Saturday, September 16, 2017

Steely Dan Guitarist Walter Becker - His Life - His Guitars - His Guitarists

Steely Dan - Becker and Fagan
Some of the greatest songs from the 1970’s came from the “group” Steely Dan. Although for two years, Becker and Fagan toured as a group, most of their creations took place in the studio.  Becker originally played bass with the original group before switching to the instrument he loved; the guitar.



Walter Becker
Walter Becker cannot be defined as “guitar god”. All of the solos played on the recordings were done by studio pros. But Becker’s gift was songwriting, production, and the knowledge of what to leave in, what to leave out. Fagan did most of the vocals, and stands out as the front man, but Becker added more to the group than was ever acknowledged.


The foundation of the group was to write, and produce rock songs with a hint of rhythm and blues, and jazz. And they were very good at that.

Becker originally played saxophone, but took guitar lessons from his neighbor Randy Wolfe (aka Randy California of the group Spirit). Becker had a troubled childhood. He attended Bard College in New York, and it was there that he met fellow student Donald Fagan. Fagan heard him playing electric guitar and asked if he wanted to start a band. This prompted the two guys to begin writing songs together.

They originally played covers of some not-so-well-known songs, along with their own compositions. One of the drummers in this early group was comedy star Chevy Chase.

Jay and the Americans 1965
Both guys landed gigs in the touring band of Jay and the Americans. Jay Black, the groups front man, and lead singer, was a clean-cut, all-American, while Becker, and Fagan were left-overs from the “Beat” era. Becker and Fagan left when their salaries were cut in half by Black and his manager.



Streisand - I Mean To Shine
Barbara Steisand recorded a song written by Fagan and Becker called I Mean To Shine. After they determined they could make a career in the music business, the men moved to California and landed a deal as staff songwriters for ABC records. And it was there that Steely Dan became a band.

Along with Fagan and Becker were guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, drummer Jim Hodges, and singer David Palmer, who joined as a singer when Fagan was unable to overcome his stage-fright. They recorded a single called Dallas, that tanked.

Can't Buy A Thrill
It was not until 1972 when the LP, Can’t Buy A Thrill was released, that the band got any recognition. Among the songs were Reelin’ In The Years, Do It Again, and Dirty Work (sung by Palmer). Their second album Countdown to Ecstacy, released in 1973, was another hit and contained the FM hit Bodhisattva.



Pretzel Logic



Their 1974 album, Pretzel Logic, had the hit, Rikki Don’t Loose That Number. During this era, Becker and Fagan wanted to concentrate on writing and producing, so the did not want to tour.



Members of their band left and were replaced by session men, including Michael McDonald, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, sax player Phil Woods, bass player Winton Felder, and some members of the group that would go on to become Toto.

Aja
Subsequent albums were released including Kathy Lied and The Royal Scam, and finally Aja, which included such hits as Peg, and Deacon Blues.

The men were asked to write the music for a movie called FM, which became another hit song.

During most of 1978, Becker and Fagan took a break, but were writing songs for the album Gaucho.

Gaucho
That year Becker’s girlfriend died of a drug overdose in his apartment, which resulted in a lawsuit. During the same year Becker was struck by a taxi and his leg was shattered. Gaucho finally surfaced and contained the hit Hey Nineteen.

But internal disagreements caused  Steely Dan to disband in 1981.

Walter Becker moved to Hawaii and purchased an avacado farm. He also quit using drugs and became sober. Becker occasionally produced recordings for other artists, including Rikki Lee Jones.

In 1986 Becker and Fagan performed together on an album by Rosie Vela, and artist signed by their former manager, Gary Katz. The record was called Zazu.

Fagan's Kamikiriad
Becker went on to do production for Fagan’s solo LP Kamakiriad. In 1994 MCA records release Citizen Steely Dan, a boxed set of their recordings. Becker and Fagan went on tour to support the effort.

Subsequent tours took place in 2000 and 2003. Fagan continued to perform, sometimes with Becker.

