Steely Dan

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by bassicinstinct, Feb 4, 2005.

  1. OK - I have a feeling I may open a HUGE can of worms with this thread, but here goes anyway. If this is the wrong Forum, please accept my apologies.

    I have been listening to The 'Dan since the first album back in the early seventies and they have and continue to be my favourite band despite (or maybe because of?) the fact that they have changed and matured (IMHO) over the years.

    For the last five or six years, I have been invplved in a number of "tribute" acts to Steely Dan ranging from the 10-13 piece (depending on the night/gig) Danny Steel Orchestra to my current combo The Dan Quartet which is bass, drums, fender rhodes/vocals and sax. TDQ is, to all ntents and purposes, a rhythm section with vocals and saxophone - exactly what I have always thought of as the "essence" of Steely Dan material. It's also a MASSIVE change to be performing with NO GUITARIST and, consequently, NO STRESS at either gigs or rehearsals. :D :D

    We are now tackling the HUGE back catalogue ( :D :D :D ) with much more of a jazz "bias" to the arrangements and with the intention of "freeing up" the arrangements and putting our own spin on the material.

    Lots of fellow musicians have questioned the wisdom of attempting to emulate recordings made by some of the best session players on the planet and there have been occasions, in rehearsal, when I thought they might be right. :eek: :eek: But, hey, you only get better by playing stuff you find challenging, right? :)

    My question is really twofold:

    Am I in a minority in thinking that Becker and Fagen have been a seminal influence on modern music for over 30 years?

    Is it "sacrilege" to tamper with the arrangements of songs which have been hailed as classics for decades?

    Punters (NOT players!!) seem to fall into three distinct camps when you mention Steely Dan.

    Camp One: Never heard of them.

    Camp Two: Love 'em to bits. Great band.

    Camp Three: Is that the band with the girl singer who did "All Around My Hat"?? :eek: :confused: :eek: :confused:

    We were actually described on some theatre tickets as

    " An evening of music by "Steeleye Dan" " which managed to alienate just about everybody!! :D :D :D :D

    Anyhoo, I'll be very interested to hear what y'all think.

    Best regards.
  2. burk48237

    burk48237 Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2004
    Oak Park, MI
    First I think it would be much easier to be in a Blink 182 tribute band, you'd only have to learn three chords and wouldn't even have to use your pinky! STEELY DAN ROCKS!!! certantly the best "rock/pop group" I ever heard and there writing is great. Classic R & B with a Jazz harmoney twist. Now to your questions, I think the best way to do covers is to add your own sound or your own take, so go for it! If you want to do it just like the origional your not being a musical act , your just being an impressionist. Now I've never been in a tribute band myself and don't know if it's quite my thing, to me variety is the spice of life and if I was doing covers I'd have to do some Van Morrison and Marvin Gaye too for instance. Do you find that it limits you in gigs? I would personaly hesitate on doing just one bands music beacause I'm always going to be compared to the origional if I do that, nothing wrong with a tribute album, just don't know if I could pull off a tribute band? How do you feel the reactions been from the listening, I'm assumming bar traveling public to your stuff? Just curious.
  3. The biggest issue seems to be that it is MUCH easier to "sell" a tribute act than a "covers" act because the agent/promoter/punter knows exactly what he is getting.

    You are correct, though, that if you are selling yourselves as a tribute act, you WILL be compared to the original and this brings it's own problems (particularly in the case of SD!! :eek: :eek: :eek: ).

    We have the additional problem that, whether we like it or not, SD (and, therefore, SD tributes) are very much a niche market in the UK. We do struggle with agents because they tend not to know who SD are and never get any demand for their stuff anyway.

    We tend to make sure that all our shows are VERY well promoted so that if there is an SD fan anywhere near the venue, he WILL know about it. Consequently, we do sometimes get a small audience BUT, however big small or indifferent it is, it is ALWAYS made up of a majority of Dan heads who really know their stuff. Certainly keeps you on your toes!! :D :D :D
  4. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    FWIW, here are my interpretations of the terms tribute and cover:

    tribute band - does the tunes exactly like the group down to instrumentation, vocal harmonies, etc.

    cover band - plays the tune to the best of their ability based on instrumentation, talent, etc.

