Steely Dan “Deacon Blues” (1977)

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan

This is a great song, and like most great songs, it’s exceptional for many reasons. I love the easy feel throughout, right from the opening 12-seconds of 10 jazz-inflected, matching guitar and piano chords. I love Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s typically convoluted, largely indecipherable Steely Dan lyrics – is it about a loser’s mid-life crisis, a jazz musician’s lament, a college football rivalry between Alabama and Wake Forest, former NFL “fearsome foursome” lineman Deacon Jones? I love the two remarkable sax solos, first from 4:02 – 4:51, then again through the outro from 6:38 to the fade-out – which were played by Pete Christlieb, the saxophonist from Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band, who Fagen & Becker had no knowledge of or connection to whatsoever but tracked down to play on the song based strictly on the sound of the tenor sax that was heard when the Tonight Show was going in and out of commercials.

But mostly, I just love the idea of someone trying to make up and choose their own nickname, as the narrator of this tune famously does: “They got a name for the winners in the world / I want a name when I lose / They call Alabama the Crimson Tide / Call me Deacon Blues.” Over the years, my friend Kenny D. has often tried this self-determination tactic. Though he does not have light-colored hair (or, at this point, any hair), he once declared his new name to be “Whitey”, and has at other times also attempted “Julius”, “Alejandro”, “Lefty”, “Dr. LargeHands” and “Shrimpski”, and is reputedly testing out the waters for “Wavy Davy.” It’s exceedingly tough to get those to stick; maybe he needs to write a song.


4 thoughts on “Steely Dan “Deacon Blues” (1977)

  1. Haha. Very cool fact about the sax player on Carson. And, BTW, Jules, Julius, Largehands, Doc, and Shrimpsky have all stuck. Wavy Davy, Davis, and El Handro Rey are all waiting in the wings.

  2. I can vouch for Dr Largehand’s lack of hair and that he saw this band last year in NYC. This group is far from my favorite pop band but this is probably their best song. Shove it!

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