Brian Sweet: Steely Dan: Reelin’ In The Years

Thorough exploration of elusive jazz-rock stalwarts.

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If ever a band needed a biography, it was Steely Dan. Nothing to do with deserving one on artistic merit (which arguably they do anyway), more because of the paucity of first-hand source material available.

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the two men who effectively are Steely Dan, employing a revolving-door cast of instrumental heavy hitters and top-drawer session players (Jeff Porcaro, Rick Derringer, Larry Carlton, Elliott Randall, Joe Sample, Tom Scott, Wayne Shorter…) rarely gave interviews, and when they did the pair were usually studiedly enigmatic and unforthcoming, giving away little other than the obvious.

Full credit, then, to author Brian Sweet, who appears to have not only turned every available stone, but also turned each one several times in putting together this impressively detailed account.

The prose might be a little dry at times, but his story of Becker and Fagan’s journey from scruffy intellectual wannabes hopelessly peddling their songs in The Brill Building, and staff writers for ABC Records, through to thoughtful rock masters, then Grammy-winning purveyors of slick, meticulously produced jazz-inflected records, is an engaging read. A must-have for fans of all stages of the band’s career./o:p

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Classic Rock’s production editor for the past 22 years, ‘resting’ bass player Paul has been writing for magazines and newspapers, mainly about music, since the mid-80s, contributing to titles including Q, The Times, Music Week, Prog, Billboard, Metal Hammer, Kerrang! and International Musician. He has also written questions for several BBC TV quiz shows. Of the many people he’s interviewed, his favourite interviewee is former Led Zep manager Peter Grant. If you ever want to talk the night away about Ginger Baker, in particular the sound of his drums (“That fourteen-inch Leedy snare, man!”, etc, etc), he’s your man.