Donald Fagen

Donald Fagen

Donald Jay Fagen (born January 10, 1948) is an American musician and songwriter, best known as the co-founder (along with Walter Becker) and lead singer of the rock band Steely Dan.

Following the initial breakup of Steely Dan in 1981, Fagen launched a long-running, if sporadic, solo career in 1982, spawning four albums to date.

In 1993, Fagen and Becker reunited and have since toured and released albums as Steely Dan.

Early life

Fagen was born in Passaic, New Jersey, on January 10, 1948, to Jewish parents Joseph “Jerry” Fagen, an accountant, and his wife, Elinor, who had been a singer in upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains. His first cousins Alan (actor, president of the Screen Actors Guild) and Mark Rosenberg (SDS leader and film producer, d. 1992) also grew up in Passaic.

The Fagen family moved from Passaic first to the suburb of Fair Lawn around 1958, then quickly moved and settled into a house on Bedford Road in the Kendall Park section of South Brunswick, New Jersey. The transition greatly upset him since he detested living in the suburbs. He would later recall to an interviewer that it “was like a prison. I think I lost faith in [my parents’] judgment… It was probably the first time I realized I had my own view of life.” His life in Kendall Park, including his teenage love of late-night radio, later inspired tracks on his album The Nightfly.

Fagen became interested in rock and R&B music in the late 1950s. His first record purchase was Chuck Berry‘s “Reelin’ and Rockin'”. Around age 11, after receiving musical recommendations from a cousin and attending the Newport Jazz Festival, he quickly became a self-declared “jazz snob”. “I lost interest in rock ‘n’ roll and started developing an anti-social personality.” Fagen regularly took the bus to Manhattan to see Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis perform. Soon afterwards, he learned to play the piano, and also played baritone horn in the high school marching band. Fagen also began a lifelong fondness for table tennis during his teenage years.

After graduating from South Brunswick High School in 1965, Fagen enrolled at Bard College to study English literature, having been inspired by Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. At Bard, Fagen met musician Walter Becker. The duo, along with a revolving assortment of musicians which included future actor Chevy Chase, formed various groups called The Leather Canary, The Don Fagen Jazz Trio, and the Bad Rock Band. Fagen later described his college bands as sounding like “The Kingsmen performing Frank Zappa material”. None of the groups lasted long, but the partnership between Fagen and Becker would. The duo’s early career included a stint with Jay and the Americans (where they went by pseudonyms), and in the early 1970s, as pop songwriters for ABC/Dunhill Records, which released all of Steely Dan’s 1970s output.


Steely Dan

Fagen met Becker at a college coffee house at Bard College in 1967. Responding to an ad in The Village Voice in the summer of 1970, Fagen and Becker met guitarist Denny Dias and started a musical partnership that formed the basis of what would become Steely Dan. However, the original group’s line-up would only be assembled in full around December 1971 in Los Angeles, California, to where Becker and Fagen had relocated, initially to work as staff song writers for ABC/Dunhill. Fagen and Becker formed the core of the band and co-wrote all the group’s music; on tour and record, Becker played bass (and later lead guitar) and Fagen played keyboards, as well as performing almost all of the lead vocals on their recordings.

After releasing their third LP in 1974, the other members gradually left (or were fired from) the band, which evolved into a studio project headed by Becker and Fagen. They scored their biggest success in 1977 with the platinum-selling album Aja.

After a lengthy period of inactivity as a band which began in the early 1980s, the duo of Becker and Fagen revived Steely Dan in the mid-1990s, and have since produced two more Steely Dan studio albums: 2000’s Two Against Nature which won several Grammys, Everything Must Go (2003), as well as the live CD Alive in America (1995) and a live concert DVD entitled Two Against Nature, which included material spanning much of the band’s history.

Solo career

After Steely Dan’s breakup in 1981, Fagen released his critically acclaimed solo debut album, The Nightfly, in October 1982. It reached #11 on the Billboard album chart and was certified Platinum for sales of over a million copies in the United States. Its premiere single was “I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)“. The song hit the Adult Contemporary Top 10 and peaked at #26 on the Billboard Hot 100. The follow-up single, “New Frontier” peaked at #34 AC and #70 Pop and was aided by a popular MTV music video. The Nightfly was nominated for several Grammy Awards including Album of the Year. It was significantly more jazz-based than Fagen’s Steely Dan work. Rhino Records released a special DVD Audio version of The Nightfly in honor of the album’s 20th anniversary in 2002.

Fagen’s second solo album, 1993’s Kamakiriad, was produced by Becker. It climbed into Billboard’s Top 10 but sold fewer copies than The Nightfly, topping off at 900,000 in sales. Kamakiriad was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

Recording sessions for Fagen’s third solo album, Morph the Cat, began in August 2004 and the album was released March 14, 2006. Performing on the album are Wayne Krantz (guitar), Jon Herington (guitar), Keith Carlock (drums), Freddy Washington (bass), Ted Baker (piano), and Walt Weiskopf (sax). Upon its release, Morph the Cat received universal acclaim[citation needed] and was later named Album of the Year by Mix magazine. Fagen was also given ‘Producer of the Year’ award.[citation needed]The 5.1 mix of Morph the Cat won the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Surround Sound Album.

All three of Fagen’s albums previously released on the DVDA format have now been released in Warner’s latest format MVI (Music Video Interactive) as a boxed set. Each album features a DTS 5.1, Dolby 5.1 and PCM Stereo mix but no MLP encoded track, along with bonus audio and video content. Customers will also be able to select any track or any portion of a track and use it as their mobile phone ringtone.

To support Morph the Cat, Fagen embarked on his first solo tour, and played dates across the US, with one date in Canada. Fagen’s management also sold VIP packages for the tour, which included a pre-show party, premium seats and access to the band’s sound checks. This was mocked on his song-writing partner Walter Becker‘s website. Fagen joined Becker for a Steely Dan/Michael McDonald tour the following summer of 2007.

He also toured with the New York Rock and Soul Revue. The 1986 debut album by Rosie Vela, Zazu, inspired the first collaboration between Fagen and Becker following the disbanding of Steely Dan. This led to their reunion as a writing team and the creation of a new touring version of Steely Dan. The following year Fagen co-produced Becker’s solo debut, 11 Tracks of Whack.

External links

Artist information provided by WikiMedia

Leave a Reply