Steely Dan was always just Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Sure, they started out as a real band, but that eventually dissolved and the Fagen/Becker duo performed as Steely Dan with some of the best studio musicians ever. They were also pretty much a studio band, a record band. Yeah, they performed live and toured pretty regularly, especially after they reunited and found out how much money they could make touring the nostalgia circuit. But they were at heart a duo that was best when they were recording.
The duo has now become a solo act with today’s passing of Walter Becker. He co-wrote most of Steely Dan’s best work with Fagen, played bass and guitar, and was generally just a musical badass. I am surprisingly saddened by losing Becker, and I’m not sure why. I’m definitely a fan; they did some of coolest, funkiest, swinging-est, jazziest, most literary rock music ever. Come to think of it, Steely Dan was pretty much a genre of one; no other musical act as been like them. Which maybe is what makes Becker’s death so devastating. No one else was like this act, and no one is ever going to replace him. Donald Fagen has announced that he will keep Steely Dan’s music alive as long as can after losing his partner and friend, but it will never be the same again. Half the heart of Steely Dan is gone.