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.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

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

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