There might not be a sunnier, snappier tune from Steely Dan than “Peg” and that’s undoubtably helped to propel the single to #11 on the Hot 100 charts, but anytime the band sounds buoyant, there’s something skeevy lurking behind that bright curtain. In this case, the aspiring actress/model that’s the topic of the song is most likely embarking on a career of pornography.
Other Steely Dan hallmarks are also present on this song, like the Michael McDonald backing vocals, a crisp, happy rhythm, this time by Rick Marotta and, yes, another iconic guitar solo. There’s that famous story behind this song where Becker and Fagen auditioned six or seven guitarists just for that solo, with each recording their entry over the basic track, and the champ got to spend another six hours perfecting his rough draft.
Jay Graydon was the winner of that sweepstakes, one whose roster of participants was never made public, but it’s a fair guess that it included many the studio guitar all-stars of the time, including Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour. Becker and Fagen weren’t looking for the best guitarist, just the best one that day for that song, and there’s a good argument that they did. Graydon’s entry begins, as described by Becker, in a sort of Hawaiian slide before settling into funky single line note runs that speeds up past the beat then slows down behind it. In short, imaginative, precise and unforgettable.
Graydon didn’t parlay his Steely Dan Moment into a notable career making fusion guitar records like Larry or Lee did, but he did become a successful producer in the 80s working on hit albums by George Benson, Al Jarreau and The Manhattan Transfer, among others. Not much has been heard from him since then, but a legacy long ago established as a composer, arranger, session guitarist, engineer and producer assured him a respectable place in pop music history. And even if it didn’t, the six hours he spent working on that solo for “Peg” is probably enough.