Steely Dan

I love making music and do it for its own sake, purely for the satisfaction of a good job, done well. I aspired to be a pro in my youth but got so discouraged by the music industry I put my guitar in the loft for nearly 20 years!

During my time off from playing period I still kept listening. It was during this 'down time' I discovered Steely Dan.

Once I started playing guitar again (in 2010) I automatically gravitated towards Steely Dan. I posted many tracks on Soundcloud and received an encouraging response. My guitar playing is at its best. In 2015 I'd been practising scales, learning more about music (especially reading) and investing in new software and I think it's paid off! I'm finally near where I want to be. Here's the latest batch, enjoy!

Steely Dan Trivia: They're named after a dildo from the William Burroughs novel Naked Lunch. Donald Fagen recalled to Mojo magazine: "We had to come up with a name in a hurry and Walter and I were both Burroughs fans, though he was not known at the time. It was an in-joke- who's going to know what Steely Dan was? And we figured that, like most of our bands in the past, it would fall apart after three months, so we didn't think much about it."

Psssst! Want to know who played those solos? go to this list of Steely Dan Guitarist Credits

Steely Dan Covers

I got on a roll with this album doing most tracks in a matter of hours. I even did two in one day! The mixing took the most time. It's an album of Steely Dan's best tunes covered in modern genres! Still respectful of the originals I hope!

I'm a wannabe Steely Dan guitarist (for 30 years now) so, if you like this album then email Walter and Donald - I will await their call!

Everyone's Gone to the Movies

On this one I start off on guitar with playing octaves on the melody, a typical jazz technique. I then get naughty and change the guitar sound to a shredding, highly flanged sound for the rest of the track. This is another track off the 1975 Katy Lied album.

Walk Between the Raindrops

This is typical Steely Dan territory, even though it was on Donald Fagen's Nighfly album (which I contend is the best album Steely Dan never released!). I use my American Clean tone on guitar for the melody, it's quite a complex piece but very satisfying whenever, in typical Steely Dan style, it changes key momentarily like modal jazz. It's short, but sweet!

The Fez

If you don't know what a Fez is, it's a Moroccan hat worn popularly by comedic characters; Tommy "just like that" Cooper (UK) and Groucho Marx was apt to wear one in his more sartorial moments!

Steely Dan Trivia... This is the only Steely Dan song with a third credited writer, Paul Griffin, who also plays organ on the original song. On a BBC Online chat March 4, 2000, Donald Fagen said, "The Fez was recorded using a rhythm chart but there were a few bars missing and Paul Griffin, the keyboard  player on the day, came up with a nice little melody, so we felt we should include him in the writer credits."

It originally appeared on the 1976 Royal Scam album.

 

Don't take me Alive

Guitar fans... I recreate, rather successfully I think, the original iconic Larry Carlton guitar solo on the intro note for note. The track wouldn't have been the same! I'm an advocate of stamping your own style on covers so only the first half of the intro is copied.

"Don't Take Me Alive" is the third track from the fifth Steely Dan album the Royal Scam. Written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of course. Leaving no mystery to the lyrics, "Don't Take Me Alive" is about a violent criminal holed up with "a case of dynamite" telling the cops to shoot him

Steely Dan Trivia... Do you have the multi-track masters for "Black Cow"? If so, Donald Fagen will give you a $600 reward, since their copy went missing. For this reason, re-mastering the album as a Super Audio CD has been put on hold indefinitely.

Aja

Well I've covered practically the whole album already so why not do the title track!

Steely Dan Trivia... the name Aja was pretty random according to Becker and Fagen, it was a wife of a friend.

FM (No Static At All)

This is a song that was specifically written to order to be the title theme to the 1978 film FM. It made the US Top Forty that year when released as a single. It had been recorded during the same sessions as Aja and employed some of the same studio musicians and recording personnel, in addition to band members and songwriters Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. Among them were saxophonist Pete Christlieb and drummer Jeff Porcaro; several members of the Eagles sang backing vocals. It only appears on compilation albums.

