In 1977 Steely Dan released what would become their best-selling album, Aja,to critical acclaim. The first track on the album, “Black Cow” is a disco-funk number that has become a fan favorite and a staple of their live shows, despite never being released as a single. The song features Paul Humphrey on drums, Chuck Rainey on bass, Joe Sample on clavinet, Larry Carlton on guitar and perhaps most notably Victor Feldman playing a solo on the electric piano, followed by Tom Scott’s tenor sax solo. The album was produced by Gary Katz and engineered by Roger Nichols and his staff including Bill Schnee, Elliot Scheiner and Al Schmitt. The original masters for this song have went missing and Donald Fagen has offered a $660 reward for any information regarding their whereabouts.
Day 138: Steely Dan - Rikki Don’t Lose That Number
Steely Dan scored the biggest hit of their career in the summer of 1974 when this tune hit #4 on the US pop charts. The song is the first track on their third album, the platinum-selling Pretzel Logic. Gary Katz oversaw production of the song, whoses personnel included Michael Omartian (Rod Stewart, Cliff Richard, Christopher Cross) on piano, Jim Gordon, the drummer from Derek & The Dominos, on drums, Dean Parks (Elton John, Billy Joel, Kenny Loggins) on acoustic guitar, Victor Feldman (Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Tom Waits) on percussion, and Tim Schmit, who would later join the Eagles, singing backup. The guitar solo was played by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, who went on to join the Doobie Brothers later that year. The song is purported to have been written about post-modern writer and artist Rikki Ducornet, whom Donald Fagen knew from their college days at Bard, but there are many doubts about this theory and many alternative theories about the song’s meaning as well.
In 1977 Donald Fagan and Walter Becker released what some consider to be their greatest album, Aja. “Home at Last” was the 5th song on the record; the second song on side two. It was also the b-side to the single “Deacon Blues” which reached #19 on the pop charts. With Gary Katz and Roger Nichols behind the boards again, the album’s credits reads like a who’s who of 70s-era studio musicians. This song is particularly notable for the contribution of funk drummer Bernard Purdie who plays a syncopated drumbeat that would become known, and often imitated, as “The Purdie Shuffle.” The song also features Chuck Rainey (Aretha Franklin, Donal Byrd, Quincy Jones) on bass, the impeccable Larry Carlton (Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson) on guitar, Victor Feldman (Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, Tom Waits) on piano and vibes and future Eagle Timothy B. Schmit singing back up.
Another hit from the infamous Gaucho sessions, “Time Out of Mind” reached #22 on the pop charts in 1981. While many of Steely Dan’s songs contain at least passing references to drug use, this song seems to be quite clearly about using heroin. During the recording of the album, Walter Becker’s substance abuse problems had become public after his girlfriend died of an overdose and her family unsuccessfully sued him for introducing her to cocaine, morphine, barbiturates, and heroin. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits plays the brief guitar solo on this tune, which also features the impeccable drumming of session musician Rick Marotta. As usual, Gary Katz and Roger Nichols were behind the boards on this one.
Some of the jazziest of the yacht rock statesmen were Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, better known as Steely Dan. “Hey Nineteen” comes off of their seventh studio album, 1980’s Gaucho. Produced by longtime collaborator Gary Katz, and engineered by Roger Nichols, the song’s drum track features the first recorded use of sound replacer the Wendel-izer. Suprisingly, it only ever made it to number 10 on the Billboard charts. As with all Steely Dan songs, the list of studio personnel reads like a who’s who of the La and New York jazz and rock scenes.