty entertaining. There’s a bevy of luscious space babes, some pretty cool effects, and Rick Moranis does a new-age space boogie with his alien bride. Look for it between the Michael Bolton and Kenny G videos.
We don’t know what the next single from Kama will be, but Donald’s version of “Big Noise, New York” originally sung by Jennifer Warnes on “The Hunter” is supposed to be a bonus track.
Donald Fagen also gets the cover on the September issue of Jazziz magazine and is also interviewed. Walter Becker also is featured in the issue. Donald was reluctant to do the interview at first because he didn’t like the name Jazziz. “Walter gets your magazine. I’ve seen a few copies of it. It always annoyed me that the title was only a fragment of a sentence. It was too much anxiety provoking, so I never bought it. I saw JAZZIZ, and I went buiiiii. I have enough ambiguity in my life that I don’t need that kind of thing happening.” The people at Jazziz shouldn’t feel bad. We hear that Donald thinks the name Metal Leg is “horrible”. Actually, when we first took over Metal Leg from Brian in England, we thought about changing the name but couldn’t come up with anything really good. The Boston Rag was the best we could come up with, so we decided not to change the title.
Walter’s solo album is still in the works, but you’ll get a chance to get a sneak preview at the Steely Dan shows. The album, which will be on Giant Records will probably not be out until early 1994. Becker wrote all the songs on the new album, co-writing some with guitarist Dean Parks, as well as with Donald Fagen. Becker told Billboard magazine: “The ones I wrote with Donald were basically re-writes of songs that we never finished or that we’d done a long time ago.” In addition to Parks, other musicians backing Becker include Windham Hill keyboardist John Beasley, and three members of the Windham Hill act “Lost Tribe”: drummer Ben Perowski, guitarist Adam Rogers and bassist Fima Ephron (interview with Rogers and Perowsky in this issue of ML).
This still-untitled record is the first time Becker sings lead vocal. Becker said in Billboard, “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 don’t really have any alternative.”
Two of Walter’s jazz productions have been released. The debut album from New York’s Lost Tribe is now out on the Windham Hill label. On the Triloka label, pianist Andy Laverne’s Double Standard was released on July 27th.
The possibility of a Steely Dan boxed set has re-emerged as rumors started circulating that Donald and Walter were reviewing their archives for the project. We should know more about this in the next couple of months.
Steely Dan producer Gary Katz has been at Clinton Studios in New York producing a band called The Groove Collective. It’s a jazz, hip-hop band with a full horn section which will be released on Warner Brothers Records. One of The Groove Collective’s members, Bill Ware, is playing vibes on the Steely Dan tour. Another Katz discovery, the Boston-based band The Swinging Steaks, was signed to Capricorn Records and should be entering the studio pretty soon.
Some Steely Dan tribute bands have been surfacing across the country. Two of them are named “Pretzel Logic,” one in Los Angeles and the other in Connecticut. “The Royal Scam” is playing on Long Island. But the best one seems to be a 12-piece San Diego-based band called “The Steely Damned.” Leader Bob Tedde says that the response from audiences has been “unbelievable” and their band is filling up normally-empty clubs on Sunday nights with crowds of between 400 and 500 people. They are also nominated for Best Rock Band at the San Diego Music Awards. Some of the songs they’re playing include “Parker’s Band,” “Night By Night,” and “Doctor Wu.”
At intermission at the Grateful Dead’s show at Giants stadium in New Jersey, the sound guy was playing Steely Dan’s bootleg demo album “The Early Years” to 70,000 Deadheads.
Kevin Bents, the keyboard player with the NYR&SR just got back from Japan from a two-week tour with Boz Scaggs. Kevin will also be playing on Boz’s new album along with Booker T. Jones. Michael McDonald also has a new album coming out in early August.
Foster McKenzie III — a.k.a. Root Boy Slim — died at his home in Orlando, Florida on June 9th at age 48. Root Boy’s “Sex Change Band” was a sensation in the D.C. area in the mid 1970s and Donald Fagen and Walter Becker set him up with their producer Gary Katz at that time to produce an album. Root Boy’s songs included “Boogie ‘Till You Puke” and “You Broke My Mood Ring.” He was recently working with Katz again on another record project.
The Songs of Kamakiriad
The following descriptions of the songs in Kamakiriad appeared in Reprise Records’ press kit. We don’t know who wrote it, but it gives you a few more things to think about when you’re listening to the album.
1. “Trans-Island Skyway”
Our man takes delivery of his Kamakiri roadster. Designed for touring under post-millenial conditions, the car’s technology includes a steam powered engine, a self-sufficient biofarm and radio linkage with Tripstar (Teleologic Routing Satellite). After picking up a couple of passengers, he begins his adventures.
They drive through a troubled city (Splitsville?) during the transit of the cruel countermoon. Under its influences, couples fall out of love. All beware.
The most popular attraction on the Funway allows its patrons a chance to relive past romances. Memories of your early experiences are extracted and re-created in virtual space.
The only kind of time in this town is downtime. Our travelers insulate themselves from the cold and roam the city in an attempt to revive their numbed senses with new flesh and the shock of art. Just before dawn, they rent “icecats” and whip around crazily on the surface of the frozen river. For a moment, the sky brightens briefly as Wolf-Tommy fires off a flare.
5. “Tomorrow’s Girls”
An unfortunate coincidence brings our man to this quiet town just as disaster strikes. Is he really trapped inside this bad sci-fi film or is it a hideous nightmare? Gentlemen, watch the skies.
6. “Florida Room”
He heads south to pursue a recurring obsession. She’s beautiful, smart and funny, if a little eccentric. Maybe he’ll stay this time.
7. “On The Dunes”
She abandons him and the self disintegrates. The world seems drained of its being. What a drag.
8. “Teahouse On The Tracks”
Nowhere to drive but straight to Flytown, where the lost go to die. But hold it! Where’s that music coming from? What’s this place? Isn’t that Amy Khan playing that horn? And Flocko and Irene and the Siegal Bros.? What a night! He’s got party feet…
In the morning, trailing clouds of steam, the Kamakiri is back on the road.
Donald Fagen’s New Sincerity
The following piece was compiled from several interviews with Donald Fagen that were published in the first few weeks of Kamakiriad‘s release:
Question: During the last decade, did you chafe at the pressure of knowing there were all those people out there quietly but impatiently waiting for you to produce a record?
Donald Fagen: It was really more internal than external. But if it was kind of stressful that, for a quite a few years, every other day someone would say, “So, when’s your record coming out?” Rather than give them some earnest, encyclopedic answer, I’d just say, “Well, I dunno, how’s your record coming?”
Q: Obviously it’s not just the lighthearted fantasy album it might at first seem.
DF: On one level this is a sci-fi story that is essentially not much different from any kind of mythological narrative, in which a hero goes on a journey and has to face ordeals in various passages of his life and comes to some moment of crisis … But in another sense it’s an allegory for a sort of Everyman story. To some extent it could be seen as autobiographical.
Q: Was inventing the futuristic elements of the lyrics fun?
DF: Yeah, I think one thing about the sci-fi thing is you can use invented technology as metaphors. I used to like a lot of the kind of science fiction that also had a lot of parody and social comment. Frederick Pohl was one of my favorites. I like the idea of using the genre — you can write about personal things or you can do satire and you can remain pretty detached.
Q: ‘Tomorrow’s Girls” seems to be a metaphor for when relationships go sour.
DF: One morning, one wakes up, and you know, looks across the mattress, and seems as if this woman that he believed that he knew completely seems like an alien from another planet.
Q: What was your technical approach to recording Kamakiriad?
DF: Walter and I worked the way we always did. We tried to get a nice clean sound with everything up front. It’s funny but people always talk about a Steely Dan sound. I think all we were really trying to do was reproduce the kind of clarity that Rudy Van Gelder used to get on his Prestige jazz records in the late Fifties … very little reverb, with all the instruments pretty much equal and very dry. Maybe that’s an unusual approach to backbeat music these days, but that’s what we liked.
Q: What kind of music are you listening to now?
DF: Dead jazz, R&B and blues players. I recently went to hear a wonderful group of Ellington alumni in a New York club and there were like 10 people in the joint: Americans’ attention span is so short that they can’t follow any sort of linear unfolding thing. They see music as association, which is where sentimentality comes in. They define their lives by sentimentality. They’re thinking about themselves and the people they have relationships with in an idealized way. So music has to evoke an extremely romantic image. Music as structure is foreign to them. Americans have always had an essentially anti-intellectual character. One of the good things about that is they never let thought get in the way of action. They go ahead and do things other people would just think about. But it’s beginning to get more negative. You end up with no content, no values. The reason you often see an evocation of jazz in commercials, some saxophone player for example, is that it means urban. These jeans will look good walking around the Village. They would no longer be interested if you removed the picture and heard the guy actually playing jazz.
Q: In many ways American pop culture caught up with Steely Dan. The level of irony in your old lyrics is prevalent in the type of writing you see now in music and film and TV. Yet it seems like the tone of your own writing has changed.
DF: Yeah, I’m in my post-ironic phase … which of course would include irony as well.