Steely Dan Trivia... The Steelies had a thing going with the Eagles - the lyrics to one of their tracks "Everything You Did", a lyric says, "turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening." ". In response he Eagles penned the lyrics, "They stab it with their steely knives but they just can't kill the beast" in their hit "Hotel California"

Kid Charlemagne

This track features THAT guitar solo. It is rated by many as one of the top ten guitar solos of all time. The original guitarist on the record, Larry Carlton, pulled a real classic out of the bag and I kept putting off doing this track because I knew I had to recreate it note for note. It is such an integral part of the track I couldn't possibly just do my own solo,  I had to do my version of it. I did it pretty much note for note but, I hope, in my own inimitable style. What makes it so good? It's a text book case of good taste and technique on a par with Mozart. The musical theory is impeccable, Larry constructed it using impressive arpeggios of the many complex chords. He runs up and down scales thinking out of the box by inserting ridiculously chosen passing notes that just shouldn't work. It's mostly perfectly fluent 16th notes jumping up and down the fretboard, peppered with trademark Larry phrases. The structure is perfect. A great guitar solo needs a dramatic entry, which it has, it totally hits the ground running. It then proceeds at breakneck pace in the most tuneful of melodies right until the end, which could have ended in two places and still made sense. Man, there are a lot of notes in it and it's very hard to play even though I'm stylistically inclined toward Larry Carlton as you all may know! It took me six hours to master when I usually complete a whole track in the same time! Consider then that Larry did it in two takes! That's why he's the best guitarist in the World.  

Black Cow

Plenty of melody and emotion to hang your hat on in this tune. I opt for a nice clean 'American' sound to get my Ovation Breadwinner over. Another from the Aja album.

The Steelies are nothing, if not commercial. "Black Cow" was written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, the co-front, core members of the band Steely Dan. It was released as the B-side of the single version of "Josie," which reached #26 on the US Hot 100. Two other singles released from the same album charted even better.

Steely Dan Trivia... Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz sampled the intro for their rap "Deja Vu (Uptown Baby)"

Theories as to what this song means: Take your pick of a troubled relationship, an ode to self-doubt, a commentary on nightlife, a reference to Hindu culture (cows are sacred), or it could be about Thelonious Monk, the American jazz composer who is often regarded as the father of bebop.

Tom Scott, who did the horn arrangements on the Aja album, also played tenor sax on this track

Home at Last

HAL is a great little groove. Very typical Steely Dan chord progressions. I manage to play a lot of the melody on guitar during this track. Some Steely tracks melodies can be limited to a couple of notes for the vocals (e.g. Black Friday). This one has a beautiful melody, complete with those odd little passing notes and key changes we know and love (Becker/Fagen for).

I'm very pleased with the solo on this one. You can't beat the Steelies to improvise over. It's tough to play with such a clean sound and guitar tone but this you can get #in the pocket' of. It's bluesey, it's jazzy, and, as you know, I'm sparing with the number of notes I play per musical bar. I'm out to be the most expressive I can be - and that means making the most you can of the notes  you've got (and the silences between them).

At over five minutes this is one of the longest Steely track I have done!

Steely Dan Trivia... Apparently, this song is based lyrically on the epic novel The Odyssey by Homer. The hero, Ulysses, is trying to get home across the ocean after the Trojan War, but the gods keep making it difficult:

It's off the Aja album

Steely Dan Trivia... Speaking extra praise for Aja's perfectionism, it won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording. Not only was Aja certified platinum, it was also one of the first to go platinum.

Ruby Baby

Not strictly a Steely Dan Track this is from Donald Fagen's Nightfly album. It's as close as he gets to classic Steely tracks. I always thought Fagen wrote it but it is actually a cover they did of a Leiber Stoller song. They know a good song when they see one.

My approach is to jump genres with the beats; there's Dubstep and Disco there! Some horns and a clavinet bassline later and - Voila!

 Steely Dan Trivia...  The Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. version was originally recorded by The Drifters and was released on a single by Atlantic Records in 1956.

I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)

This is from Donald Fagen's Nightfly album. It's as close as he gets to classic Steely tracks like Doctor Wu.

I give it bit of a modern pop flavour with the sampled, repetitive vocal pattern There's loads of melody I could pick out on the guitar too, I'm pleased with the solo which is typically Dan-esque. You gotta dig their effortless key changes.

 It was the first track of his debut solo album The Nightfly, and was released in September 1982 as its first single, charting on the Billboard Hot 100, Mainstream Rock, R&B Singles and Adult Contemporary charts.

Steely Dan Trivia... The "I.G.Y." of the title refers to the "International Geophysical Year", an event that ran from July 1957 to December 1958 which was an international scientific project promoting collaboration among the world's scientists. Fagen's lyrics reference, from the point of view of that time, an optimistic vision of futuristic concepts such as solar-powered cities, a transatlantic tunnel, permanent space stations, and spandex jackets.

Doctor Wu

One of the Steelies most melodic tracks that lends itself well to guitar taking the main parts, as well as a solo. Plenty of horns in the middle eight.

Songfacts say about it...

