Happy Birthday Donald Fagen: Digging Deep Into Steely Dan’s ‘Deacon Blues’


Steely Dan co-founder Donald Fagen turns 69 years old today. In the early 1970s, he and Walter Becker established the jazz-leaning Steely Dan and soon found themselves counted among the premiere musicians in rock. The pair’s complex compositions, tight arrangements and enlisting of top-notch session players helped produce some of their highly recognizable radio hits and pristine album recordings.

One of Steely Dan’s exceptional compositions is the track “Deacon Blues” from their acclaimed 1977 studio album Aja. Written by Fagan and Becker, the lyrics tell a pseudo-autobiographical tale of the jazz musicians’ early struggles in finding success. The recording session featured renowned drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, saxophonist Pete Christlieb, guitarists Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour and Dean Parks and others.

This video, produced by Nerdwriter1, breaks down the structure and construction of “Deacon Blues.” The recording process is detailed with an examination of the lyrics and contributions from the various session players. Watch “How Steely Dan Composes A Song” here:

VH1 produced a Classic Albums episode that focused on Aja. This clip comes from that special and features Donald and Walter in the studio reminiscing about the making “Deacon Blues.” Session players Carlton and Parks as well as engineer Roger Nichols break down the individual tracks that came together to create the Aja side-A closer. Watch the Classic Albums highlight below: