|Birth name||Donald Jay Fagen|
|Born||January 10, 1948|
Passaic, New Jersey, U.S.
|Member of||Steely Dan|
|Formerly of||The Dukes of September|
Donald Jay Fagen (born January 10, 1948) is an American musician best known as the co-founder, lead singer, co-songwriter, and keyboardist of the band Steely Dan, formed in the early 1970s with musical partner Walter Becker. In addition to his work with Steely Dan, Fagen has released four solo albums, beginning with The Nightfly in 1982, which was nominated for seven Grammys. In 2001, Fagen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Steely Dan. Following Becker's death in 2017, Fagen continued to tour under the Steely Dan name.
Fagen was born in Passaic, New Jersey, on January 10, 1948, to Jewish parents, Joseph "Jerry" Fagen, an accountant, and his wife, Elinor, a homemaker who had been a swing singer in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains from childhood through her teens. His family moved to Fair Lawn, a small town near Passaic. When he was ten years old, he moved with his parents and younger sister to Kendall Park, a newly constructed suburban section of South Brunswick, New Jersey. The transition upset him. He detested living in the suburbs. He later recalled that it "was like a prison. I think I lost faith in [my parents'] judgment... It was probably the first time I realized I had my own view of life." His life in Kendall Park, including his teenage love of late-night radio, inspired his later album The Nightfly.
Fagen became interested in rock and rhythm and blues (R&B) in the late 1950s. The first record he bought was "Reelin' and Rockin' " by Chuck Berry. At age eleven, his cousin, Barbara Cohen, recommended jazz music and Fagen went to the Newport Jazz Festival, becoming what he called a "jazz snob": "I lost interest in rock 'n' roll and started developing an anti-social personality." In the early 1960s, beginning at age twelve, he often went to the Village Vanguard, where he was particularly impressed by Earl Hines, Willie "The Lion" Smith, and Bill Evans. He regularly took the bus to Manhattan to see performances by jazz musicians Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis. He learned to play the piano, and he played baritone horn in the high school marching band. He developed a lifelong fondness for table tennis. In his late teens he was drawn to soul music, funk, Motown, and Sly and the Family Stone. He has also expressed admiration for the Boswell Sisters, Henry Mancini, and Ray Charles.
After graduating from South Brunswick High School in 1965, he enrolled at Bard College to study English literature, where he met Walter Becker in a coffee house in 1967. Becker and Fagen attracted a revolving assortment of musicians including future actor Chevy Chase, to form the bands Leather Canary, the Don Fagen Jazz Trio, and the Bad Rock Band. Fagen described his college bands as sounding like "the Kingsmen performing Frank Zappa material". None of the groups lasted long, but the partnership between Fagen and Becker did. The duo's early career included working with Jay and the Americans, for which they used pseudonyms. In the early 1970s they worked as pop songwriters for ABC/Dunhill Records, which released all of Steely Dan's 1970s albums.
Becker and Fagen began to form Steely Dan in the summer of 1970, responding to a Village Voice ad for "a bassist and keyboard player with jazz chops" placed by guitarist Denny Dias. Dias was immediately impressed by the pair's abilities, and especially that they already had a whole stack of original material. (Fans of Beat Generation literature, Fagen and Becker named the band after a steam-powered vibrator mentioned in the William S. Burroughs novel Naked Lunch.) The group's first lineup was assembled in December 1971 in Los Angeles, where Becker and Fagen had relocated to work as staff songwriters for ABC/Dunhill. Becker and Fagen formed the core of the band and wrote all the songs, with Becker on bass, and later lead guitar, and Fagen on keyboards and vocals.
After the release of their third LP in 1974, the other members left or were fired from the band, which evolved into a studio project headed by Becker and Fagen. Steely Dan's best-selling album was 1977's Aja, which was certified platinum. Three years later, they released Gaucho. Their next album was not until 1995, when they released the live album Alive in America. It was followed by the multiple Grammy Award winning Two Against Nature in 2000, and Steely Dan's most recent album Everything Must Go in 2003. A concert DVD, Two Against Nature, included material from much of the band's history.
After Becker's death in 2017, Fagen wished to retire the Steely Dan name out of respect for his bandmate and tour under a different name, but promoters advised him against it for commercial reasons. As of 2022, Fagen continues to tour as Steely Dan.
After Steely Dan's breakup in 1981, Fagen released his debut solo album, The Nightfly, in October 1982. It was certified platinum for sales of over a million copies in the U.S. and reached 11 on the Billboard Top 200 albums list. The first single, "I.G.Y.", released in September 1982, peaked at number 26 on the Hot 100. The follow-up single, "New Frontier" (January 1983), peaked at number 70 and was accompanied by a music video. The Nightfly was nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. In 2002, Rhino Records released a DVD-Audio version of The Nightfly in honor of the album's 20th anniversary. The bonus track, "True Companion", from the Nightfly Trilogy MVI Boxed Set is track seven on the Heavy Metal film soundtrack. Fagen also contributed "Century's End" to the soundtrack for the 1988 Michael J. Fox film, Bright Lights, Big City.
During the rest of the 1980s, Fagen contributed to soundtracks and wrote a column for Premiere magazine. In the early 1990s, he toured with the New York Rock and Soul Revue. Becker and Fagen reunited in 1986 to work on the debut album by model and singer Rosie Vela. Fagen co-produced and played keyboards on Walter Becker's solo album debut 11 Tracks of Whack (1994). Becker produced Fagen's second album, Kamakiriad (1993), which was nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and reached number 10 on the Top 200 albums chart.
Fagen's third solo album, Morph the Cat, was released on March 14, 2006, and featured Wayne Krantz (guitar), Jon Herington (guitar), Keith Carlock (drums), Freddie Washington (bass), Ted Baker (piano), and Walt Weiskopf (sax). It reached 26 on Billboard Top 200 albums list. Morph the Cat was named Album of the Year by Mix magazine. The 5.1 surround sound mix won the Grammy Award for Best Surround Sound Album.
Fagen's first three albums were released in a box set, Nightfly Trilogy, in the MVI (Music Video Interactive) format. Each album features DTS 5.1, Dolby 5.1 and PCM Stereo mix but no MLP encoded track, along with bonus audio and video content.
In 2012, Fagen toured with the Dukes of September, featuring Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs. One of the concerts was recorded at Lincoln Center in New York City and broadcast on PBS Great Performances in 2014.
Fagen frequently uses aliases. He wrote the liner notes to Can't Buy a Thrill under the name Tristan Fabriani, which he used on stage when he played keyboards for Jay and the Americans (Becker used Gus Mahler). On his solo albums, when he played or programmed a synthesizer part to replicate a real instrument (bass, vibraphone, horns) he credited one of his aliases: Illinois Elohainu, Phonus Quaver, or Harlan Post.
Style and themes
Fagen has classified himself as both a self-taught pianist and a self-taught vocalist, although he did spend a few semesters studying formally at Berklee College of Music and took some vocal lessons in the mid-1970s as a precaution after feeling the straining effects of years of touring. Although he learned to become an entertainer, early on Fagen suffered from severe stage fright, which prompted Steely Dan producer Gary Katz to hire David Palmer to sing two songs on Steely Dan's debut album, Can't Buy a Thrill. This also led to the hiring of Royce Jones and Michael McDonald as singers in the band's tours in the early 1970s. Fagen plays the Fender Rhodes electric piano and Wurlitzer electric piano.
According to Robert Christgau, in terms of lyrics, Fagen is a "pathological ironist" who "doesn't much care about hippies" or the message of his generation's counterculture: "His '60s are the Kennedy years, when a smart, somewhat shallow suburban white kid could dream of Brubeck and bohemia and bomb-shelter wingdings and transoceanic rail links to exotic locales."
In 1993 Fagen married songwriter Libby Titus. Although the two attended Bard College at around the same time, they did not become friends until 1987 when they were backstage at a Dr. John concert. On January 4, 2016, Titus sustained injuries after Fagen allegedly shoved her against a marble window frame at their Upper East Side apartment.
Titus co-wrote the song "Florida Room" on the 1993 album Kamakiriad. Fagen has performed with his stepdaughter Amy Helm, daughter of Titus and musician Levon Helm. Fagen has no children of his own.
