Donald Fagen Sues Walter Becker Estate Over Steely Dan Ownership

As if there isn’t enough heartbreak in the world these days, we got the sad news today that Donald Fagen is suing the Walter Becker estate – which is run by Becker’s widow Delia Cioffi – over Becker’s shares in Steely Dan. You always fear things like this will happen between famous bandmates when one of them passes away, and it often does, piling misery on top of the heartache of the passing away.

In this case the problem stems from a buyout agreement Becker and Fagen signed in 1972 – along with the other Steely Dan members at the time David Palmer, Denny Dias, Jim Hodder and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. The agreement stated that when a member died or left the group, their shares in Steely Dan had to be sold back to Steely Dan Inc. By the 1980s Becker and Fagen had become the sole shareholders in the company.

After Walter Becker’s untimely death in September, Fagen got a letter from Becker’s estate stating that the 1972 buyout agreement was “of no force or effect” and claiming 50 percent ownership of the band. And it gets worse. Fagen is also suing the band’s business management firm, a firm that also managed Becker’s personal affairs, claiming that it withheld accounting records.

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And as if all that wasn’t bad enough, Fagen claims that the Becker Estate has highjacked the Steely Dan website and denied him access to it. What a sad, sorry mess. I can certainly understand how an artist’s spouse would want to hang onto the legacy, but that’s exactly what buyout agreements are supposed to prevent. Fagen’s partnership was always with Walter himself, not his estate. Together these two brilliant and bizarre talents chartered a course for Steely Dan, but one of those talents is now gone, and there’s no way it can be be replaced by an estate or by anything else. I think Donald Fagen is entitled to control Steely Dan on his own at this point.

Becker’s estate will not be hurting after the big buyout, and they will continue to rake in the song royalties. And for all we know Donald Fagen may have made a commitment to look after Walter’s family. Let’s hope these people can find some sort of settlement, I would hate to see this thing tarnish the joy of Steely Dan music.

Photo credit: By Kotivalo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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