Q: Steely Dan was once accused of being mean-spirited, but your first solo album, The Nightfly, and especially Kamakiriad seem almost totally free from that, maybe being more playful or more bemused in their observational tone, or even sweet-natured to an extent.
DF: Well, actually Walter and I are very sweet-natured lads. We were angry kids, there’s no doubt about it, and I think in that way we weren’t that much different from a lot of kids from our generation. To a lot of people, the ’60s is now some sort of incredible layer cake invented by the media. But I think we did have the attitude that we were brought up with inauthentic values, etc., and were trying to find some other kind of alternative values. We were looking for that in a very aggressive way. And as you get older, you’re not that angry anymore; you accept a lot of things.
On the other hand, we’re both very idealistic in that we’re at least trying to do something that’s not all bullshit, trying to do something good, in a way that the guys who used to make rye bread wanted it to taste good and the shoemaker who made a pair of shoes wanted the shoes to be good instead of just do a quick rip-off deal. I think we’re just not as aggressive — or not as arrogant about it, maybe.
Q: So maybe you’re saying that back in the ’70s you were more consumed with the disappointment that’s the underpinning of most cynics, and you dealt with that and have moved on to other things?
DF: Yeah, the other things being first and foremost Post-Irony. And I’m not talking about the New Sincerity, of course, but rather Post-Irony. Or perhaps it’s the Pseudo-New Sincerity, or New Pseudo-Sincerity. Or maybe it’s the Pseudo-Post-Irony. I don’t even know anymore, it’s hard to say. You know what? As soon as David Letterman hit the airwaves, it was really all over for irony.
Kamakiriad — Performance: Sleek, Recording: Pristine
By Parke Puterbaugh, Stereo Review
In its heyday, Steely Dan offered something for everyone: solid chops and great solos to appease jazz snobs, catchy tunes that sneaked onto the AM side of the dial, guitar solos and static-free grooves that sated FM rockers, irony aplenty for critics, and danceable rhythms to hypnotize the disco crowd. Their genius was being able to address all factions simultaneously while still retaining an air of inscrutability. Steely Dan’s seamless music both mirrored and mocked the smooth come-ons of the self-indulgent Seventies.
The Eighties, by contrast, were a lost decade for both partners in Steely Dan — Donald Fagen and Walter Becker — with precious little work issuing from either. Now here’s Fagen with his first full-length album since 1982’s The Nightfly. More to the point, Kamakiriad qualifies as a virtual Steely Dan reunion, since Becker produced it and plays bass and guitar on it. Needless to say, it’s marked by superlative musicianship, class, and intellectual irony. “Kamakiriad” is a concept album of sorts, with a futuristic premise that actually allows Fagen to rewind and muse on the social mores of the last half-century or so. It might just be the first significant fm de siecle album. (On the other hand, its jazzy sheen makes for good mood music, so those who’d prefer not to think too much can simply pour another drink and absorb the vibe.)
Kamakiriad employs trademark Dan touches — cool horns that wash over the songs in gentle waves, a tight choir of background singers who make the choruses surge, lightly funky grooves that insinuate and tease. The lyrics are oblique, intimating a high-tech future in which sensory simulation overtakes real life while scanning the wreckage of the last few decades, particularly the numbing of the senses through sex and drugs. Only music looms on the landscape as an oasis for the revival of real feelings, and the warm, gregarious spirit of “Teahouse on the Tracks,” at the close of the album, seems a real triumph. Whether or not this album gains Fagen readmittance to the charts is almost beside the point. The real question is do the charts deserve Kamakiriad?
By Ken Tucker, The Village Voice
Irony update: It keeps being invoked in rock reviews, so I guess it bears stating — it’s dead, folks, eviscerated by late ’70s punk and ’80s pop, rendered flat and airless, as depressing as a deflated rubber sex doll. Where are the ’70s’ most interesting rock ironists? Randy Newman has wrapped himself in a cocoon of thwarted ambition; Kate and Anna McGarrigle hole up in Canada — the Bronte sisters with mittens. Warren Zevon has become a hoarse gun for hire currently shooting blanks on the soundtrack to NBC’s “Route 66” revival. And Nick Lowe… hey, where the hell is Nick Lowe, anyway?
Well, we know where Steely Dan, the group that made irony catchy, is: Co-Dans Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are zipping across “Trans-Island Skyway” in Fagen’s new not-really-solo album Kamakiriad (Reprise). Fagen is singing along in his flat-tire tenor to the tape deck in this futuristic car, checking out some babe he calls “a virus wearing pumps and pearls.” In the 11 years since his first solo, The Nightfly, Fagen seems to have read a lot of William Gibson and James Ellroy, and fully anticipated TV mini-series Wild Palms in the matter of sun-drenched dread.
Kamakiriad is a glide across an American cyberspace where the sandy dune of an L.A. beach are “a joyless place where this loneliness began” (“On the Dunes”); where carny shows offer holographic rides in which you relive all your bad love affairs (“Springtime”).
With Becker along as producer-guitarist-bassist, Kamakiriad is the best Dan album since 1975’s Katy Lied, but what does that mean during a Clinton administration? Beyond the fact that Fagen is probably doomed to be VH-1’s Artist of the Month for all eternity, it suggests that his spacious, five- and six-minutes-plus compositions here may strike newcomers as unduly languid. This is a guy who likes to set a mood — allowing, for example, his keyboards and an array of horns ample time to summon up a shivery, dark night in “Countermoon” before slipping into the tune to sing about “a long and desperate kiss.” It is entirely possible that, in the current pop landscape, Fagen may be perceived as having more in common with Michael “Cocktail” Franks than with today’s shrewder media darlings. But the same tone of profound uneasiness that made Steely Dan such outre insiders two decades ago places Kamakiriad smack dab in the center of ’90s rock. Fagen could be P.M. Dawn’s guru; Becker could be P.J. Harvey’s doting uncle.
Yet for all his meticulous romantic despair, Fagen doesn’t sound jaded. As usual, the beauty of the melodies is contrasted with the wry grimness of the lyrics; no matter how many times I hear it, for instance, it’s always startling to realize that the words accompanying the jaunty, funky, zippy “Trans-Island Skyway” describe an auto accident in quick, grisly detail. Even here, though, our narrator always has his hormonal antennae up: “Wait just a minute, there’s a beautiful survivor,” he murmurs, pulling off to a shoulder in the road. Kamakiriad is exquisitely black-humored, sweetly witty right down to the KC-and-the-Sunshine-Band-on-X disco beat of “Florida Room” which Fagen sings in a poignant croon that quavers as it strains to reach the end of its long, lyrical lines. By the finish of Kamakiriad, Fagen has wandered out to “Teahouse on the Tracks,” a late-night jazz club on “Bleak Street.” Saluting Lester Young as Steely Dan once did Duke Ellington on “Pretzel Logic,” Fagen sings “If you got eyes/To rhythmatize/Bring your flat hat and your ax.”
Fagen and Becker are courting oldie status by mounting a Steely Dan reunion tour this summer. I would warn them off this project: When Rolling Stone was updating its Illustrated History of Rock & Roll last year, I got a call from an editor who said they would be cutting the chapter I’d written on Steely Dan from the new edition. Why? “Because they’re over,” I was told. “They’re pretty much irrelevant now.”
“Wake me up when the wolves come out to play,” Fagen sings on “Snowbound.” Wake up, Don — they’re here.
A critic grabs us, and says without a smile
“Leave the ‘Unplugged’ sessions to Eric Clapton or Rod Stewart. On his new album Kamakiriad, Fagen is plugged in, revved up and sounding like he was never away.”
Gary Mullinax, Wilmington News Journal
“Though slightly more aggressive in the rhythm section, and somewhat fuller in the horn arrangements, Kamakiriad is instantly recognizable as the late-period Steely Dan sound, a comparison made all the more pertinent by the presence of Fagen’s old Dan cohort Walter Becker as producer, bassist and guitarist. Becker’s quite a virtuoso: on guitar, he has a relaxed, swingy jazz style, while his bass lines bring to mind the circuitous peregrinations of the Motown legend James Jamerson. This track is one of the standouts — though, as with The Nightfly, there are no duds — with Fagen’s crafty lyric hints couched in the most incongruous of lounge-jazz idioms. Who else could sing a couplet like ‘We hit the street with visors down/With our thermasuits sealed up tight’ and make it seem like the most natural, wholesome, new-age thing on earth? Grown-up album of the year, so far.”
Andy Gill, The Independent (UK)
“From the streamlined funk of ‘Tomorrow’s Girls’ to the bouncy saunter of ‘Countermoon,’ the songs find a groove and gather momentum as breezy vocals and serpentine horn charts glide over a swinging rhythm section. ‘Trans-Island Skyway’ builds from a muttering bass line and ice-cool finger snaps to an exhilarating joyride that derives part of its thrill from the danger lurking around the next bend. When Fagen sings, ‘Strap in tight, ’cause it’s a long sweet ride,’ it’s like speeding in a convertible with the top down.”
Guy Garcia, Time
“Disco flashes back for ‘Florida Room,’ using Philadelphia International hi-hat cymbals and a plucky motor-booty shake made famous by K.C. and the Sunshine Band at Miami’s T.K. Records. It’s a Saturday Night Feverish arrangement, heavy on the ’70s production features, and enjoyable in a retro way.”
