Named after a dildo in William Burroughs cult drug tome The Naked Lunch, the Dan was built around the songwriting team of founder members bass player Walter Becker and pianist Donald Fagen. Between 1972 and their initial break up in 1980, the band released seven supremely sophisticated albums including Countdown To Ecstasy, Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied and The Royal Scam on the now Universal-owned ABC label.
And thanks to a clutch of superbly crafted songs like Do It Again, My Old School, Ricky Don’t Lose That Number, Steely Dan became a name for every critic to drop – and every new band to aspire to – in the years immediately preceding Punk.
But for all the jazzy chords, the clever wordplay and some vocal harmonies to-CSN&Y-for, Steely Dan were also very much a guitar band. Their founder members Denny Dias and Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter could trade licks, swap styles and rock out with the best. And yet they frequently took back seats in the studio in favour of star six string sessioneers such as Larry Carlton, Rick Derringer and Elliott Randall, who was responsible for the barnstorming solo from Reelin’ In The Years – the second single from the band’s 1972 debut LP Can’t Buy A Thrill – which BT Unlimited Calls has licensed for the latest instalment in its series of cute cartoon commercials.
Randall – whose studio CV includes cuts with The Doobie Brothers and Peter Frampton – now divides his time between New York and London where he made a rare appearance with a reformed Steely Dan at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2009, bringing the house down with a note for note rendition of what is probably his signature solo.
Now while we’re talking of great guitarists who have never really received all the credit they deserve, we should thank Halfords for choosing Into The Valley, the 1979 number 10 hit on Virgin by top Scots New Wavers Skids, which powers up its latest Summer TV campaign. Skids were fronted by one Richard Jobson, who sang in an accent quite impenetrable to anybody born south of Dunfermline while dancing to a rhythm even fellow Scots found hard to understand. But it was the late great Stuart Adamson who was at the core of the band which kicked Jobson up the backside every night. Adamson steered Skids through three chart albums and 11 hit singles including Masquerade and Working For The Yankee Dollar. All were subsequently cited as huge influences by US new punk outfits like Green Day who covered Skids’ The Saints Are Coming as a charity single in 2006.Adamson suffered a nervous breakdown in 1981, which effectively spelt the end of Skids. But inside a couple of years he’d bounced back with a new outfit called Big Country. Partnered by another hugely underrated plank spanker and fellow Scot Bruce Watson, Adamson forged a rousingly recognisable Celtic guitar sound which catapulted the band high into the charts on both sides of the Atlantic with Mercury albums like The Crossing, Steeltown and The Seer.
He eventually moved to Nashville in the 1990s before tragically committing suicide in 2001 after a long fight with alcoholism. At his funeral The Edge is reported to have said that Stuart Adamson penned the kind of songs he wished U2 could have written. Compare bits of Boy with Skids LPs like Scared To Dance or Days In Europa and you’ll see what he meant.
It wasn’t the bottle which was Henry Roeland Byrd’s weakness, although there can be no doubt he liked a drink as much as the next man. No, it was the liar dice and the gee gees which very nearly blighted the life of the New Orleans’ pianist better known to music fans as Professor Longhair.
Born in 1918, Fess, as he was otherwise known, began his musical career playing in a bar off Bourbon Street on a piano with missing keys. But he still managed to develop a distinctive mambo-based blues shuffle which was to become synonymous with the Crescent City. Fess truly hit his stride in the 1950s when he recorded seminal R’n’B tracks like Mardi Gras In New Orleans, Bald Head and Tipitania for a variety of labels such as Mercury, Federal and Atlantic. Although he never crossed over to wider and whiter audiences like fellow French Quarter contemporaries Fats Domino, Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry or the younger Mac ‘Dr John’ Rebennack, Professor Longhair influenced them all. So it’s the distinctive whistling figure on his 1964 recording of Earl King’s Big Chief which aficionados of Second Line rhythms will recognise from the Kinder ad promoting chocolate which is somehow ‘approved by mums’.
Like many of his generation, Professor Longhair’s fortunes took a dip in the 1960s when he had to take work as a janitor to keep the bookies off his back. But appearances at the Newport and Montreux Jazz Festivals in 1973 not only helped clear his gambling debts but led to an invitation to play for a party on board the Queen Mary hosted by Paul and Linda McCartney. A new record deal with Atlantic and appearances in a number of PBS TV documentaries soon conferred him with a richly deserved national status he had never previously attained.
Indeed after his death from a heart attack in 1980 Professor Longhair was awarded a posthumous Grammy and was later inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall Of Fame. Most recently, Hugh Laurie included Tipitania on his hit New Orleans tribute album Let Them Talk, which arguably introduced the name of Professor Longhair to a whole new audience.
It remains to be seen whether Hanni El Khatib lives to scale such heights of stardom. This San Fransisco-born son of Palestnian and Filipino immigrants describes his music as sounding like being ‘shot by gun or hit by a train’. Which could well be right if his version of The Cramps 1978 A side Human Fly is anything to go by. This is the raw, raucous and distinctly modern garage track Nissan is currently using to promote its Qashqai model . More influenced by Jack Black than Lux Interior perhaps but it’s still a great taster for Hanni El Khatib’s retrotastic debut album Will The Guns Come Out which was released over here on the Innovative Leisure label in September last year.
Courtesy of Record Collector