Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2017 Sept-Oct Contents 12 Rhythms
steely Dan’s third album, Pretzel Logic, released in 1974,
was the last to feature the full five-member band of
walter Becker, Donald fagen, Denny Dias, skunk Baxter
and Jim hodder (who didn’t play on the album at all
appearing on only one track as a backing vocalist).
Most of the drumming fell to Jim Gordon (The Wrecking
Crew, Derek & The Dominos) while 19-year-old newcomer
Jeff Porcaro, who’d been touring with Sonny & Cher, made
such an impression on the song ‘Night By Night’, that
he would join the touring band and become a Steely Dan
Keyboard player David Paich also played on this song and
three years later he and Porcaro would become founding
members of Toto.
Pretzel Logic, a short album (34 minutes) of short songs
and fewer instrumental jams than the band’s two previous
releases, created a template for future Steely Dan releases in
that it marked the beginning of Becker and Fagan’s roles as
Steely Dan’s principal members.
From this album on they would enlist prominent studio
musicians, drafting in for these sessions keyboard players
Paich and Michael Omartian, bass guitarists Chuck Rainey
and Wilton Felder, guitarist Dean Parks, percussionist
Victor Feldman and horn players that included Plas
Johnson, Ernie Watts and Jerome Richardson. Because
of the perfectionism of Becker and Fagen, hiring versatile
studio musicians was a must.
Meeting in college, Fagen and Becker formed Steely Dan in
1971 with Becker acting initially as bassist, Fagen singing
and playing keyboards. Their third release, Pretzel Logic,
got off to an ideal start when its first single ‘Rikki Don’t
Lose That Number’, inspired by a former Bart college
female friend of Fagen’s, made it to Number Three on the
Billboard Singles Chart.
Victor Feldman’s flapamba, a variant of the marimba, is
played as an introduction to the opening riff, an almost
direct copy of the intro to jazz pianist Horace Silver’s
composition ‘Song To My Father’, recorded in 1964 by the
Horace Silver Quintet. Skunk Baxter’s guitar solo provides
the essential rock element.
At least two other songs emphasised Becker and Fagen’s
jazz leanings: ‘Parker’s Band’, featuring both drummers,
Gordon and Porcaro, a Denny Dias guitar solo and alto sax
player Plas Johnson, is a tribute to jazz icon Charlie Parker
and includes quotes and references to Parker compositions
‘Bongo Bop’, ‘Relaxing At Camarillo’ and ‘Groovin’.
‘East St Louis Toodle-oo’ (Steely Dan’s only cover?) was
originally written in 1925 by Duke Ellington and his trumpet
player Bubber Miley and was recorded the same year by the
Duke Ellington Orchestra. The album’s only instrumental,
it features Becker’s wah-wah guitar mimicking Miley’s
plunged trumpet and his playing of Tricky Sam Nanton’s
trombone solo on a pedal-steel guitar through a Fuzztone,
marked Becker’s first appearance on guitar on any Steely
Dan track. It’s also the first and only instance of Fagen
playing a sax (alto) on a Steely Dan recording. He is also
heard showing off his stride piano technique, taking the
place of the clarinet part of the original.
Fagen sent t=The Duke a copy of the album for his 75th
birthday, but he died within a month of that date without
Fagen ever finding out whether he had heard it or not.
Other outstanding tracks included the bluesy title song
allegedly about time travel. Fagen stated that the lyrics
including references to Napoleon and minstrel shows were
about astral travelling and the ‘platform’ referred to in the
song is the time travel machine.
‘Barrytown’, a town in upstate New York near Annendale
where Becker and Fagen went to school at Bard College,
was also the headquarters for the controversial Unification
Church led by Sun Myung Moon, prominent in the ‘70s.
Fagen’s lyrics, while not referencing the Church directly,
describe an encounter with a Church member and his
reaction to the member’s attempts at converting him.
‘With A Gun’ and ‘Charlie Freak’ are full of references to
decadence, despair, violence, and crime – common themes
in so many Steely Dan songs.
While it’s been a dry period for Steely Dan fans, the last of
their nine studio albums, Everything Must Go, was released
in 2003, and at least two live albums have recently become
available, the latest The St Louis Toodle-oo, a 2CD set
recorded in 1993 for a live FM broadcast is now out and
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