- 1985: Honorary Doctor of Arts, Bard College
- 2001: Honorary Doctor of Music, Berklee College of Music
- 2001: Steely Dan inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- 2010: Jazz Wall of Fame, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers
|Year||Album details||Peak chart positions||Certifications|
|2006||Morph the Cat
|Year||Album details||Peak chart positions||Certifications|
|2021||Donald Fagen's The Nightfly Live
- with The New York Rock and Soul Revue
|Year||Album details||Peak chart positions||Certifications|
|1991||Live at the Beacon
As featured artist
|1981||"True Companion"||Heavy Metal: Music from the Motion Picture|
(with Steve Khan)
|That's the Way I Feel Now: A Tribute to Thelonious Monk|
|1988||"Century's End"||Bright Lights, Big City: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|2017||"Tin Foil Hat"
(Todd Rundgren feat. Donald Fagen)
- 1969: Terence Boylan, Alias Boona (Verve Forecast) – piano, organ (credited as Don Fagen)
- 1970–1971: Jay and the Americans, touring band – keyboards
- 1970: Jay and the Americans, Capture the Moment (United Artists), "Capture the Moment", "Tricia (Tell Your Daddy)", "She’ll Be Young Forever" and "Thoughts That I’ve Taken To Bed" – co-arranger (with Walter Becker) strings and horns
- 1970: Linda Hoover, I Mean To Shine (Omnivore Recordings, released 2022) – keyboards, arranger, co-writer (with Walter Becker) of five songs
- 1971: The Original Soundtrack, You've Got to Walk It Like You Talk It or You'll Lose That Beat (Spark Records), film soundtrack – keyboards, co-writer and co-arranger (with Walter Becker)
- 1971: Barbra Streisand, Barbra Joan Streisand (Columbia), "I Mean to Shine" – Hammond organ, co-writer (with Walter Becker)
- 1972: Navasota, Rootin' (ABC Records) – piano, electric piano, co-arranger strings and horns (with Walter Becker); "Canyon Ladies" – co-writer (with Walter Becker)
- 1973: Tim Moore, Tim Moore (Mooncrest), "A Fool Like You" – backing vocals
- 1973: Thomas Jefferson Kaye,Thomas Jefferson Kaye (Dunhill Records), "The Door Is Still Open", "Learning How To Fly" and "I’ll Be Leaving Her Tomorrow" – backing vocals
- 1974: Thomas Jefferson Kaye (ABC Records), First Grade, "Northern California" – piano
- 1977: Terence Boylan, Terence Boylan (Asylum Records), "Don't Hang Up Those Dancing Shoes" and "Shame" – piano
- 1977: Poco, Indian Summer (ABC Records), "Indian Summer" and "Win or Lose" – synthesizer
- 1978: Marc Jordan, Mannequin (Warner Bros.) – piano
- 1978: Pete Christlieb and Warne Marsh, Apogee (Warner Bros.) – co-producer (with Walter Becker)
- 1979: Steve Khan, Arrows (Columbia) – liner notes
- 1981: Rickie Lee Jones, Pirates (Warner Bros.), "Pirates (So Long Lonely Avenue)" – synthesizer
- 1982: Eye to Eye (Warner Bros.), Eye to Eye – producer, synthesizer
- 1982: The King of Comedy (Warner Bros.), film soundtrack, "The Finer Things" – writer, backing vocals, co-producer (with Gary Katz)
- 1983: Diana Ross, Ross (Motown), "Love Will Make It Right" – writer, synthesizer
- 1983: Eye to Eye, Shakespeare Stole My Baby (Warner Bros.) – keyboards
- 1984: Greg Phillinganes, Pulse (Planet), "Lazy Nina" – writer, arranger
- 1984: Various artists, The Gospel At Colonus Original Cast – The Gospel At Colonus (Asylum Records) – co-producer
- 1985: Jane Aaron, Traveling Light, film soundtrack – writer and performer
- 1987: Jane Aaron, Set In Motion, film soundtrack – writer and performer
- 1986: Rosie Vela, Zazu (A&M Records) – synthesizer
- 1988: Phil Woods' Little Big Band, Evolution (Concord) – liner notes
- 1988: The Hoops McCann Band, Plays The Music Of Steely Dan (MCA Records), "Rapunzel" (plus seven Steely Dan songs) – co-writer (with Walter Becker), mixing
- 1988: Bright Lights, Big City (Warner Bros.), "Bright Lights, Big City" (Jimmy Reed, writer) – vocals, keyboards, programming, arranger, co-producer (with Gary Katz)
- 1988: Love And Money, Strange Kind Of Love (Mercury Records), "Hallelujah Man" – clavinet (uncredited)
- 1989: Jane Aaron, This Time Around, film soundtrack – writer and performer
- 1990: William S. Burroughs, Dead City Radio (Island Records), "A New Standard by Which to Measure Infamy" – musical accompaniment
- 1992: Glengarry Glen Ross (Music From & Inspired By The Motion Picture) (Elektra), "Blue Lou", performed by The Joe Roccisano Orchestra with Lou Marini (alto sax) – writer
- 1992: Jennifer Warnes, The Hunter (Private Music), "Big Noise, New York" – backing vocals
- 1993: Donald Fagen, Concepts for Jazz/Rock Piano (Homespun Video), instructional video with Warren Bernhardt – piano, electric piano, conversation
- 1993: Raw Stylus, Pushing Against the Flow (Geffen), "37 Hours (in the USA)" – synthesizer