    These are, of course, my interpretations. Others may vary. To me, the horns are a HUGE part of Steely Dan. I don't think one sax can do it.

    I think the group you are poutting together has great potential, especially for "opening up" the arrangemments, but I wouldn't call it a SD tribute or cover band. Maybe we need a new term?

    I have wanted to do something like this for a long time. A small group of good musicians that does a variety of styles in our own way. I think it's exciting. Good luck!
  5. j-raj

    j-raj Bassist: Educator/Soloist/Performer Supporting Member

    Jan 14, 2003
    Indianapolis, IN
    Well the first thing I can think of, is that their song book definitely keeps you on your toes musically, if not just the Dan-head!! I cover Josie, FM and Kid Charl... love 'em.

    You aren't a minority in thinking that they have influenced modern music for over 30 years, they have. Especially with popular-music markets, eventhough there is so much to their tunes... Another group that is a smoking jazz/fusion group that planted themselves well in the industry with the popular side of music is Level 42... Which also influenced modern music.

    With Tribute acts you are always going ot be dealing with a divided field... 1. 'Diehards/traditionalists' (not too much support, just criticism) , 2. supportive few that love what you guys do to SD tunes and 3. then the cats that don't know/don't care/don't matter... (prolly others, but ya know... they might not be important for this paradigm).

    If you have ever heard what Joe Gallant does to Grateful Dead tunes, you would be amazed with how much orchestration and 're-working' of their material goes on. (BTW, check out Joe Gallant's Blues for Allah Project :eek: )... Some Dead-headers really rip into his approach, some (who might dig Jazz is Dead) love the creativity.

    My opinion is to go with the most musical arrangements, some traditional, some with slight 'touches' that make the tune a little yours and then have some tweaked out arrangement that blow other cats and traditionalists away.

    The one thing that is paramount, which I wish other tribute or cover bands would do: nail it the way they did it first, Then make alterations.
  6. The Dan Quartet is already up and running and the response thus far has been great. :) :)

    I do take your point about the horns being such an integral part of the SD sound BUT we did gig a full SD show for about 2 years with:

    Electric Guitar
    Fender Rhodes/Vocals

    I have to admit, I was VERY worried about tackling it with NO HORNS :eek: :eek: :eek: but, to be fair, it really did seem to work. I did sometimes supect that the audience knew the stuff so well that they were hearing the horns "in their heads" anyway. ;) ;) ;)

    Thanks for your good wishes. I do agree that we need a "new" term rather than "covers band" or "tribute band". Our promo material just says "An evening of the music of Steely Dan performed by The 'Dan Quartet and, so far, we've lived to tell the tale. :) :) I think that maybe the word "quartet" does, in some strange way, prepare the punter what they are going to get too. :D :D
  7. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    I like the 4-tet idea.

    On the other side of the fence was The Hoops McCann Band...a big band that covered SD's material; IIRC, they put out one album. Anyway, it was a little too predictable, IIRC. They played a couple verses/choruses & then went into a swing for the horn solos.
    I'll have to dig that LP out & give it a spin to refresh my memory.

    There was also a Baltimore band called Cruel Shoes that did originals with 'the Dan' vibe. I remember buying that cd somewhere in the long lull between Gaucho & the Live In America disc.
  8. Ya gotta do Cousin Dupree, it's my favorite Dan tune, though not a "classic" I guess, as it's fairly recent...

    It just cracks me up, that's all. What's so strange about a down-home family romance? haha

    You could replace the guitar solo with a nice bass spot. :)
  9. jive1

    jive1 Commercial User

    Jan 16, 2003
    Owner/Retailer: Jive Sound
    If heard there was a 4 piece that did Steely Dan covers, I'd check it out just to see how they would pull it off. Playing SD in and of itself is ambitious, let alone only a 4 piece that will be playing parts that were played by greats like Stan Getz, Larry Carlton, Chuck Rainey, etc.. Even if there is no guitar player, you can still pull it off since SD wasn't what I consider to be a "Guitar Band". Though I'm curious as to how you guys do "Reelin in the Years".

