As the vehicle for the songwriting of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, Steely Dan defied all rock & roll conventions. Becker and Fagen never truly enjoyed rock — with their ironic humor and cryptic lyrics, their eclectic body of work shows some debt to Bob Dylan — preferring jazz, traditional pop, blues, and R&B. Steely Dan created a sophisticated, distinctive sound with accessible melodic hooks, complex harmonies and time signatures, and a devotion to the recording studio. With producer Gary Katz, Becker and Fagen gradually changed Steely Dan from a performing band to a studio project, hiring professional musicians to record their compositions.
Becker & Fagan's ironic humor already is shown in the choice of their band's name. A steely dan is a type of (fictional) Japanese dildo, taken from William Burroughs' infamous 1959 book Naked lunch. The part of the story where Mary is strapping on a rubber penis, says: "Steely Dan III from Yokohama," she says, caressing the shaft. Milk spurts across the room. "Be sure that milk is pasteurized. Don't go giving me some kinda awful cow disease like anthrax or glanders or aftosa..."
Lukather: "I was listening to a lot of jazzy stuff. But what really changes everything for me was Carlton's playing on [Steely Dan's] Royal scam. Hearing that sound - a rock sound playing through changes - struck a nerve with me. He was crancking up his Boogie amp and playing bebop lines with the blues in there, too. That's where all that chromaticism - trying to make an E minor scale sound a little more interesting - comes from."
For Mizar 5, Angel recently did some enlightning q&a's with Lukather about his "relationship" with Steely Dan. Mizar 5 is an eclectic website, for and about music. It has its roots in the Steely Dan fan community and likes to offer all kinds of Steely Dan related trivia, news and anything else worth mentioning. There are unexpected guests, the usual suspects and interviews with musicians. Among them are newcomers, freewheelers, strange birds as well as established names in the jazz- and rock scene.
Angel: I read your bio and found this interesting quote."That was 1972, and growing up in that whole environment was a gift. We learned the whole Katy lied Steely Dan record before it ever came out." You have obviously had contact with Steely Dan (Walter Becker and Donald Fagen) through your friendship with Jeff Porcaro. Any interesting stories to tell about them?
Lukather: "Well, they were our HEROS! Nothing was better and at our High School circa 1972-75 they were THE band to dig. We also dug all the other cool music then like Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis, ELO, Zepp, etc. BUT it was Steely that made us want to pattern ourselves after the high level of musicianship and songwriting and just plain CLASS! We had a band in High School named "Stillife" and it was made up of myself, Mike Landau on guitars (I was Skunk and Mike was the Be-bopper) and Steve Porcaro on keys, John Pierce on bass and our late soul brother Carlos Vega on drums. We had two other singers, Charlie Randazzo and Lori Stratten on vocals. Steve P. and me also sang so we had the four part harmony thing, or at least we were TRYING! Jeff Porcaro and David Paich were also hanging out with us often and coming and sitting in with us. Jeff had just come off the Pretzel logic tour and he and Paich were starting Katy lied. Jeff was already a legend at that time and to be around him and Paich, well those cats HAD it, still do, and we were privy to a lot of stuff via Jeff. Jeff told Donald and Walter about us and how we played the music note for note and really did it well, rumour has it Donald and Walter came to see us at some High School gig with Jeff and Dave and they dug us. We were FREAKED!
A few years later Jeff and Paich did the now classic Silk degrees record with Boz and I did that tour with most of the guys that became Toto. After that tour Irving Azoff asked me to do the now ill fated Royal scam tour. Aja was a classic already to us, as were ALL their records and the Royal scam had just come out right before we started Toto and it was a record that was to change me forever. Not only was the music and the songs fucking awesome BUT...... LARRY CARLTON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I realized, THIS is what I have been hearing in my head. A jazz guy playing with a rock sound, playing magically thru these genius changes. Dean Parks on Haitian divorce (written about Elliot Scheiner, not the only one either!) Elliot Randall and Walter's under rated, under appreciated solo's. I mean, Black friday! How cool was that! Rick Derringer... these cats are still very much my heros to this day!"
Angel: I know Donald Fagen and Denny Dias played Josie at Jeff's Porcaro's tribute concert (in 1992). Any memories of that evening?
Lukather: "We opened playing Chain lightning with Denny Dias and Donald. It was before Steely got back together. This was a VERY hard and sad and wonderful evening. I only wish Jeff was there. I know he was, and no doubt touched, as there was SO much love there for him that night. It was fucking Magic. I could do a whole story on JUST that night. Probably the best show I have EVER done! When Donald came out, the place went ape- shit, I mean C-RAZY. It had been like 20 some odd years since Donald played LA. I know they hate it, but Donald was so kind to make the trip for Jeff. I was smilin' like a mule eatin' briars, it was un-REAL! I only wish those guys would call me to go on the road! My last wish on Earth is to play a solo on a Steely Dan record. I have told Walter I would do it for free. He laughed and whenever I am with Elliot we always call Walter and I say "hey man, Luke has been waiting by the phone... No call? Wazzup? ". He laughs and it's all funny but BECAUSE I want it so bad, I probably will never see that dream realized. It's OK, I did get to play with both of them at separate times, so I guess part of the dream came true! Besides, Walter plays the guitar himself and that's cool, he does it great and it's his band..."
Angel: Katy lied. What are your favorite songs/parts of that album. It happens to be one of my favorites, so I would love to hear your take on it.
Lukather: "This record is like a diary of High School. WORLD CLASS songwriting and playing, it means more to me than just a great album or even more than words can describe, as it was my coming of age as a person and as a musician. I was studying, we all were, and ALL we wanted to be was working musicians, session guys and maybe someday have our own band. Looks like my dreams did come true!"
SteveLukather.com, January 15th 2005