- 1994: Walter Becker, 11 Tracks of Whack (Giant Records) – producer, arranger, keyboards
- 1995: Mindy Jostyn, Five Miles From Hope (1-800-Prime-CD), "Too Easy" – melodica
- 1996: Phil Woods, Into the Woods: The Best of Phil Woods (Concord Records) – liner notes
- 1997: Boz Scaggs, My Time: A Boz Scaggs Anthology (Columbia), "Drowning in the Sea of Love" – producer, vocals, piano, electric piano, melodica
- 1998: Ricky Lawson, First Things First (Platinum Entertainment ) – piano
- 2005: Marian McPartland, Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz with Steely Dan (The Jazz Alliance, recorded 2002) – piano, conversation
- 2008: Martha Wainwright, I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too (Drowned In Sound Recordings), "So Many Friends" – synthesizer
- 2009: Sam Butler & the Boys / Clarence Fountain, Stepping Up & Stepping Out (Tyscot Records), "It's a Different World Now" – melodica, liner notes
- 2009: Memory Man: A Michael Leonhart Film featuring Donald Fagen, promotional video for the Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man effects pedal – The Memory Man
- 2012: Jon Herington, Time On My Hands (Wise Axe Inc.), "Caroline Yes" and "Egirl" – piano and electric piano
- 2013: Tom Schiller & Donald Fagen, The Tom & Don Tapes, Vol. 1 – conversation
- 2014: The Dukes Of September, The Dukes Of September: Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs – Live At Lincoln Center (DVD/Blu-ray, 429 Records) – vocals, keyboards, melodica
- 2015: Peter More, Oh Whitney (EP) – producer
- 2015: Rudimental, We The Generation (Asylum Records), "Common Emotion" – voice
- 2016: The Simpsons, Treehouse of Horror XXVII (Season 28, Episode 4) – voice (himself)
- 2018: Derek Smalls, Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing) (BMG), "Memo To Willie" – vocals
- 2018: Far Cry, The More Things Change..., "The Hits Just Keep On Comin' " (Columbia), "It's Not As Simple As That" and "Some Things Will Never Change" – vocals
- 2018: Peter More, Beautiful Disrepair (Night Owl Productions) – producer
- 2019: Peter More, Shoulder (EP) (Devil Hills) – producer, piano, organ, vocals
- 2019: Paul Shaffer, Paul Shaffer Plus One (TV) (Series 1, Episode 5) – conversation, electric piano
- 2021: David Crosby, For Free (BMG), "Rodriguez For A Night" – co-writer (with David Crosby and James Raymond), keyboards
- 2022: Linda Hoover, I Mean To Shine (Omnivore Recordings), "I Mean To Shine", "Turn My Friend Away", "The Roaring of The Lamb", "Jones" - co-writer (with Walter Becker), "Roll Back The Meaning" - co-writer (with Walter Becker and Dorothy White), keyboards
- 1987: "Henry Mancini's Anomie Deluxe", Premiere Magazine. Revised and reprinted in Eminent Hipsters.
- 1988: "In The Throes of Lakmania", Premiere Magazine.
- 1988: "Tell Blondie To Break Out The Ice", Premiere Magazine.
- 1989: "A Talk with Ennio Morricone", Premiere Magazine.
- 1989: "All That Jazz", Harper's Bazaar. Revised and reprinted in Eminent Hipsters.
- 2007: "The Devil and Ike Turner. Parsing his hits", Slate.
- 2013: Eminent Hipsters.
- 2016: "The Man Who Told A Christmas Story. What I learned from Jean Shepherd", Slate.
- 2016: "Neutron Sunday. In 1956, Ed Sullivan showed America what nuclear holocaust looks like. We were never the same again", Slate.
- 2016: "Something of Value: How I fell in love with horror movies, and what their terrors taught me", Slate.
- 2020: "Ukulele Ike, a.k.a. Cliff Edwards, Sings Again", Jazz Times.
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- Fagen, Donald. "In The Throes of Lakmania". Steely Dan.com Archive. Retrieved August 30, 2023.
- Fagen, Donald. "Tell Blondie To Break Out The Ice". Steely Dan.com Archive. Retrieved August 30, 2023.
- Fagen, Donald. "A Talk with Ennio Morricone". Steely Dan.com Archive. Retrieved August 30, 2023.
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- Fagen, Donald (December 17, 2007). "The Devil and Ike Turner Parsing his hits". Slate. Retrieved August 30, 2023.
- Fagen, Donald (December 24, 2016). "The Man Who Told A Christmas Story What I learned from Jean Shepherd". Slate. Retrieved August 30, 2023.
- Fagen, Donald (October 14, 2016). "Neutron Sunday In 1956, Ed Sullivan showed America what nuclear holocaust looks like. We were never the same again". Slate. Retrieved August 30, 2023.
- Fagen, Donald (October 28, 2016). "Something of Value: How I fell in love with horror movies, and what their terrors taught me". Slate. Retrieved August 30, 2023.
- Fagen, Donald (December 7, 2020). "Ukulele Ike, a.k.a. Cliff Edwards, Sings Again". Jazz Times. Retrieved August 30, 2023.