Becker released his solo LP, Circus Money, in 2008.

Becker's Final Performance

The Steely Dan band played its final performance with Walter Becker on May 27th. Becker was supposed to join Fagan for more shows, but had to cancel for undisclosed reasons.


Becker passed away on Sunday, September 3, 2017, due to an undisclosed illness. He left behind an approximate net worth of $17.0 million. He leaves behind his wife Elinor and his two children.

Throughout his career, Becker's on stage guitars and basses were usually Gibson or Fender style instruments.

Becker with Epiphone acoustic


One of the earliest pictures shows Becker on an acoustic archtop Epiphone Broadway guitar.




Becker with Fender Bass
In the early days when Steely Dan was touring, the guitar parts were left to  Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, while Becker played bass.

Here is Becker with a modified PJ Fender bass. Baxter is playing the Telecaster.

Becker with Gibson Thunderbird bass


In a later photo from that era,  Becker is playing a modified Gibson Thunderbird bass.





Becker with a Sadowsky bass



We do not see many photos of Walter Becker playing an instrument until he and Fagan got back together in 1986.





Walter Becker - Grimes Guitar
Becker played a variety of guitars in the studio including this Grimes model jazz guitar.




Sadowsky Walter Becker Signature model
Becker was fond of guitars made by New York luthier, Roger Sadowsky. Here Becker plays his signature model. This guitar has a built-in preamp, with a gain switch.


This guitar also has a push-pull EQ control, and a 5 position slider switch to control its three P90 style pickups. Becker also has a similar model with twin humbuckers.

Hahn Telecaster

Becker also played an all mahogany Telecaster-style guitar made by New York luthier Chihoe Hahn.






Mid-2000 Fender No-Caster


Becker occasionally used a Fender mid 2000 relic'd No-caster in concerts.


Hahn Stratocaster Model


Becker played several Stratocaster-style guitars that were also made by Hahn Guitars.




Frye Guitar

Becker also owns and tours with a unique single pickup guitar made by Frye Guitars of  Green Bay, Wisconsin by luthier Ben Frye.



Sadowsky Strat-style
Walter Becker owned several Sadowsky guitars including this Silver stratocaster-style model that has three P90 style pickups, a built-in preamp, and EQ control.



Sadowsky Guitar
Another Sadowsky guitar is this one that was Becker's favorite studio guitar. It has two single coil pickups, and a bridge humbucker, and the EQ, and preamp features found on his other Sadowskys, but this one includes tune-able bridge saddles.

Blue Sadowsky Strat


Becker seemed to be very fond of Sadowsky Stratocaster-style guitars.




Sunburst Sadowsky Strat
Though the shape and contour of the Sadowsky guitaar a similar to a Fender Stratocaster, the cut on the sides of the Sadowsky guitars are not as beveled as one would find on the original Fender models

Kaur Banshee
Walter also owned and played a unique guitar that looks a lot like a Gibson Firebird, but it has a gold finish, and two P90 style pickups. It was made by Kaur Guitars of California, and is their Banshee model. This model came with Steinberger tuners.

Fano Alt de facto



Becker also owned and played a Fano Alt de facto RB6 guitar that is equipped with twin Lindy Fralin P90 style pickups and a unique "ToneStyler" control.







Becker's Flying Vee



Becker also owned, but seldom played a Gibson Flying Vee, which was based on the original 1958 model.





Dean Parks


As the early touring band only existed for around two years, most all of the groups music took place in the studio using session guitarists. These included Dean Parks, who is one of LA's busiest session men.




Larry Carlton

Probably the best known session player for Steely Dan was Mr. 335, Larry Carlton. Carlton's first appearance was on the song Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More from the Katy Lied Album. Carlton reappeared on the groups fifth album; Royal Scam, where his excellent licks were on Kid Charlemagne. He was an important part of the Steely Dan sound.

Rick Derringer



A lesser known session player for Steely Dan was Rick Derringer, who appeared on the Katy Lied LP.