Michael Snyder, The San Francisco Chronicle
“Where The Nightfly looked back on a mythical American past, ‘Kamakiriad’ places itself on the cusp on the millennium. This is the Fagen-Becker sensibility filtered through Philip K. Dick, a world of cyborg cuties (‘Tomorrow’s Girls’), virtual reality (‘Springtime’), and a car called a Kamakiri that has a vegetable garden in the back (‘Trans-Island Skyway’). The Nightfly was a monstrously hard act to follow, but incredibly Fagen has pulled it off. I don’t know when he is planning to release his third solo album, but when he does I will be first in line, pension book in hand.”
Tony Parsons, The Daily Telegraph (UK)
“The album’s wacky lyrics, loopy sci-fi motif, and spooky adenoidal singing all count it as one of the can’t-miss candidates for ’90s legend-status. The core musical configuration of Fagen’s vocals and keyboards, Becker’s bass and Georg Wadenius’ guitar is cushioned by horn arrangements that sparkle and shine like the reefs of Kizmar. If you don’t yet comprehend what that means, you’ll just have to climb into the Kamakiri, start the engine, and learn as you go. Right when you get to the Smokehouse in the sand!”
“Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are back together for Fagen’s new record, and the results are stunning. This is as good as it gets for rock/jazz/pop fusion. It takes place in the future and begins with ‘Trans-Island Skyway,’ a funky number that tells the story of a guy about to take a journey in his new dream car, a custom-tooled Kamakiri. The tale gets weirder as it goes along, but the music is exhilarating throughout. The story line is not easy to follow, but this record remains an invigorating listening experience. Fagen and Becker haven’t done much the past few years, but this is a comeback record that proves they haven’t lost a thing. Kamakiriad is creative, refreshing and a total joy.”
Anthony Violanti, The Buffalo News
“In truth though, it’s just not the vocals that are low key. The entire album is the light funk equivalent of musical foreplay, always simmering but rarely taking it over the top.”
Kevin B. O’Hare, Syndicated music critic (and friend of John Kane’s)
“On The Nightfly Mr. Fagen came across both cool and approachable, pairing glistening melodies with warm, nostalgic yearnings for the lost innocence of the Kennedy era that come from his heart rather than just his head. Here, he is retracing his steps, settling for a Steely Dan throwback that — while certainly colorful — is more paint-by-numbers than masterpiece.”
David Okamoto, The Dallas Morning News
“No, they rarely make albums like this anymore — which is exactly what seems amiss. A good chunk of what is called pop these days — from sloppy grunge to jumping rap — sounds as if it were swiftly pieced together in someone’s basement. By contrast, Kamakiriad recalls a time when musicians and producers would spend months or years in the studio in search of the perfect pop record — and when melody, not crackling, jubilant noise came first. Just to prove how old-world it is, Kamakiriad is one of those antiquities known as a concept album. The low-energy melodies amble along in a pleasant but noodling way, with an exception being the jaunty ‘Hey Nineteen’-like swing of ‘Tomorrow’s Girls.’ That’s where Fagen’s perfectionism gets in the way. You have to admire him for taking his work so seriously, but those diligent arrangements only tend to zap whatever spontaneity existed to begin with. And spontaneity — or at least implied spontaneity — is the trademark sound of ’90s pop. To anyone other than the baby boomer Dan fans who have been eagerly awaiting this album, Kamakiriad will probably be perceived as a quaint theme park all its own: a pop world that has itself gone the way of the carnival calliope.”
David Browne, Entertainment Weekly
“But Kamakiriad isn’t just an Aja minor. For the first time, Fagen instills his music with full emotional openness, and without the old ironic knots to be negotiated. The prevailing tones of ache and longing have more dimension and resonance. It can be funny and touching, but it adds up to a pretty hard-bitten confrontation with self, making the climactic transformation-redemption symbolized by the jazz way of life, in the best Steely Dan tradition — all the richer.”
Richard Cromelin, Los Angeles Times
“… Kamakiriad may depict a Grave New World, but one that’s described so artistically (Fagen’s singing is more expressive than ever) and juxtaposed with such graceful music and superb musicianship that it leaves you somehow feeling wonderful afterward. This is one of the year’s outstanding albums”
Terry Atkinson, Prodigy Interactive Computer Service
“Fagen’s new album Kamakiriad is very much in the spirit of its predecessors but is even drier in tone and more enigmatic. A futuristic song cycle, suggests the fantasy of an overgrown kid who dreams of touring the galaxy in the coolest automobile ever built. Over the next few songs he stops at various locations in a future world that suggests a sleek, ultratechnologized caricature of the one we live in. ‘Tomorrow’s Girls’ creates a superwoman-from-outer-space scenario that is part War Of The Worlds (via Orson Welles), part Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, part Barbarella.”
Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone
“Perhaps nostalgia is just bare sentimentality, but that’s right at the root of Fagen and Becker’s own delight in Charlie Parker’s band, madness ’bout Brubeck, and ability to get silly to ‘Trane on the Trans-Island Skyway. The Odysseus of this tragicomikiriad understands the need to look back to see forward. Fagen is an illusionist, a cineastic composer with all the adorable idiosyncrasies and flourishes of Ellington or Woody Allen, and he possesses both those artists’ gift for making such qualities inseparable. Maybe one day they’ll all have lunch and talk about the good times.”
Matt Resnicoff, Musician Magazine
“Fagen understands deep, spacious sound and the power of pervasive bass better than any other white soul man. The slowly fluttering textures of horns and keyboards alone recommend Kamakiriad to confirmed Steely Dan fans. The uninitiated should go back to Pretzel Logic or Countdown to Ecstasy and work up to Kamakiriad — probably around the turn of the century.”
Milos Miles, CD Review
“At its languid, lucid best, the album recalls the sacred first side of Aja; compliments come no higher.”
Richard William, The Independent (UK)
There must have been something in the Molson Ale up in The Great White North in May because none of the Canadian critics seemed to care much for the album. We can’t figure it out but. maybe some of you can, eh?
“It starts off well enough, with the classic jazz-pop SD sound percolating through ‘Trans-Island Skyway’ and ‘Countermoon,’ but the eight tracks have a plodding sameness about them that ultimately slam Kamakiriad into a brick wall.”
Peter Howell, Toronto Star
“Could this really be the team that made ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,’ ‘Reeling In The Years,’ and ‘Deacon Blues?’
John Mackie, The Vancouver Sun
“Unfortunately, the very need for brief synopsis of the plot in the liner notes says it all. When Steely Dan wrote great songs they were great. When they didn’t, they were paint. As in watching it dry.”
The Montreal Gazette
“Cool. Casual. Occasionally clever. And by day’s end a lot like stroking a pair of nylons on the car seat beside you … only no one’s in them.”
J.M., Calgary Herald
Tour Reviews, 1972-1974
Since the 1993 Steely Dan Tour is their first performance under the Dan banner in 19 years, we thought it would be fun to go through our archives and dig up some old concert reviews and photographs from their touring years.
In the following article, “Steely Dan and the Visual Side of Rock,” a young Richard Cromelin gives his opinion of one of the Dan’s first live performances at L.A.’s famed Whisky A Go Go in his LA Times review of Dec. 4, 1972.
It’s too bad that Steely Dan (at the Whisky Dec. 6-10, 1972), a band that is capable of producing some appealing, energetic and intelligent rock ‘n’ roll, chooses to be so neglectful (or simply tasteless) in manners of appearance. Live rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be a show, and how long can one look at a pair of denim overalls without becoming utterly bored… or… downright repulsed?
That self-imposed disadvantage should be corrected quickly, because if it presents a visual aspect that complements rather than detracts from its musical impact, Steely Dan has a chance to become an outstanding mainstream rock group.
Its tunes are simple and catchy, and the arrangements, led by keyboards and two guitars and stabilized by a solid rhythm section, are richly textured and constantly varied.
The band’s style incorporates several elements, the most prominent being a British sounding heaviness and concern with nice melodic phrases and strong chord progressions. Also in evidence are traces of L.A. country-rock and a good deal of basic, commercial rock ‘n’ roll.
Steely Dan’s stage manner is moderately energetic if not terribly original, and while the lead singer’s are largely unimaginative, at least they’re there. The memorable selections on opening night were “Do It Again,” “Brooklyn” and “Bodhisattva” (the line “Bodhisattva, won’t you take me by the hand” delivered over a vintage rock ‘n’ roll figure is evidence enough that there’s some degree of consciousness at work in the group). If only they can find some time to go shopping.
Second-billed Woodpecker also exhibits considerable commercial potential. It makes no bones about its similarity to Three Dog Night (seven members, three lead singers, a rendition of a Randy Newman song), and there is every chance that a bit of tightening will result in considerable, if not quite so phenomenal, success.
The next review, “There’s a Cha-Cha in my Soup,” was written by Ed Naha in 1973. It covered Steely Dan’s performance at Manhattan’s once popular, but now extinct, club “Max’s Kansas City.”
When is a rock band not a rock band? When the group in question is Steely Dan.
