Tag Archives: unions

Steely Dan Meets Shawn Fain

Although Donald Fagen evidently thinks otherwise, since the demise of Walter Becker who died of esophageal cancer in 2017, Steely Dan has ceased to exist. On the Steely Dan official website (which is remarkably hacky for a vaunted band) on the home page, two of the four images are large photos of Fagen and Becker.* There is no red X through Becker’s visage.

And it goes on to detail how the two started out as session musicians, including being members of the backup band for Jay and the Americans.

Then in 1972 Steely Dan was formed with Fagen and Becker joined by Denny Dias and Jeff Baxter on guitars and Jim Hodder on drums. On the Can’t Buy A Thrill album, the group’s first, the lead guitar on “Reelin’ in the Years” was played by Elliot Randall. The vocal on “Dirty Work” was by David Palmer.

And that was just the start. A quintessential characteristic of the band has been its amorphousness as regards membership. There has been a vast array of session and independent musicians as part of the crew over the years, including, but not limited to, Jeff Porcaro, Michael McDonald, Royce Jones, Peter Erskine, Tom Barney, Drew Zingg, Warren Bernhart, Bill Ware. . . .

The thing that stayed consistent was the duo.

And for some seven years the duo has been done but somehow it still presented, perhaps because of the IP associated with the brand, as “Steely Dan.”

But this isn’t one in series of my existential/economic screeds on bands that seem to exist only to continue to rake in the take. Rather, it was caused by two events from last week, which got me to consider session musicians. Without question Steely Dan is one of the preeminent employers of those players.

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Look for the Union [Record] Label

With the current SAG-AFTRA strike, there are plenty of actors who are not trodding the proverbial stage but, assuming they are supportive individuals who care about their colleagues (and who are sufficiently self-interested in the union getting a good contract with the studios), walking the picket line.

But it is evidently the case that performers like to perform (which could explain, in part, why there are so many performers, particularly of the musical genre, who continue long after you’d think they’d have wandered off to Del Boca Vista).

For some of them, the answer is fairly straightforward: They can return to a full-throated embrace of where they once belonged.

As musicians.

Here are some:

Dwight Yoakam: Although Yoakam is associated with the Bakersfield Sound, he was born in genre-appropriate Pikesville, Kentucky. Bakersfield is a couple hours north of LA, which is the place where Yoakam moved to in the early ‘80s. The distance from LA to Hollywood is, well, in some cases, nothing. Anyway, Yoakam released Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. in 1986, followed by Hillbilly Deluxe (1987) and Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room (1988), which contains the cover of Buck Owens “Streets of Bakersfield” (to close the loop on the opening sentence here). In 1991 Yoakam appeared in an episode of a TV series, “P.S.I. Luv U,” as a stuntman and. . .country singer. Then it was from the small screen to the large, as he played a truck driver in a crime caper with an interesting triumvirate on the bill for Red Rock West: Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper and Lara Flynn Boyle. That was released in 1993, the year of YoakamThis Time, which includes “Ain’t That Lonely Yet,” which garnered him his first Grammy. His biggest film performance to date was in 1996’s Sling Blade, where he co-stars with Billy Bob Thornton—himself a musician as he was a drummer in a band named Tres Hombres. Yoakam then appeared in The Newton Boys (1998) directed by Richard Linklater, and headed by Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke and Skeet Ulrich, which I mention because “Skeet Ulrich” is such an interesting name. Getting closer to his métier, he appeared in a thriller, The Minus Man (1999)—also starring Sheryl Crow. Perhaps trying to get some sort of EGOT, in 2000 he co-wrote, directed, starred in, and wrote a soundtrack for South of Heaven, West of Hell. 2002 put him in David Fincher’s Panic Room. There were a few more acting rolls, with one of the more notable being in the streaming show “Goliath” (2016), where he was (1) creepy and (2) reunited with Billy Bob Thornton. 2016 was the last year he released an album, Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars. . . . The time may be right.

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