    I'm not a purist, but since Steely Dan rarely played out live in their heyday let alone now, you're sort of the only game in town. If someone's jonesin for some live SD, you're it. Talk about a monopoly. The fact that you can't pull it off without some considerable skill, further solidifies your niche.

    On a side note, the only Steely Dan tune I ever played out live was Bodhisattva. It was a tough song, and it's one of the easist they have. Tried other tunes, but it was hard to get the other musicians engaged enough learn them. The fact that you have that, and doing it earns an A in my gradebook.

    If I'm ever across the pond (hopefully this summer), I'll have o check you guys out.
  10. johnvice


    Sep 7, 2004
    I think of a cover band of doing non original songs. The intent maybe to emulate the original exaclty OR take an "artistic interpetation" of the original.

    I think of a tribute band as playing covers of one particular artist with the intent of emaulating the original as much as possible.

    Finally, I think of a clone band as one that tries to look the part as well as sounding the part.

    A great example is my friend, Michael White (, who arguebaly invented the tribute band concept.

    As for Steely Dan, I am big fan and was musically very influenced by them. I'm seeing a SD tribute in Kitchener, ON next month and am looking forward to hearing how they deal with the complex musicianship and arrangements.
  11. JimK:

    I'm familiar with the Hoops McCann album you mentioned. I wasn't too keen either. :eyebrow: :eyebrow:

    If you get the chance, check out Justin Morrell's album "The Music of Steely Dan" which really smokes and is INFINITELY better than the McCann thing or that god awful Garden Party effort IMHO.


    We used to do Cousin Dupree with the big band but haven't since. I'd forgotten how funny the lyric was. Maybe we'll have to re-visit it. :)


    Hope you do make it across the pond in the summer and, if you do, make sure you let me know and we'll see if we can't get you to at least one of our gigs.
  12. johnvice:

    Blimey!! So based on your interpretation of the terms, I don't think the Dan Quartet is a cover tribute OR "clone" band. We DEFINITELY need a new term.

    Help!! :meh: :meh: :meh:
  13. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    I bet that the audience probably was "hearing" things. :)
    Since you bill yourself as "The Dan Quartet" it probably does set people up for what they will hear. As I said, it sounds like a great idea. Maybe I'll run it by some friends of mine...
  14. I think we are largely approaching it in the way you suggest so great minds MUST think alike. Either that or we're both totally wrong :D :D :D

    Funny you should mention good old Level 42 because that was "the other band" I was really into in the early eighties - particularly their "Early Tapes" album. I thought they lost the plot a bit as they became more commercially successful (how may times does that happen?? :rolleyes: :rolleyes: ) but I think they are now reformed and gigging albeit at a much more modest level(Pun alert!!)than in their heyday.
  15. hateater

    hateater snatch canadian cream

    May 4, 2001
    Eugene, OR
    I was born in 85- so Steely dan was before my time. However, I have several of their albums, and they most definately had a hand in shaping popular music.
  16. SteveC:

    Please do. I'd be interested to hear what friends make of the idea. :) :)
  17. Bump.
  18. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Since you 'bumped'-
    I dunno, I'm not too sure Fagen/Becker have been a seminal influence on modern muisc(i.e. the past 30 years). IMHO, they are unto a league of their own. I mean, even now, The Beatles'/The Rolling Stones' influence can be heard from current radio acts to various garages. Who else sounds like Fagen/Becker?

    "All Around My Hat"? That's a little too arcane a reference for me!
    There was an '80s band called Eye To Eye w/ lead vocalist Deborah Berg(IIRC)...their debut was produced by Gary Katz & had most of the sessioneers who made Aja happen.
    Katz, Fagen/Becker also helped out on Rosie Velas' debut album.
    (I'll have to dig that one out in order to verify the players).
  19. Bard2dbone


    Aug 4, 2002
    Arlington TX
    Was 'All Around My Hat' by Steeleye Span? That's a guess. I never heard any of their stuff. I just always thought their name reminded me of Steely Dan.
  20. Have you heard any of Nearly Dan's work? They are probably the best known of the UK Steely Dan tribute bands.
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