Jay Graydon


Another popular session player of that era was guitarist, Jay "Wah-wah" Graydon. The only track he played on was their hit Peg.




Hugh McCracken



Guitarist Hugh McCracken was hired to play rhythm on Kathy Lied.








Steve Khan


Guitarist Steve Khan played on both the Aja and Gaucho albums. For him it must have been like going back in time since he was an original member of Steely Dan.







Lee Ritenour

Jazz player and session man Lee Ritenour was also a session player called up for the Aja LP.







Chuck Rainey


LA Bass veteran, Chuck Rainey, was called up to do the bass guitar part on Peg.


Click on the links below the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for more information.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)








Monday, September 4, 2017

John Abercrombie - His Life and Guitars

John Abercrombie with a Les Paul
John Abercombie, passed away on August 22nd of this year. Abercrombie was a well-know, world class jazz guitarist, with a lyrical style that is hard to pin down to one genre. Abercrombie was aslo a composer and bandleader. His style changed and evolved throughout the years.

Born in 1944. Abercrombie took up guitar at age 14 and learned Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, and Fats Domino tunes. He later discovered Jazz by listening to Barney Kessel recordings.

Young Abercrombie
with 1920's Gibson L-4
John attended Berklee College of music where he gigged with other students at a local jazz club. It was there that he was invited to join a band made up of Hammond organist Johnny Smith, sax player Michael Brecker, and his brother, trumpet player Randy Brecker.


For awhile, Abercrombie shared a room with fellow student Jan Hammer.

When the gig with Smith ended, Abercrombie moved to New York and signed on to play in drummer Chico Hamilton's band. He was soon in high demand as a sideman.

Abercrombie attributed the beginnings of his style to Kessel, Wes Montgomery, and Jim Hall. He also drew inspiratation from Miles Davis and Bill Evans. John Abercrombie became one of the pioneering figures of Jazz/Rock, which he states was developed out of necessity due to lack of role models.

John Scofield, Bill Connors,
Steve Khan-John Abercrombie
In an interview he said, "I had to figure things for myself. I grabbed onto every device in my arsenal, including my knowledge of harmony and the guitar, the few little fuzztone or pieces of gear that I used at the time, and tried to fit it in. When I'd play with Jack and Dave Holland, or some other players, I responded to what I was hearing around me, and let the sound of it all teach me what I was supposed to do." (excerpted from an article by Ted Panken.)

Young Abercrombie
By 1969 Abercrombie joined a Jazz Rock band named Dreams, which featured the two Brecker brothers and drummer Billy Cobham.  Abercrombie played guitar on several of Cobham's albums. This band shared the stage with several prominent rock acts, including the Doobie Brothers.

At one point on the tour, Abercrombie decided this was not the direction we wanted to pursue for his music or life style.


He moved back to New York and became an in-demand session player, recording with Gato Barbeiri, Barry Miles, Manfred Eicher (who founded ECM records), and Gil Evans.

By 1974 he teamed up with college acquaintance Jan Hammer and drummer Jack DeJohnette for a recording called Timeless. This album was critically received and established a foothold for Abercrombie with ECM records.

Abercrombie with  the Gateway Trio
In 1975 he formed the band Gateway with DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland, and recorded two albums Gateway and Gateway II.

After the Gateway albums Abercrombie altered his style to a more traditional Jazz style. He recorded several LP's and was leader of the group.

The Abercrombie Quartet, which recorded the LP of the same name and another simply called M.

Abercrombie went on to perform with the groups bassist, George Mraz and guitarist John Scofield. Abercrombie's style included Jazz Rock, Jazz Fusion, and plain, but very lyrical Jazz.

Abercrombie with an Ibanez Synth
In the mid 1980's he experimented with a guitar synthesizer in performance. From the 1990's to the 21st Century Abercromblie performed with an ever-changing group of players, settling usually on trios with a drummer and organist, though occasionally other instrumentation was added. Throughout his career he remained loyal to the ECM label.