Steely Dan is about the unlikeliest choice for a “rock band” label as you will ever find. The six-man group (consisting of bassist Walter Becker, pianist Donald Fagen, guitarist Jeff Baxter, guitarist Denny Dias, singer David Palmer and drummer Jimmy Hodder) welds together walls of electric piano, jazz-inspired guitar rhythms, slide guitar, electric sitar and a few horn riffs with skill and ease. The resulting music, however, isn’t quite rock. Nor is it jazz… or pop… or anything else you can hang a name on.
During a recent gig (Nov. 1-7, 1972) at New York’s famed Max’s Kansas City, Steely Dan put on a perplexing performance which showcased their lightweight rock melodies and pseudo-Buffalo Springfield-ish vocal harmonies. The results were amazing, or rather, the audience was left amazed. Listening to the band hop, skip and jump through Latin-flavored rockers, country-inspired ballads and pop sagas, the crowns weren’t quite sure how to label this interesting potpourri. All they knew was that this music was tight and exciting — and worth coming back to hear again.
Chief writers Walter Becker and Donald Fagen realize that their songwriting style is slightly off the wall, but they defend their tunes as being simply “traditional.”
“Well, we try to write songs as close to the same approach as the Beatles used, so the songs will be unified. You know, pop songs with some kind of structure that can be developed. We’re actually pretty traditional in that respect, but our chord structures are usually more interesting than in most rock and roll.”
On their debut ABC/Dunhill release, Steely Dan, the group, did their best to fuse together rock, pop, jazz and Latin ideas. Sounding a bit like the old Electric Flag minus the horns or one of Boston’s late sixties’ rock mutations, Steely Dan pulls off multiple surprises with the aplomb of pros. A pedal steel guitar will turn up in the middle of a cha-cha, a few jazz chords will tear through a rocker, and a Memphis horn line will suddenly appear in a ballad.
Crazy? Well, maybe. But Steely Dan is a group that’s out to prove that it’s music that still counts, not flash. Onstage at Max’s, the group finishes a very laid-back set, highlighted by Steely’s electric piano-dominated tunes and David’s graceful body movements a la early Jim Morrison. No hype, no stage absurdity — just music. Watching them bound off the stage with enthusiasm, one can’t help but remember the words of Walt Becker, who earlier in the day commented: “It’s all a matter of everyone understanding that the music is the most important thing. Anything that detracts from that isn’t worth doing.”
Our third story, “Sound Short Circuits Steely Dan” from Circus-Raves Magazine gives you an idea of some of the road problems that the band faced when touring and eventually left a bad taste in their mouths.
Steely Dan is a band of perfectionists in an imperfect world. In their New York showcase concert (April 3, 1974) at the lavish flower-bedecked Avery Fisher Hall in the Lincoln Center complex, the Dans ran into the same kind of trouble that always seems to plague the brilliant young group when they come to the Big Apple area. The first time out, when they played at the Westbury Music Fair (March 16-17, 1973), their sound equipment didn’t exist. The next time (April 14, 1973), they refused to play at Nassau Coliseum unless they were promised a sound check. They didn’t get it because of last minute confusions.
The Avery Fisher date proved to be the ultimate exasperation, revealed singer/keyboardsman Donald “Peter Roulette” Fagen. There, the Dans were allowed exactly four minutes to test out their sound and, when Avery Fisher’s crew whisked them off the stage, the irate Steelys refused to perform. However, when they saw the crowd eagerly awaiting their arrival, the rockers used pretzel logic and came on anyway to perform an amazing 45-minute set. After one encore, the audience was reluctant to let them make way for the top of the bill, the Electric Light Orchestra.
Later, at Fiorello’s Roman Cafe, guitarist Denny Dias explained the Steelys’ position on stage presence. “Glitter and all that stuff makes me sick,” the burly guitarist insisted. “We let our music do our acting for us.” What does Mr. Dias do when he’s not on tour with the Dans? “I fertilize rugs,” he mumbled, his mouth full of spicy peppered sausage. Or was it fool around with bug? The Steelys are winding up a breathtaking US tour which staggers from the Northeast to the South, from the South to the Northwest and back to the Midwest before returning to the band’s digs in Laurel Canyon outside L.A. Meanwhile their latest LP, Pretzel Logic, bounces high in the charts.
Our final review, “Get Dan and Get With It,” was written by Chris Welsh and appeared in the May 25, 1974 issue of Melody Maker and covered Steely Dan’s first and only (at that time) tour of the United Kingdom.
“We’ve never been here before, but we’re going to play the best concert we’ve ever played in our lives.” Skunk Baxter delivered this terse statement in no uncertain terms to the eager fans waiting on the edge of their seats at the Palace Theatre, Manchester on Friday night, last week (May 17, 1974). And the roar that greeted the band before and after their sensational set, proved the audience felt they had heard few better.
Indeed, the impact of Steely’s immensely enjoyable and thoroughly professional performance was still reverberating through critics and fans alike long after the show. For this was the new Declaration of Independence. American rock music has shaken off the image of being overawed by the instrumental giants of Europe, and Steely Dan have – at a stroke – made many English bands sound five years out of date.
A thinking man’s rock band, they eschew the cliches of rock, and present us with rounded, cleverly constructed and memorable songs, the work of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Instrumental prowess is mainly devoted to delivering the songs. But in concert, they add another dimension of vibrancy and improvisation that is not entirely conveyed by the albums.
And Jeffery Baxter (he wants to drop the “Skunk” while he is in England), is a new “find” on guitar, A man with tremendous enthusiasm and drive, he injects the Steelys with a personality they might otherwise miss.
As English fans have been listening to the albums for a year or so, it was with bated breath they awaited the debut appearance. And they were rewarded with all the great songs in treatments that did not disappoint in comparison with the recordings, but enhanced on them. At first there were a few shouts from Manchester lads who might have thought from the appearances of the musicians (bearded, bespectacled, casual), and the accents (strong, slick), that we were in for an LA boogie band. But the shouts were soon swept away in a wave of applause that reflected a kind of awe. And the band were obviously delighted at the response.
Donald Fagen, who took up the centre of the stage with his grand piano, leapt around conducting, signalling, singing and generally holding the ensemble together. Behind him were two drummers, Jim Hodder their regular man, and Jeff Pocaro, only 20, who has played with Sonny & Cher. Walter on bass guitar, who co-writes all of Dan’s material with Donald, was largely hidden behind the cymbals, while Jeff and Denny Dias, an impressive figure in Russian revolutionary beard and mountainous shoulders, made up a complete guitar section between them.
Adding to the orchestral sound was singer and keyboard man Mike McDonald on Fender Rhodes, and high harmonies, and Royce Jones on soul vocals and percussion
Opening with a roaring boogie (yes, boogie), on “Bodhiisattva” from Countdown To Ecstasy they swung into “Boston Rag,” all received with tumultuous applause. “Thank you kindly, I can’t tell you how…” Donald seemed almost at a loss for words on this most important of concerts. More cheers of recognition greeted “Do It Again” with a powerful solo from Dias, ending with a surprisingly good conga drum outing from Baxter.
“Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” is pure pop, the three minute song given its highest status since the days of the Beatles. “You’re making me feel most welcome,” said Donald. More amazing Baxter solos followed.
The first encore came with “Show Biz Kids,” and the second number was “a new one you’ve never heard before, but you’re gonna dig it.” The drums carried us out with a restrained, disciplined but energetic bash that stuck to all beats of the bar before lashing out, with Jim and Jeff working in unison.
Steely Dan will open a few ears to the way rock can be moved forward without losing its roots and essential qualities. And who knows, in time, maybe we will get to love them as well.
Christopher Parker talks
If you read through the liner notes on “Kamakiriad,” Christopher Parker, one of the most-in-demand studio drummers on the music scene, gets the credit for his excellent work on “Trans-Island Skyway,” “Countermoon,” “Florida Room” and “On The Dunes.” Chris was involved in the project from the very beginning and has now joined the ranks of the other illustrious drummers who made it to a Fagen and Becker recording. Tracing his ancestry to a drummer in the American Revolution, Chris has played with many other fine artists including James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis and Bob Dylan and is currently working on his own hip-hop jazz album. In this interview conducted by Metal Leg’s own Pete Fogel, Chris talks about the Kamakiriad sessions as well as many of the other projects he’s been involved with over the years. (Transcription by Brian Sweet).
Metal Leg: So, we heard that you were a co-founder of the band, Stuff.
Christopher Parker: Originally it was called the Encyclopedia of Soul and it was myself, Gordon Edwards, Cornell Dupree, Richard Tee and a tenor player named Charlie Brown. We had a singer named Esther Marrow, who later became Queen Esther. I was in the Brecker Brothers at the same time and I didn’t want to leave the Encyclopedia of Soul in the lurch. At the same time I had run into Steve Gadd with Joe Farrell — he had just gotten into town and I went to hear him at the Village Vanguard. He was amazing, ridiculous. I fell over myself to meet him, talk to him about drumming and we had a long conversation and one thing led to another. He had played a lot of Latin, lot of jazz, lot of bebop and he said “I’d love to play some R&B.” I said “I’ve got just the band for you,” so I sent him up there to sub and they loved him, too.
