THE GUITARISTS OF STEELY DAN rhythm and soloing
Take Jon Bishop’s tour of the guitarists that helped make Steely Dan a household name. With plenty of cool parts plus two jam tracks to get stuck into, the ‘Dan’ style is both challenging and fun to play.
Jon Bishop delves into the sophisticated rhythm and lead playing of an army of top studio guitarists that helped define the sound of this legendary American jazz-rock outfit.
Welcome to this special feature that focuses on the guitarists of Steely Dan, the band that was created in the early 1970s by Donald Fagan and Walter Becker. Guitarists Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter and Denny Dias were part of the original line-up that achieved early success with classic songs like Reelin’ In The Years and Do It Again. They also toured extensively.
When Becker and Fagen decided to concentrate on being a studio band rather than constantly touring (much as The Beatles had done a decade earlier), they became more reliant on session musicians and a large revolving roster of guitarists was utilised. Many different guitarists were often tried out for the same track, with the most suitable performances being selected to make the final mix. Big names were regulars such as Elliot Randall, Larry Carlton, Dean Parks, Jay Graydon, Jon Herington and, to a lesser extent, David Williams, Steve Khan and Lee Ritenour. Steely Dan founder Walter Becker is also a great guitarist in his own right and his work often features in the tracks.
To help our studies we have put together eight rhythm and lead ideas that highlight various Steely Dan-esque ideas. These are in the style of the various session guitarists that were used on the original recordings, and should prove a useful guide for your own part writing - both rhythm and lead.
To finish off we have recorded two jam tracks: the first in a Major key in the style of players Denny Dias and Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, and a second track in a Minor key and more redolent of Walter Becker and Larry Carlton.
A popular way of expressing more complex harmony in modern jazz and fusion is the ‘slash chord’. The slash chord is a clever way of generating interesting sounding, complex chords in an easy-to-read format.
The first letter in the slash chord is the name of the triad to be used and the second letter (after the slash) is the bass note. Therefore C/F would be a C Major triad (C-E-G in any combination) with an F bass note. The sound this chord produces is that of F Major 9 (no 3rd). As you can see it is far easier to name the chord C/F as opposed to Fmajor9 (no 3rd).
Some of the pieces also use the Altered Dominant (7#9). Many of you will recognise this sound as the Jimi Hendrix (Purple Haze) sound. Using this chord provides an opportunity to make the most of more interesting scales in the soloing lines.
For the audio we have recorded the tracks in full for your reference and then muted the transcribed guitar performances so that you can play along with the backing tracks.
Many thanks to Pete Riley for performing and recording the drums. Have fun and see you next time.
When you geT a groove going, Time flieS Donald Fagen