Abercrombie with Guild Starfire


John Abercrombie played a variety of different electric guitars throughout his career. The earliest photo I can find shows him playing a Guild Starfire. Around the same time he was also playing a Guild F-50 acoustic guitar.




Abercrombie with his mandolins

Around 1976 Abercrombie says he was recording with Ralph Towner. and was looking for a different sound. He went to Manny's Music in NYC and found an old Fender 4-string electric mandolin.


He tried to play in fifths, the way most mandolins are tuned, but did not want to learn new fingerings. So ever since he has tuned it in fourths, as on  a guitar. Since then he acquired several more electric mandolins, that appear to have been made by Kevin Schwab of Minneapolis. Since his mandolins are tuned an octave higher than a guitar, Abercrombie refers to them as Piccolo guitars.

With Les Paul
Note Acoustic brand Amps
Early in his career, Abercrombie played several different Gibson Les Pauls.

At the time in his career he seemed to be partial to Gibsons, as he is seen here with a Gibson SG Custom.




Abercrombie with Sadowsky guitar
At some point early in his career, John Abercrombie became acquainted with luthier Roger Sadowsky.  Sadowsky had already made guitars for John Scofield. Abercrombie acquired a Telecaster style model with 3 pickups, two humbuckers in the bridge and neck position, and a single coil in the center.

This guitar had a Strat-style vibrato.

Abercrombie with a Sadowsky Tele



He later had Sadowsky build a more traditional Tele with a humbucker in the neck position and a single coil in the bridge.






Ibanez Synth Controller



By the mid 1980's John had began experimenting with a synth controller and synth that was provided by Ibanez.







With Ibanez Artist

Around the same time Ibanez provided him with two Artist 2619 model that he used for quite a few years. These guitars have been in the Ibanez catalog since 1976. He stated he preferred the Ibanez to his gold top Gibson Les Paul, which had small humbuckers. He also stated that the Ibanez pickups had a fatter sound.




With a Heritage Guitar



As John got older he discovered different guitars, including this Heritage solid body model.







With a Peter Coura Guitar


He also played an electric model made by luthier Peter Coura.









With a Soulezza Guitar


Around 2015 he had a headless guitar built for him from Spanish luthier, Fernando De Oleza, who creates extraordinary guitars under his brand, Soulezza Guitars.




With a McCurdy Guitar


Abercrombie also played a beautiful green guitar made by New York City luthier, Ric McCurdy. 





With Brian Moore DC1P


During Abercrombie's final years, he seemed to favour guitars made by Brian Moore. At first Abercrombie used a Brian Moore model DC1P. The body shape was similar to a Les Paul, however it had Moore's unique headstock, which has two strings on the top and four strings on the bottom.



Brian Moore -
John Abercrombie DC19.13USB
Many later photos show Abercrombie playing his own signature Brian Moore model DC1P.13USB John Abercrombie signature model. This guitar has a beautiful semi-hollow spruce top, mahogany back, and side, twin Seymour Duncan pickups, a unique 7 way switching system, Moore's back loading input system, and two very unusual F holes.

The guitars headstock has Moore's 2 on the bottom, four on the top tuning machine arrangement.

Acoustic Amp



Young John Abercrombie started out playing through amps made by Fender, Mesa Boogie, and the now defunct Acoustic Company.







Polytone Mini Brut



Later in life he preferred jazz style amplifiers like the Polytone Mini Brut.







Walter Woods Electracoustic

He also owned a Walter Woods amplifier. This was one of the earliest models of transistor amplifiers, and it was made for bass players.

Walter Woods amplifiers were class D, and had a very high output, from 120 to 1200 watts, which aided to project the bass signal. Despite the output, the amp itself was in a fairly small package. It needed to be paired to a separate speaker cab.

There are some videos of Abercrombie playing through a Carr Viceroy amplifier.

On the road Abercrombie preferred Roland Jazz Chorus amplifiers; either a JC-120 or a JC-77. He did not carry these with him, but in his contract rider, the club or facility where he was playing was required to rent one of these amplifiers.