ML: And they threw you out?
CP: No, I came back off the road with the Brecker Brothers and the band was still going on and we would alternate at Mikells according to our respective recording schedules.
ML: How did they get the name Stuff?
CP: That’s what Richard and Gordon called everybody — “Hey, Stuffy, what’s happening?” There’s a Coleman Hawkins tune called “Stuffy” and maybe it started right back then. But nobody was known by their first name, it was “Hey, Stuffy, what’s happening?”
ML: So you were the original drummer with Stuff? What year was that?
CP: ’74. That’s when I came in from Woodstock and Paul Butterfield. It was a dream for me. Cornell Dupree, Gordon Edwards and Richard Tee had been on all the albums I listened to — “King Curtis Live at the Fillmore West,” Aretha records, and all the Atlantic, ATCO, Stax, Volt and Muscle Shoals stuff had a lot of those guys on it. It was a thrill.
ML: Did you live in Woodstock for the music?
CP: Yeah, I did a lot of stuff there. I was going to school here in New York — the School of Visual Arts. In ’68, ’69, ’70 I was an art student. I was very lonely all by myself painting in an apartment and one day I couldn’t take it any more. I said I’ve got to interact. I’d been playing drums all the time I was growing up. I answered an ad in Rolling Stone for a band that needed a drummer and they were in Woodstock. So I called up and talked to the guys and the next day I was up there in Woodstock.
ML: What was the band?
CP: Holy Moses.
ML: Did they make any records?
CP: Yeah, there’s one album on RCA. In 1971 I guess the album came out. But the band broke up and I stayed up there and played with a lot of different bands.
ML: So your painting took second place and drumming took over?
CP: Yeah, I still did both, but I needed to interact and be around other people.
ML: So when did you move back to New York?
CP: After four years I came back to New York from Woodstock — Summer of ’74. I just started going out to hear everybody I could hear and I ran into Gordon on a jingle date. He said, “Hey, Stuff, why don’t you come up to my club tonight and check us out?” So I went up there and they were on a break. I was sitting there waiting to hear the band and Gordon spotted me and said “Why don’t you come up?” I said, “I didn’t hear anything yet.” So we started playing and I found out later the drummer was Herschel Dwellingham, the guy who played with Weather Report. Once I started playing, I played the rest of the night. That was it, then I came the next night, and the next night and brought my own drums and that was the beginning of a long, happy relationship.
ML: What were your favorite projects after that?
CP: The Brecker Brothers, there was stuff with James Brown, an Aretha record, a track with Miles Davis, some great R&B stuff — Ashford and Simpson, Van McCoy, a great record by R.B. Greaves — some of my favorite playing.
ML: How was it playing with Miles?
CP: He wasn’t there. I just heard seven different trumpet solos simultaneously. I got a call at midnight to come in from Jimmy Simpson, Valerie’s brother. George Butler was there and Davis’ nephew, Vince Wilburn, had already played on the track but they didn’t like it, so I replaced the drums on the track. But even without him being there, it was great. The tune was called “Shout.” It’s on The Man With The Horn album. I did it after they’d already put the credits on there, so I’m not credited.
ML: When did you play with Bob Dylan?
CP: Winter of ’88. I was working on Saturday Night Live and got a call that he was putting together a band, so I went and played with him and I thought, “This is great.” We played for ten hours or something — played all these tunes and I didn’t hear anything else. And then a couple months later I got a call saying, “Are you ready to go out on the road?”
ML: Did you play on any of his records?
CP: No, I never did any of those records. I think probably a couple of years from now what we did in those summers of ’88, ’89, ’90 will be a bootleg, like what they did on past stuff. I know they have tapes, board tapes, video, DAT, every kind of tape.
ML: So you’ll get on wax that way?
CP: I hope so, ’cause that was a good band. The original bass player was Kenny Aaronson and Tony Gamier came in when Kenny got sick. The original band was really tight and it was a new thing for Bob, too, and he was excited.
ML: How was it working in rehearsals and everything?
CP: He was great. You mentioned something about the similarities or differences of working with Bob and working with Donald. I thought about that question and there’s a lot of similarities and there’s a lot of differences. To me, the similarities are what they’re looking for is something intangible from the drums. They’re looking for a feeling, for a vibe. They are looking for an inflection. The tempo can be right and all the notes can be right, but it’s still missing something. It still needs an attitude or a slant on it. It’s more than just laying it back or pushing it ahead, or dealing with the lyrics, trying to illustrate the lyrics, which is something that I sort of do automatically. Coloring verses and coloring choruses and such. Not literally — I mean I don’t make a wave sound when Donald tells us about “On The Dunes,” but it’s like an attitude. But I did that with Bob, too.
ML: It seemed like the drums were the most important thing for Donald. Was it the same with Bob?
CP: Yeah. I don’t know about in the studio, but certainly live, Bob wanted to have a good foundation and he wanted to know what I was gonna be doing. He would turn around to me until he heard what he liked happening before he would launch into the tune, whether it was an old tune or a new tune like the stuff that we did off Under The Red Sky when that album came out. Certain feels that evolved on the road became very important and with the older tunes, he was always looking for a new take on some of the old stuff. If it ever got predictable or if it ever got to the point where if the same thing happened two nights in a row, he would immediately go left. He would put it in 3/4 or 12/8 or start the verses on the end of three instead of on one. It was challenging. He would have to find a new way to sing it or a new way to compact or stretch out the phrasing which was endlessly fascinating to me. In the same way that Donald does a lot of stuff with phrasing — phrasing over the bar line, twisting the words around the melody and stuff that’s not straight ahead.
ML: On my first listen to Kamakiriad, Donald’s voice seemed a bit back in the mix. Did you notice that at all?
CP: I noticed a difference on the record from what I remembered during the sessions because at the sessions I didn’t have much to listen to except a scratch vocal, his live keyboard pass and maybe a keyboard pad and there was no bass. There might have been sequenced percussion or something to listen to, just a hi-hat. I was used to hearing the vocals very up front.
ML: That was in your headphones?
CP: Yeah, and there wasn’t much else. It made it hard to judge what else was gonna be on the track. I think a couple times I asked “Well, what else is goin’ on here?” and they didn’t really know at that point. To what extent there were gonna be horns or guitar or bass? There was no bass player. I had no idea Walter would end up playing bass and lead guitars.
ML: When did you first get called for that?
ML: Where did you work?
CP: The Hit Factory. I think we did “Countermoon” maybe, or the one that became “Trans-Island Skyway” and we did a lot of other tunes, too, that were abandoned or maybe that will be for a future project.
ML: Can you remember any titles?
CP: No. There was one where on the top of the sheets that just said “Song.”
ML: How did you end up in the Maui sessions?
CP: Walter called me and I was on the road with Bob. He said, “We want you to come to Hawaii” and I said, “Oh, great and when can we do it?” and he said “We want you November 17th or 18th.
ML: What year was this?
CP: This is ’90. I said, “I will have just finished with Bob the 16th” and he said, “That’s when we want you, with the blood and the beer and the sweat.” Oh man, he was very keen on my coming directly from the Bob Dylan thing.
ML: So this is a big gap between the Hit Factory?
CP: Yeah, I assumed I blew it. They’re not gonna use it, they’re not gonna call me back. Out of the blue I get another one of these calls. It was always a surprise. God, I can’t believe they’re calling me back again.
ML: Out of all the great drummers they’ve used, it must have been a great compliment to you.
CP: That’s how I felt. Purdie, Gadd. I felt very complimented and flattered to be in there with that company. And the other guys on this record, Leroy and Denny McDermott, are great.
ML: So you went to Hawaii in Thanksgiving of 1990?
CP: Right, that was my birthday.
ML: So they paid for your flight?
CP: Oh, yeah. They put me up in this great house.
ML: How far was this house from Walter’s studio?
CP: About a mile and a half, two miles.
ML: Is Walter’s house the same as his recording studio?
CP: No, a different location.
ML: Who was there?
CP: Just Walter and Donald and Roger Nichols. Donald and Walter came and picked me up in this truck and we listened to Sonny Rollins with Ben Riley on drums on the way to the studio. It was a whole different vibe than the New York thing. It was like we’re hangin’. It was beautiful, it was gorgeous. They seemed much more relaxed, plus the eight months solid of playing with Bob without a break was behind me and I was turning forty and that was a high point. I couldn’t think of any place I’d rather be on my 40th birthday than recording with Donald and Walter. So I was really happy. I’m so happy about the whole session, the stuff that I did that ended up on the record.
ML: Were there any other musicians there besides Donald and Walter?
CP: Just me.
ML: How long did you stay?
CP: Ten days or something. We had Thanksgiving … I said “Hey, it’s Thanksgiving” and Walter said, “I’ll give you Thanksgiving” and he gave me some Oscar Mayer smoked turkey cutlets and said, “That’s your Thanksgiving.” We worked all day. We got some great stuff and we had smoked turkey sandwiches.
ML: What tunes did you work on there? Did they make it to the record?
CP: I think we worked on “Tomorrow’s Girls,” but it wasn’t finished and Donald said “We’ll do more with that one later” and then Leroy Clouden played it on the album.