This song seems to be about a betrayed loser lover talking to his eccentric shrink, who perhaps has stolen the guy's girl. It features the signature Steely Dan irony: "All night long, we would sing that stupid song, and every word we sang I knew was true."

Steely Dan Trivia... As to the identity of Dr. Wu, Steely Dan claims he's a fictional character, with Donald Fagen explaining, "We change the names to protect the innocent." Becker told Rolling Stone during their 2009 tour: "It's about that uneasy relationship between the patient and doctor. People put faith in doctors, yet they abuse their power and become dangerous."

This title of the album it comes from, Katy Lied, is a line in this song: "Katy lies, you could see it in her eyes."

Haitian divorce

This track was marked by its distinctive 'voicebox' guitar, quite an innovation at the time when it was initially released Technology has moved on so much since the original track was recorded. The original voice box was a tube attached to your amp the sound from which went up a plastic tube and you mouthed vowels etc with your mouth close to a microphone. I have a pedal with a superb setting that does in digitally! I don't use it often but when I do I love it. So you get a clean guitar solo and a voice box one too for the same money! I always wondered why the almost reggae beat - that would mean it was called Jamaican Divorce! Slick move Donald to not do the obvious).

Steely Dan Trivia... The lyrical meaning of the original refers to the odd practice of going to Haiti for a quickie divorce. You could go to Vegas for a quickie marriage, but what if you want a quickie divorce? In the early '70s, Haiti made it easy, allowing foreigners to divorce with hardly any restriction; the big sell was that only one member of the married party had to be present and request it. source http://www.songfacts.com

Bad Sneakers

I've really given this on a pop dance treatment. There's Electro and Disco going on in different places. Otherwise it's business as usual, the lead guitar picking out the melody and a solo later on (at 1 min 50)

Steely Dan Trivia... Bad Sneakers  was released as the second track on the Steelies 1975 album Katy Lied. Apparently producer Gary Katz later regretted not releasing the song as the first single.

Chain Lightning

Here I've arranged the horns to take the main role on what is ostensibly a 12 bar blues. The guitar is left to do the improvisation, keeping it slow and bluesey. This is yet another Steely Dan track that is timeless.

Steely Dan Trivia... on http://www.songfacts.com/ they say

"Chain Lightning is a simple 12 bar blues tune that has a swampy twang to it. This bluesey track has an almost burlesque feel to it and if you close your eyes while listening to it, you can imagine that you are inside of a nineteen fifties vintage strip club with the requisite drummer performing while the strippers are doing their thing.."

My Old School

Here I play organ for verse one and turn it acoustic guitars for the second. I recreate the first Skunk Baxter solo and do my own things for the second - it's what I would do had I played on the album.

Steely Dan Trivia...  The "Old School" referred to in this song is Bard College in Annendale, New York, where Donald Fagen and Walter Becker met. The song is at least partially inspired by an event that occurred at Bard, where both Becker and Fagen, along with their girlfriends, were arrested in a pot raid on a party that was orchestrated by an ambitious young District Attorney named G. Gordon Liddy (hence the line "Tried to warn ya about Geno and Daddy G"). Despite the fact that California has not (yet) tumbled into the sea, both Fagen and Becker have returned to Bard.

Green Earrings

At first glance this is a 12 bar blues and on one level it is but on another this is actually modal jazz with three tonal centres. Great to solo over, once you've worked out the key changes! It's a driving piece and I use a dirtier guitar sound to be in character. It's got a bit of a House beat lurking underneath if you can spot it!

This is about a jewel thief who feels no remorse whatsoever in what he does, even when he steals from a lover.

Steely Dan Trivia... The Royal Scam is the fifth album by Steely Dan, originally released by ABC Records in 1976. The album went gold and peaked at #15 on the charts. The Royal Scam features more prominent guitar work than other Steely Dan albums since the departure of Jeff Baxter.

Reelin' in the Years

Steely Dan Trivia... This song is about recalling times with a girlfriend and a romantic breakup. It's one of the most popular Steely Dan songs, but also one of their least favorite. In Rolling Stone, September 17, 2009, Donald Fagan said, "It's dumb but effective." Walter Becker added, "It's no fun."

I recreate the distinctive guitar solo on the intro note for note but on acoustic!

Steely Dan Trivia... Elliot Randall, who was not a member of Steely Dan, stopped by on an invite from Skunk Baxter while they were recording this and ended up playing the guitar solo. This was one of the first of many times Walter Becker and Donald Fagen would use studio musicians, and by their fourth album,  nearly every player was a studio musician. Randall also played on their albums Katy Lied and The Royal Scam.

Psssst! Want to know who played those solos? go to this list of Steely Dan Guitarist Credits