Walter Becker and Donald Fagen despised all aspects of the road and live performances in the ’70s: the rock touring scene, venue acoustics, inconsistent performances, serpentine logistics, getting paid, etc. Fagen enjoyed recording Countdown to Ecstasy as a band, but preferred recording with session players. Thus, road warriors Jim Hodder and Skunk Baxter were dispensed with and they hunkered down instead with a core made up of two very young studio talents who had climbed aboard the 1974 tour — Jeff Porcaro and Michael McDonald — and crack studio musicians Chuck Rainey on bass (anchor of the Pretzel Logic sessions) and Michael Omartian.
Omartian also served to transcribe the charts for musicians from tapes, demos, and lead sheets. So, the core band went into the studio and began to practice and lay down the basic tracks, sometimes with Fagen or David Paich (Boz Scaggs session guy and future co-founder of Toto) might be found on second keyboard. Vocals or backing vocals or synthesizer or guitar solo by the faithful Denny Dias or gun for hire might be overdubbed, but there was far less layering in the Katy Lied sessions than there would be on Royal Scam or Gaucho.
The idea was to emphasize the live playing and interaction between the stellar musicians that were the heart of the album. The finest German microphones, careful mic placement, high EQ, acoustic piano, and fewer frills than Pretzel Logic were part of a plan for Roger Nichols and the production team to bring a taste of Blue Note to a rock-jazz-pop band recording, and things went brilliantly in creating a truly crystalline, professional recording.
With master tape and masterpiece in hand, there was one fateful decision: to use a novel DBX noise reduction system to rid this beauty of that nasty tape hiss during the mixing process. After the procedure, the recordings sounded surprisingly dull and lifeless. Repeated resuscitation left us with something usable, but really, Katy Lied was released in a zombie state. The 1999 remaster CD is probably our most vital version, but I still tweak up the treble. The high frequency end of the recording was crippled, and with it the communication between Porcaro and the rest of the band muted.
That brings us to a particular Katy Lied outtake, an instrumental recording of the core band practicing and laying down an initial track for “Your Gold Teeth II.” Here was the final lineup on the recording:
Drums: Jeff Porcaro
Bass: Chuck Rainey
Guitar: Denny Dias (solo)
Guitar accents: Walter Becker I think, possibly Hugh McCracken?
Bosendorfer Piano: Michael Omartian
Synthesizer: Donald Fagen
Backing vocals: Donald Fagen
In this remarkably HQ outtake, the core of Porcaro, Rainey, and Omartian or Fagen on electric piano lay down some serious bizness. The purpose today is not to review the song or recording (done so previously and elegantly by our host in the SDS canon), but to provide perspective on what could have been. Most fans and critics would probably rate Katy Lied in their top 3 or 4 Steely Dan albums, a few of us at or near the top. In its intended state, perhaps this eagle soars above the rest.
The intro to “Your Gold Teeth II” was a short instrumental from the Pretzel Logic tour, which is recapitulated underneath what would be Dias’ remarkable bop guitar solo. What jumps out immediately in the outtake is Jeff Porcaro, 21 and full of vinegar. He attacks the ¾ time and tricky signature changes (3/4, 6/4 3/8/, 8/9), kind of Steely Dan’s version of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out with aplomb and dexterity.
Jeff’s a guy that could lay down some serious dirty R&B groove (e.g., Boz’s Lowdown) or fill or both. It’s what Jeff can do between the beats that is really special, while still moving the tune along at a steady pace. If you were not a Jeff Porcaro fan before, this outtake is sure to swing your mind his way. Secondly, Rainey’s intro counter-melody is revealed in all its glory. This kicker is really the interaction, the conversation between Rainey and Porcaro. Yes, it’s real and it’s spectacular! The thing really starts to swing underneath what would be Dias guitar solo. Electric Piano, bass, and guitar and a rhythm nation in sync and harmony – masterful.
As that section moves along, Jeff’s drumming is featured (2:22-2:52) and reveals why he remains a favorite of fans among the litany of session drummers Donald and Walter used over the many years. Without the cloud of the noise reduction fiasco, this “Your Gold Teeth II” outtake best illustrates what Steely Dan Naked was truly like.
Better than the real thing?
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