ML: Did all the drummers try all the songs?
CP: I don’t think so. I don’t think anybody else tried “On The Dunes” except me. I don’t think anybody did what became “Trans-Island Skyway,” either. It was one of those that didn’t have a title yet. Certain parts of the lyrics were done and certain parts weren’t and he would sing what he had done. If he did have all the lyrics, he wasn’t happy enough with them to sing them on a scratch vocal yet. But that was real important to me to hear what the vocal was gonna be. The way I hear it now with Walter playing bass I would have played it completely differently.
ML: Why do you think they didn’t let you play with a bass part?
CP: They clearly did it for a reason; I don’t know what that reason is. They did it to get the results that they got. But yeah, Walter came out and played a little guitar one day and we jammed, which was real fun. It would have been great to have jammed with him on bass, too.
ML: What sort of drum sound was Donald looking for?
CP: They had a real nice set provided by a guy Paul Marchetti. I brought my own snares and my cymbals and bass drum pedal and hi-hat, but they had a studio set there. It had been in Hawaii a couple of years, I guess, and a lot of the hardware was corroded and I sort of like the effect it had on the drums — sort of dampening them without taking away the sound. And then Walter came out with these mutes — I don’t know what they’re called — it’s like an arm that rests on the tom tom and every time you hit it the arm bounces right back to the head. So it’s a real dry sound on the top and bottom heads of the tom toms, so the feel he had on “On The Dunes” and stuff is very dry. At the Hit Factory I brought my own Pearl drums.
ML: Speaking of “On The Dunes,” there’s a break where you really go off.
CP: I figured something went down in the studio and they’re just letting the tape run and I’ll just play anyway and I was really into the tune, so I just kept playing. I figured they’d stop me. Hyperbolic Sound is two separate buildings. The only link is a video camera, so they can see me, but I couldn’t see them. So if I didn’t hear anything, I kept playing. If they wanted to start over again, they would let me know. What they usually did was stripe the tape with smpte — enough so I could do three takes in a row. I’m not sure which take that is, but I think it’s one complete take. I was really into it just playing the changes. There was nothing else on there — no bass, no guitar, no percussion just me and Donald’s track and scratch vocal.
ML: Have you ever recorded that way before?
CP: I’ve done a lot of recording where they have a sequencer and I’m adding to a drum machine. I did a George Benson record that way, but usually there’s bass and guitar and Donald’s stuff was really sparse. It was hard to tell how it was gonna end up.
ML: Roger Nichols said in an issue of EQ: “We recorded about a zillion passes of Chris playing along with the sequencer. After Chris was safely on a plane back to New York, we took his drum part apart piece by piece. Mind you the performance wasn’t bad, he was just half a millisecond late here, a millisecond early there, you know the usual stuff. What he played on the intro, bridge and fade we actually kept intact; all we really manufactured was the verses, some cymbal crashes from somewhere else, a bunch of snare hits from all over the place and put them all together in a sequence and made them match the drum machine pattern.”
CP: Which tune is he talking about?
ML: You tell me. I have no idea.
CP: A zillion is a little bit of an exaggeration. Being Roger, I’ll allow it. He’s Immortal, he’s a great guy, he’s a very talented guy.
ML: So was this actually you playing or was this a computer on the record?
CP: I listen to it and I remember playing it. Whether they used offsets and shifted things around, that’s totally possible. What’s there is what I played. They may have taken what I played here and put it over there and they certainly altered the sound of the drums sonically, making it more dry and crisper than the way it was. But what they went for in the studio — tighten the bass drum up — more tighter snare drum head. I had the snare drum tightened up as far as it would go. So what they did after my performance, I can’t tell you.
ML: Would they work on one song per session? Did you spend a long time getting the drum sounds just the way they wanted them to?
CP: It was usually one song per session. Except in Maui we did something different every day. We spent a long time getting drum sounds and getting the drums to sound just the way they wanted ’em to.
ML: Did Donald describe what he was looking for in a song?
CP: Yeah, but it was pretty abstract and pretty sparse. He never said “Play this” or “Don’t play this.” For some of the tunes he had a chart that had figures in it and had the bar structure laid out, but he didn’t have a pattern written.
ML: Did he ever mention any other artist or group as a stylistic guide?
CP: No. But the way he spoke to me conveyed to me anyway what he was looking for in terms of attitude and inflection is more accurate. Because everybody can speak the language; it’s the words you accent and what part of the country you’re from. Like you can tell the difference between somebody who lives in Philadelphia and somebody who lives in Boston or somebody who lives in western Pennsylvania and eastern Pennsylvania, very subtle things that they’re looking for. A lot of times it’s just a question of breathing differently on the take, breathe a little deeper; you’re in Maui, take it easy. I mean, the New York thing is, like, hit it.
ML: You were in the Gaucho sessions for “Time Out Of Mind,” but didn’t make the final cut. What was the difference between the Gaucho session and the Kamakiriad sessions?
CP: “Gaucho” was at A&R and it’s a studio I spent a lot of time in and it was special because they were there. But it was not as special as Maui because there was nobody around for miles — it was just me in the studio — since the studio is a separate building from the control room building.
ML: Was working on Kamakiriad easier?
CP: “Kamakiriad” was just Donald, Walter and Roger. Donald was giving me directions and Walter would elaborate on ’em and Roger would make a joke about ’em. So it was easier to tell whether I was doing the right thing or whether they liked what I was doing.
ML: What about Gaucho?
CP: For me, anyway, at the time there was too much input. Gary Katz would be saying things and then you would see Gary and Elliot Scheiner talking between takes and I wouldn’t know what they were saying. Then Donald would come around and say something and Walter would elaborate on that. Between the three different opinions, there was too much input for me to get a clear idea of what was good about that past take. What should I change and what should I keep the same? And the attitude thing was hard to pin down. Is that the right attitude? Is that the kind of thing you’re looking for? Some of it would be and some of it wouldn’t and as I remember, I couldn’t get a clear direction, a single affirmative or negative. We spent a lot of time going through different drums and different snare drums and I got to the point where I sort of lost my bearing in terms of what they were looking for in sounds and attitude and everything. Ten years later I’m that much older and that much more confident and have that much more experience. I guess all those things contributed to how well the sessions went in Maui, the Hit Factory and River Sound.
ML: Who is harder to please? Walter or Donald?
CP: I think Walter is harder to please. But they’re both very demanding and very microscopic about what goes on, just perfection and really a whole different level of perception, especially about drums. There’s a lot of stuff I do — inside stuff on the snare drum in between the backbeats that is just instinctual and that’s sort of my playing style. Donald would love that stuff and Walter would say there’s a lot of extraneous stuff going on. Well, the extraneous stuff is what makes the big beats sound more important or mean something. That’s why drum machines are good at what they’re good for. You can get ’em to play just the big beats. There’s a whole process that goes into playing any instrument, especially drums, since it’s all four limbs at once. That everything contributes to your breathing. What I was seeing outside around me in Maui, which I showed you in my paintings, contributed a lot to my attitude and my frame of mind, my perception of what the song is about.
ML: How was the communication between Donald and Walter and Roger?
CP: They are, like, inseparable. Donald and Walter is an entity unto itself. Donald and Walter and Roger is like one person. They have worked together so long they have this communication that’s so … you really have to be on your toes to keep up with it. There’re so many double entendres and word plays and you’re lucky if you catch half of it — at least I was.
ML: Did Donald change any of the songs significantly during recording?
CP: I think “Tomorrow’s Girls” got changed. It started out one way and had a completely different feel than what ended up on the record.
ML: What is it like for a drummer when Donald and Walter want every last millisecond of a drum track to be perfect?
CP: Patience is important. Also, consistency of performance, you gotta keep givin’ it to ’em. So that you don’t lose ground, you gotta make every take count. It’s hard work, very demanding.
ML: You must have some funny stories about the Maui sessions.
CP: With my corning from the Bob Dylan tour, Walter said he wanted me “with the blood, and the beer and the sweat.” I said, “I don’t drink.” He said, “Well, the blood and sweat, then.”
ML: You had said earlier that they made jokes about bass players.
CP: Yeah, they said they have to have weird names. Lincoln Schleifer, Zev Katz, Lincoln Giones, Tinker Barfield. And I told ’em about Toph, which is what everybody calls me ’cause I was in a band in Woodstock. It’s like the second half of Christopher ’cause we had two Christophers and the other guy was older so he was Christopher and I was Toph.
ML: Did Donald and Walter ever ask you about coming on the Steely Dan tour?
CP: No. I asked Donald about it at one of the Lone Star gigs. Libby Titus called me for one way back for the first one. She said they were gonna do Jerry Ragavoy tunes, but I couldn’t do it, I was on the road with Bob so I said, “Let me do it the next time,” but I never got another call.
ML: Is it unusual that they use you on the record, but use someone else on the tour?
CP: Not at all. It’s like a Dylan thing. You don’t need to use the (album) guys on the road for a live performance, and you don’t use those (tour) guys on the album.
ML: How do you think Peter Erskine will do on this tour?
CP: Fabulous, he’s a great drummer and good friend. He’s a killer. He’ll kill this stuff. He’ll kill this shit.
ML: How about Warren Bernhardt?
