Even as Donald Fagen navigates lawsuits and countersuits from the family of the late Walter Becker, his affection for his Steely Dan co-founder and on-and-off collaborator of half a century remains unaffected.
When Becker died from esophageal cancer last September, Fagen quickly made the decision to carry on the influential jazz-rock band. But that didn’t make stepping onstage without his other musical half the next month any less bizarre a feeling.
“It was pretty strange — I really missed him being there. But we had like 11 shows booked, and I felt it was my obligation to do them. It turned out that I was glad that I did that,” Fagen told The Salt Lake Tribune in a phone interview. “We actually did one of Walter’s [solo] songs, and we showed some pictures [of him] during it, so I was glad I got to do it. But it was very peculiar having to do the show by myself. But I think by the end of the run, I was settling into a nice groove.”
And so he’s keeping the groove going.
The reunion of the two ’70s rock stalwarts with an extensive overlapping history (they were not only frequent tour partners in the early part of that decade, but also saw musicians Jeff Baxter and Michael McDonald transition from Dans to Doobs when Fagen and Becker subsequently decided to prioritize recording over touring) made the frontman a bit nostalgic.
“I think the first time I played Salt Lake City was with the Doobie Brothers — we were opening for them, had to be around ’74, something like that, and it was a great show, I remember. It was a lot of fun!” He said. “… It’s amazing that, all these years later, we can come back and still do it.”
He intends to still do it for years to come.
While Fagen and Becker’s estate continue to wrangle in the courts over whether some contested language drawn up in a 1972 contract among the band members allows him to now own all the shares of the group’s business enterprise, the musical enterprise will roll on indefinitely.
Only now, touring has been prioritized over recording.
It’s an easy decision, as far as Fagen is concerned.
“I love to play, and I think presenting the music that Walter and I created is a great tribute to him,” Fagen said. “And also, the band still sounds great — I think we have one of the best bands touring. There’s really no reason not to.”
Conversely, there’s a very good reason there will be no new music issued under the Steely Dan moniker — namely, “Everyone knows Steely Dan was me and Walter.”
That said, Fagen isn’t completely done with recording. He estimated he has “maybe two-thirds of [a solo] album written,” and that he’ll likely start going into the studio at the conclusion of this latest touring cycle.
The ultimate goal with it is “to get it out in the next couple years,” though he did jokingly warn, “I’m not so good with timelines!”
That’s the future, though. In the interim, he remains focused on merging past and present, on taking the songs he and Becker wrote over the decades and finding a way to make audiences excited to hear them one more time.
“I’m mainly interested in the work I’m doing now,” Fagen said. “Actually, although I love presenting the songs, I really think every night is fresh — so it doesn’t seem like vintage material to me or anything like that.”
With the Doobie Brothers
When • Sunday; doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 7:30
Where • USANA Amphitheatre, 5150 Upper Ridge Road, West Valley City
Tickets • $25-$129; Smith’s Tix