Donald Jay Fagen (born January 10, 1948[1]) is an American musician, singer-songwriter, and co-founder of the band Steely Dan.

Early life

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.[2][3] His family moved to the suburb of Fair Lawn around 1958 and soon after to a house on Bedford Road in the Kendall Park 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,[4] inspired his album The Nightfly.[2]

Fagen became interested in rock and rhythm and blues (R&B) in the late 1950s. The first record he bought was Chuck Berry's "Reelin' and Rockin'".[2] At age 11, he was recommended music by a cousin and 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." He regularly took the bus to Manhattan to see performances by jazz musicians Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis. Soon after, he learned to play the piano. He played baritone horn in the high school marching band.[5] During his teens, he developed a lifelong fondness for table tennis.[6]

After graduating from South Brunswick High School in 1965, he enrolled at Bard College to study English literature, having been inspired by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.[7] At Bard he met musician Walter Becker. With a revolving assortment of musicians, which included future actor Chevy Chase, Becker and Fagen formed the bands the Leather Canary, the Don Fagen Jazz Trio, and the Bad Rock Band.[8] Fagen later described his college bands as sounding like "The Kingsmen performing Frank Zappa material".[9] None of the groups lasted long, but the partnership between Fagen and Becker did. The duo's early career included a stint 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.


Steely Dan

Main article: Steely Dan

Donald Fagen met Walter Becker in a coffee house at Bard College in 1967.[10] They began to form Steely Dan in the summer of 1970 when they placed an ad in The Village Voice looking for musicians. Through this ad they met guitarist Denny Dias. The group's first lineup was assembled in December 1971 in Los Angeles, California, 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 bestselling album was 1977's Aja, which was certified platinum. Three years later, they released Gaucho. Their next album wasn't until 1995, when they released the live album Alive in America. It was followed by Two Against Nature in 2000 and Everything Must Go in 2003. A concert DVD, Two Against Nature, included material from much of the band's history.

Solo career

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.[11] The first single, "I.G.Y.", peaked at number 26 on the Hot 100. The follow-up single, "New Frontier", 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.

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.[12] Becker and Fagen reunited in 1986 to work on the debut album by model and singer Rosie Vela.[13] 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.[11]

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.[11]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.[14]

Fagen's first three albums were released in a box set, The 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.

Fagen's fourth album, Sunken Condos, was released in 2012. It reached 12 on the Billboard Top 200 albums list.[11]

In 2012, Fagen toured with the The Dukes of September, feauturing Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs. One of the concerts was recorded at Lincoln Center in New York City and broadcast on PBS Great Perfomances in 2014.[15]

In October 2013 Fagen published an autobiography titled Eminent Hipsters.

Fagen frequently uses aliases. He wrote the liner notes to Can't Buy a Thrill under the name Tristan Fabriani, which he would use on stage when he played keyboards for Jay and the Americans (Becker would use Gus Mahler). On his solo albums, when he plays or programs a synthesizer part to replicate a real instrument (bass, vibraphone, horns) he will credit one of his aliases: Illinois Elohainu, Phonus Quaver, or Harlan Post.

Musical style

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 Fender Rhodes Electric Piano and Wurlitzer Electric Piano.


Studio albums

Year Album details Peak chart positions Certifications
(sales thresholds)
1982 The Nightfly 11 - 16 9 8 44
1993 Kamakiriad
  • Released: May 25, 1993
  • Label: Reprise
10 - 13 30 9 3
2006 Morph the Cat
  • Released: March 7, 2006
  • Label: Reprise
26 29 23 - 9 35
2012 Sunken Condos
  • Released: October 16, 2012
  • Label: Reprise [24]
12 36 13 - 10 23
  • 2007 The Nightfly Trilogy (3-MVI DVD + 4-CD Box Set)



Personal life

Fagen's cousin Alan was an actor and president of the Screen Actors Guild, while his cousin Mark Rosenberg was an activist in Students for a Democratic Society and a film producer.[29]

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. Titus co-wrote the song "Florida Room" on the 1993 album Kamakiriad. Fagen has performed with Amy Helm, daughter of Libby Titus and musician Levon Helm.[30]


  1. ^ The Times January 10, 2009, Retrieved January 9, 2010
  2. ^ a b c Sweet, Steely Dan: Reelin' in the Years 7.
  3. ^ Fagen, Donald (2013). Eminent hipsters. Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated. ISBN 9780670025510. 
  4. ^ Fagen, Donald (December 23, 2013). "Jean Shepherd, the man who told A Christmas Story". Retrieved February 11, 2014. 
  5. ^ Sweet, Steely Dan: Reelin' in the Years 8.
  6. ^ Sweet, Steely Dan: Reelin' in the Years 9.
  7. ^ Sweet, Steely Dan: Reelin' in the Years 10.
  8. ^ Fruchter, Rena. (2007). I'm Chevy Chase...and You're Not. Virgin Books.
  9. ^ Sweet, Steely Dan: Reelin' in the Years 12.
  10. ^ "Back to Annadale". December 26, 2012. Retrieved January 31, 2013. 
  11. ^ a b c d "Donald Fagen Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 9 June 2016. 
  12. ^ Erlewine, Stephen. "Donald Fagen Artist Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 June 2016. 
  13. ^ "Rosie Vela – Zazu Album". September 10, 2000. Retrieved January 31, 2013. 
  14. ^ 49th Annual GRAMMY Awards Winners List, retrieved May 7, 2008
  15. ^ "Great Performances: About the Program". PBS. Retrieved 9 June 2016. 
  16. ^ "Billboard Chart – Donald Fagen". Retrieved September 22, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Danish Chart – Donald Fagen". Retrieved October 28, 2011. 
  18. ^ "Dutch Charts – Donald Fagen". Retrieved September 22, 2011. 
  19. ^ "New Zealand Chart – Donald Fagen". Retrieved September 22, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Swedish Chart – Donald Fagen". Retrieved September 22, 2011. 
  21. ^ "UK Chart Company – Donald Fagen". Retrieved September 22, 2011. 
  22. ^ a b "Searchable Database". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved September 22, 2011.  Note: User must define 'Artist' search parameter as "Donald Fagen".
  23. ^ a b "Certified Awards Search". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved on September 22, 2011. Note: User needs to enter "Donald Fagen" in the "Search" field, "Artist" in the "Search by" field and click the "Go" button. Select "More info" next to the relevant entry to see full certification history.
  24. ^ "Donald Fagen to Release Sunken Condos, October 16 on Reprise Records". Broadcast Newsroom. Retrieved August 13, 2012. 
  25. ^ "Donald Fagen Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 10 June 2016. 
  26. ^ Berklee College of Music: Commencement 2001 – Photographs, retrieved October 15, 2007
  27. ^ Steely Dan in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
  28. ^ Donald Fagen added to ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame
  29. ^ Michener, Charles (Spring 2009). "In Theater and Politics, Alan Rosenberg Affirms the Lessons of His Undergraduate Years". art/sci by Case Western Reserve. Retrieved April 4, 2014.  art/sci misspells Fagen's name but identification is clear.
  30. ^ Dougherty, Steve. "Amy Helm Talks About Her Debut Solo Album, 'Didn't It Rain'". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 10 June 2016. 

External links