Steely Dan Sunday, "Razor Boy" (1973)

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*** STEELY DAN SUNDAY INDEX ***

Walter Becker once called himself as a “B+” guitarist. I’m not entirely sure about that, but as a bassist, I’d rate him at least an A minus. Nonetheless, Becker had a history of making way for another bassist to play on a Steely Dan tune if he thought if that person was the better man for the job. “Razor Boy” was the first such track where Becker bowed out. There’s no need to explain why, beyond simply stating the name of the man who took his spot for this song: Ray Brown.

Yes, that Ray Brown, a top three all-time jazz double-bassist, who had played for Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, and for many years, Oscar Peterson, and once married to Ella Fitzgerald. He’s arguably had more session dates than any other jazz musician in recording history, but his appearance on a Steely Dan song is still an eyebrow raiser, since Steely Dan was never truly jazz, and especially so before Aja. But here he is, plucking away right after the rambunctious, rockin’ “Bodhisattva” on Countdown To Ecstasy.

“Razor Boy,” though, is very jazzy, and Victor’s Feldman’s vibraphone has a lot to do with that, even more so than Brown’s acoustic bass. But in the midst of the song is also a very un-jazzy pedal steel, courtesy of who else but Jeff Baxter. This weird amalgamation of instruments within what we call a rock band manages to come together nicely anyway, because these guys are real professionals. It’s been reported that this is Baxter’s favorite Steely Dan song, and the vibes/pedal steel combination makes it one of the more unusual ones despite the composition itself really being more of a folk tune in structure than either jazz or country. But I like it, too.

This wasn’t the first time a jazz legend (or two) was asked to contribute on a Steely Dan recording, as both Becker and Donald Fagan grew up being jazz nerds. Bringing in a guy of Brown’s stature showed us two things: they knew who to call, and by their second album, they already had to the cachet to reel in these kind of guys into the studio.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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