CP: Warren will kill it, too. Warren and I worked together a lot and he’s a great player. I’m sure it will be great and it’ll be a great live record. Tom Barney’s a killer bass player between Warren playing keyboards and Donald I imagine will be playing keyboards. I wish I was doin’ it. It’ll be fun.
ML: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
CP: I grew up listening to Monk, Mingus and Miles on the radio. Count Basic and Duke Ellington. My father is a jazz nut and he plays drums. Also he had a vast record collection — still does, all the Monk, all the Miles, all the Charlie Parker, all Sonny Rollins, all Coltrane, so that was at my disposal growing up, plus there were these great FM radio stations — WRVR. Ed Beech is the guy who really stands out and I would just have my head pressed to the speaker all day long.
ML: How old were you then?
CP: About 10 years old. It wasn’t by choice — that was what my dad listened to and that’s what was on. The radio was locked on that station and I didn’t have a record player.
ML: Were you diggin’ it?
CP: Oh, yeah. The drums were set up — my father had a set there. He played soprano sax and clarinet and at a certain point, he swapped some paintings for a set of drums, I think.
ML: Your whole family are musicians? How many brothers and sisters do you have?
CP: Yeah, four younger brothers. They all, except for one, play drums and my father plays drums and mom played piano and I have cousins who play drums, uncles, great uncles … a lot of drummers. My grandmother traced our family back to the Revolution to this guy, William Dawes, who supposedly was the guy who played drums with Paul Revere.
ML: How many kids do you have?
CP: I have two boys, Jack and Russell.
ML: Are they gonna be drummers?
CP: If they want to. I’m not gonna force ’em into it. But I play records all the time for them to hear and they’re into it. They’re both into piano and both into drums. And we have amazing jams.
Lost Tribe Interview
As most of you are aware, Walter Becker has been producing various jazz projects for a roster of artists on the Triloka and Windham Hill record labels. The New York-based Lost Tribe, whose debut CD (Windham Hill 10143-2) was recently released, is Walter’s latest production effort. Lost Tribe’s music defies definition as rigorously as it insinuates itself into your mind and body. From the deep funk rhythms of Sly Stone and James Brown to the hard beats and rap of Public Enemy, from the ferocious guitar blasts of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and contemporary thrash, to the harmonic inventiveness and improvisational spirit of Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman, the band forges what drummer Ben Perowsky calls “mutation” music or “hardcore-hip hop-jazz-chromatic-dance music.”
In addition to having their album produced by Becker, three of the band’s members, guitarist Adam Rogers, drummer Ben Perowsky and bassist Fima Ephron were drafted by Walter to play on his own solo record. After seeing the Lost Tribe at their record release party in New York in May, Metal Leg editor Pete Fogel spoke with Adam Rogers and Ben Perowsky about the Walter Becker experience at a small pub in Manhattan’s posh Alphabet City. (Interview transcribed by Brian Sweet.)
Metal Leg: A review of one of your shows by the L.A. Times said that you are an “M-Base” band.
Ben Perowsky: What it is is that one of the guys in our band, David Gilmore (not the one in Pink Floyd), is a very integral part of M-Base and also I’m sure there are definitely some influences there in that we listen to the music, but we have no connection formally with M-Base and our music sounds a lot different than M-Base music. We’re really going for a different direction entirely.
ML: How did you guys get together in the first place as the Lost Tribe?
BP: Me and Adam (Rogers) went to high school together and so we’ve been playing together for a long time. Fima (Ephron) also went to the same high school — the High School of Music and Art — before we did. Then we joined with David Binney and a year or so later, David Gilmore joined the band. Our lineup was pretty much finished in 1990. The concept of the band started in the fall of 1988.
ML: After I listened to your record and saw you at the Knitting Factory in NYC, I was able to hear a lot of the influences that you talked about in some of your press materials. That’s very rare, at least to my ears.
Adam Rogers: That’s good. That’s what we’ve been trying to do. ‘Cause we all do listen to a very, very wide variety of music and it’s not arbitrary, but it just comes out in our music in a pretty straight fashion. We don’t try to alter it and change it to fit something, we just let it come out undiluted.
BP: There’s something that makes this band a little bit different from a lot of other bands and when we take our influences, we play a lot of different styles of music, but we really play those styles of music in a professional situation. For instance when me and Adam and Fima play with Walter Becker and when we have a rock or a funk influence, it’s not like we just listened to a James Brown record once. It’s like we really went and learned how to do that and how to keep that going.
AR: I think everybody in the band gets a tremendous amount of satisfaction from playing that kind of music as authentically as possible, not as a jazz musician’s take on that music.
BP: Or a rock musician’s take on jazz.
AR: If I can actually lay back — and I love to take long attempts at blistering solos with a lot of notes — I can still lay back and play a James Brown guitar part for two hours and play nothing else that’s satisfying to me as blowing my brains out.
ML: Windham Hill is considered a jazz label. So if someone said you were jazz, would you say “no”?
BP: It’s hard in the marketplace; things are brought to their closest common denominator because it’s got improvisation, it’s got a a big jazz influence. So if people need to call it jazz….
ML: Where would it be in the record stores?
BP: Jazz. Some record stores have it in the rock section.
ML: A perfect example of the diversity is the songs “Letter to the Editor” and “Space.” The two are a complete opposite. One is a rap song and the other is straight-ahead jazz. I think those two songs sum up where you guys are coming from.
BP: Yeah. Well, we also hope that the public can perceive these differences, like yourself. ‘Cause there’s a big tendency in this country, especially based on people’s knowledge of music and what’s pushed to them, you hear a couple of things, influences, and immediately you associate it with a style of music as opposed to being able to just relate it to itself. Not, “Oh, this has a little jazz chord change, so it’s fusion.”
ML: How did Walter come into the picture as far as producing your album?
BP: I was playing on Dave Kikoski’s record and Walter and Roger (Nichols) were working on that and I was in the drum room playing some speed-metal type grooves and Walter came in the room and asked if I knew of a crazy punk/jazz/metal/fusoid band. Basically I had our tape in my pocket. He called me that night and said. “You wanna do something? I wanna produce you guys.”
ML: Were you guys fans of Steely Dan?
AR: Oh. yeah. What was interesting, too, was we were driving back from a gig — I think in Montreal — and we were trying to think of people that we could interest in this music as we had been trying for a year to assault the record business with our stuff to no avail. We were thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get a good producer.” And Walter’s name came up.
ML: Any other producers’ names come up in the conversation?
BP: We were also thinking of Ed Shockley from Public Enemy or Daniel Lanois.
ML: Where did you start recording with Walter?
AR: We did all our stuff in his studio in Maui.
ML: So they ﬂew you guys out First Class?
AR: No, that depends on what record label is funding the whole project. This is, like, a small jazz budget.
ML: Where did you stay when you were there?
BP: In a guest house next to his home in Maui.
ML: How long were you actually out there?
BP: Thirteen days. That was in October. It was recorded and mixed in thirteen days.
ML: Walter produced LeeAnn Ledgerwood and Bob Sheppard’s records in only two or three days.
BP: I guess our stuff is a little bit more involved. –
ML: How many hours a day did you work out there?
AR: Seven-eight hours a day.
ML: How was Walter as a producer?
AR: He was great.
BP: A lot of fun. A great guy. a very friendly cat, very funny and as a producer he was great.
ML: Is he a hands-on producer?
AR: He was pretty hands-off except when it was time for him to put his foot down or make a decision, because in a lot of cases you need somebody there to just kick us in the butt and make sure we got the record done.
ML: So Walter seemed happy with the final mix?
AR: Oh. yeah.
ML: Did Walter show you around the island. take you out to dinner and that kind of stuff when you weren’t working?
BP: Yeah, and we went to the beach a little bit.
ML: When did you finish the album?
AR: October 26th, 1992. We came back, did four gigs on the west coast and came back to New York.
ML: How did those gigs go for you guys?
AR: Good. We’ve got a tour on the west coast between the 9th and 18th of August. We signed with a booking agent and a manager.
ML: So how did it come about that Walter decided to ask you to play on his solo album?
AR: Well, he had thought initially we could help him with some stuff — a couple of tracks when we were out there. The idea was that the rhythm section would play on some of his tracks, but we didn’t have enough time. And he then mentioned the idea that maybe you guys would like to come back out at the beginning of ’93. But we didn’t think it was a good idea to go back. Just kidding.
BP: So we ended up going back out there in February and stayed for a month.
ML: Anyone else in the studio for Walter’s album?
AR: Dean Parks on guitar and John Beasley on keyboards. So it was Ben, myself, Fima, Dean, John and Walter. The three of us stayed in a guest house and Dean and John were staying in another house.
ML: How did Walter introduce his album to you.
AR: When he was in town working on Donald’s album, he played us tapes of his stuff and gradually we got all the material on tape so that we could listen to it and work on it. So when we got out there, we were relatively familiar with the music.
ML: So what is “Three Sisters Shaking” like?
ML: “Junkie Girl?” Any other titles you can give us?
AR: “Our Lawn”, “Little Kawai By The Sun”. “Surf and/or Die“.
ML: What was the music like compared to what the Steely Dan stuff was?
BP: There’s some stuff that’s quite similar. Walter wrote a lot of that music, you can tell.
AR: Walter’s a great singer. He really has a lot of personality. He’s a real soulful singer.
BP: One thing that was a lot of fun for us was he was cutting the vocals live with us. He wanted to get a real band feeling. He’s gonna try to save as much of that as he can. But you never know if that’s gonna go on the tape or not. Just having him singing in the studio was a knockout… Some of ’em are kinda quirky — some of ’em are more rock and roll than the Steely Dan stuff — you know great changes. Fantastic lyrics, very into the lyrics — lines that pass by real quick that you gotta listen to ’em again. The reason why we thought Walter would be such a great producer for us was that Steely Dan really helped raise the level of pop music because they used so much stuff — jazz harmonies, whatever — and it was such successful music. It’s great — kinda like what we wanna do with our band — push the music forward. People are intelligent and basically ready to accept any kind of music.
ML: Were you affected by the different vibe in Maui?
BP: It’s funny because we were worried — at least I was a little bit — because we were all born and bred in New York City, so that’s the whole lifestyle we’re used to. And that edge and everything and finally getting to the studio and you’re ready to kill somebody; I use that a lot in my playing. Maui was great, deﬁnitely a much more relaxed way of making music.
AR: The effect it had on me was that I could really focus on the music.
BP: The thing about being in New York and working is that it’s where you live, so it’s like all these other things you have to deal with. So when you go away you’re just thinking about the record.
ML: Was Donald there at all?
AR: No, he was on the phone all the time, though.
ML: Are you serious?
AR: Fagen was mastering his record while we were cutting Walter’s tracks, so Walter had to deal with that on the phone.
ML: Did Walter give you any idea if you were gonna be on the whole album or just a few tracks?
BP: It sounded like we were gonna be on the whole record. But you never know. It would be great. But even if we’re not on the record, the experience for us was just great.
AR: Besides that, he’s such a great guy to hang out with. It was such a learning experience for us. He was very relaxed; I think his concept was to get as many complete tracks as possible. Just get a vibe happening, play the tunes and save as much as possible.
ML: With the Steely Dan records, the most important thing was getting the drums and bass down.
BP: A lot of times what happened was he’d ﬂy with the whole band.
ML: Was he hard on you when he was working on his stuff as opposed to your album?
BP: Not really. There was an article in Modern Drummer about the Steely Dan drummers and back in those days I think he was different person and it was a different kind of music. It was just a different time.
ML: What do you think of their choice of Peter Erskine as the drummer on their tour?
BP: First of all, Peter is an old hero of mine, so I think it’s great. He’s a great drummer; he can do anything.
ML: Is there any chance of Walter showing up at one of your shows and playing with you?
AR: I would love it. I want to get him to come and stay with us. Rap — he’s a good rapper.
ML: Who are some of your influences on guitar?
AR: I think the reason I started playing electric guitar was because of Jimi Hendrix. I was playing a little bit and I heard Hendrix and saw my life’s direction really powerfully. Hendrix, Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Bird, Miles Davis, in his whole sphere, not only in his playing but in concept, his power, energy.
ML: So did you take turns with David Gilmore playing lead and rhythm guitar?
BP: What’s interesting about these guys is they both play lead and rhythm. One of the things that Walter was playing was his “sheets of sound,” which throughout the sessions became known as the “sheeps of sound.”
ML: The original “sheets of sound” came from?
BP: Certain critics — I think this lady named Zita Karnow in particular — described John Coltrane’s playing at the end of the ’50s, because he played a lot of very fast patterns and superimposed a lot of arpeggios and scales on one chord. But I prefer the “sheeps of sound” technique.”
ML: You have any more funny stories?
BP: It was constant joking around. Hysteria. There’s a list that I’m sure somebody would like to get a hold of — but I don’t think it’s gonna be possible — at least for the next 20 years. It’s a list of quotes, 200 or so quotes from these sessions that were in the computer. Something I wanna say is that Walter is a great writer and he writes liner notes in his spare time.
ML: Any other memorable moments?
BP: What about when you stuck your hand in the fan?
AR: When we were doing the Lost Tribe album, I have a tendency to get overly enthusiastic about nothing really and I wanted the sax player in the band to shake my hand as some kind of evidence that he was still my friend. And when he did shake my hand, I was so happy about it that I threw my hand up in the air with joy and threw my arm into a ceiling fan. And it had a huge bump right before we were starting to track and I was about
to do some very difficult solos.
ML: But no blood, though?
AR: No blood. But my tendons were aching and Walter termed it “the mortification of the ﬂesh.”
Dear Pete Fogel,
Howdy! The reason I am writing to you is that I’d like to know as much as possible about Donald Fagen and his post-Steely Dan ventures. And I’ve been given the impression that you’re the best man for all the answers. So I’d be eternally grateful if you kindly answer a few questions regarding:
- Is there any news or plans for Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker to start working together again?
- After releasing his now-classic The Nightfly (1982), is Donald Fagen launching a new solo album?
- Is there any such Steely Dan fan club?
Well I guess by now you must have figured out that I am indeed an ardent fan of Steely Dan/Donald Fagen. And since I live so many thousand miles away from all the hoopla, it is very hard for me to keep up with the latest of happenings. So I beg you to let me know about all those I mentioned. I’ll be waiting with eager anticipation and with my fingers crossed.
Mr. Reza Ahmed Chowdhury
“A Steely Dan Fan”
Since Mr. Chowdhury seems to be a bit removed from the Steely Dan mania gripping the United States, Metal Leg has decided to send over the Kamakiriad cassette as part of our ongoing relations with Third World Dan Fans. We have also alerted Mr. Chowdhury that President Reagan is now out of office.
My wife and I look forward to reading your Steely Dan magazine. Donald and Walter made a big impact on our lives. Katy Lied was The Album the year we were married and struggling in Los Angeles. I appreciate the work that goes into publishing. In the mid-’70s I produced a newsletter for the Firesign Theatre. My big claim to fame was being included in the liner notes to one of their albums.
As we complete our CD collection of Dan albums, Metal Leg will be a fine addition.
Los Angeles, CA
Just received Issue #21! You did an excellent job. I was ecstatic to read that the Dan was coming to LA! Wow, what a dream come true. I wanted to let you know that you’re welcome to stay here during the LA and Orange County dates if you need to.
To refresh your memory, I met you at the Mayflower Hotel in NYC while I was playing piano on the road with Diana Ross. Since then, it’s been on to bigger and better things. ’93 started off with a band, with keyboard credits on a track nominated for a Grammy for “Best R&B Instrumental Performance” with George Howard. Then I had the privilege of working with Simon Phillips (new drummer with Toto) at the N.A.M.M. show concert with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, followed in March with working with the group Take 6 (with a tour in the Fall). This next week we start putting the band together for Chaka Khan’s summer tour. So things are busy. But never too busy for Steely Dan!
See you in September,
Mark Ellis Stephens
Enclosed is a check for a subscription. Also enclosed is a brochure of the guitars I make. I thought you might find it interesting because the “Bird of Paradise” model and the “Kula Rose” model pictured I made for Walter.
I’ve known Walter for 10 years and I do all the repair/maintenance work on his guitar and basses. By his own admission, he has a bad case of GAS (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome) and he keeps me pretty busy sometimes. It’s been a great association for me because he has introduced me and my guitars to a number of great players. I feel fortunate to live in such a great spot as Maui and be able to meet people from the music scene in LA and NY. I’m having my cake and eating it, too.
Dear Mr. Fogel,
I guess I was about 14 years old the day that my big brother brought home a copy of a brand new album entitled Can’t Buy A Thrill by a group we’d never heard of named Steely Dan.
From that day forward, through changes in style, long hair, short hair, beards, mustaches, clean shaves, earrings, marriage, apartments, houses, kids, sports cars, station wagons, destitution, prosperity, etc., etc., … the answer to one question never changed: “So Jim, who’s your favorite group?” Naturally, the answer has always been, without hesitation, Steely Dan.
James R. McDonald, President
Loring & Mathews Advertising
New York, NY
As Research Coordinator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, I am working to build our artist files and also to develop our library and archives. One of my projects is to have our library placed on the mailing list for newsletters and/or journals of the fan clubs of major artists. I am hoping that you might be willing to donate an ongoing subscription to your newsletter, or any other information about Metal Leg for our library/archives and Research Center. We are a non-profit, educational institution, and all items for the museum collections, library and archives are placed there by donation only.
We have begun site preparation and construction, and are preparing for groundbreaking ceremonies in June. I plan to keep in close touch with fan clubs and eventually encourage them to visit the museum.
Please contact me if you have any ideas or questions. I look forward to hearing from you.
Bonnie Z. Oviatt
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
Metal Leg will be working closely with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to build the Steely Dan archives. We have an extensive collection of rare articles, printed and taped interviews, and reviews in our files that will be sent to Cleveland but to make sure that we haven’t missed anything, we would like all of our subscribers to send us any archive materials that you might having lying around, also. We will then forward them to Bonnie at the Hall so that a catalog can be created and duplicate materials can be sorted out. Please send your materials to Pete Fogel.