Steely Dan’s Original ABC/Dunhill Reissue Notes, Part 4: Katy Lied

Reprinted–nay, stolen from the band’s website whole cloth, out of fear it will be taken down there. (Hopefully they won’t force it to be taken down here. This is Dan Fan gold.)

In the 90s, Andy Mckay of ABC/Dunhill Records asked Donald and Walter if they’d write liner notes for a reissue of the their Dunhill albums. The notes appeared in sequence on each album as it was released. They are now collected here: 

THE ORIGINAL ABC/DUNHILL REISSUE NOTES by Walter Becker & Donald Fagen

KATY LIED 

“I’ve got urgent business in the south.” – Michael Caine in “The Man Who Would Be King” 

What to call this latest installment in the saga? “Too Little, Too Late”? “The Agonizing Reappraisal”? “Almost Good”? “And Then There Were Three”? “The Rape of the Domini”? (Forget it, we’re saving that one for later.) In any case, by the end of 1974 we had learned a number of important life lessons, to wit:

1. There is indeed no business like show business. 

2. Background singers, when on the road and deciding whom to fuck first, will usually start with the roadies and gradually move up from there, with- out necessarily ever getting to the stewards of the actual intellectual property upon which the success of the venture depends. 

3. Valium – one blue equals two yellows equals five whites. The purple ones are for veterinary use only. 

4. When in London, don’t neglect to visit a certain Harley Street specialist, Dr. Bell. 

5. Powerful antibiotics should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. 

6. Against all odds, an inebriated teamster may be the most excellent and inspiring of M.C.’s. 

7. Two drummers are much better than one, sometimes. 

8. Men are beasts. 

9. “Night is always a giant.” V. Nabokov 

Which is why, by summer of that self-same year, we found ourselves still in Los Angeles with (once again) no band, no manager, no plans to tour, no money and possibly some irreversible brain damage. 

Even a cursory re-reading of the previous paragraphs convinces the authors that they have raised more questions than they have answered. For example: 

1. What happened to the band? When we came off the road after the long, grueling Pretzel Logic tour – penniless, infirm, disillusioned, – we had come to the conclusion that we were not suited by temperament or constitution to the rigors of long road trips in the company of superannuated prep school hooligans, especially if the goal of said trips – crisp and stirring recitals of the latest cutting-edge jazz-pop ditties for appreciative audiences in near-ideal acoustical environments – was impossible to achieve. We knew that we had to bail on the whole, messed-up tour business. Whereas certain of our bandmates had come to a very different and completely incompatible conclusion, namely, that we should get back out on the road as soon as possible and stay there until our dicks turned green and fell off. So it was with some regret that we concluded that a parting of the ways was inevitable, and resolved to clean house and say our buh-byes. In the words of that Robert Heinlein, “There’s no time like the future to get things done.” 

2. What happened to the manager? A band with no plans to tour, now or ever, has no need of a manager. ‘Nuff said. 

3. What happened to the money? Nope, no money for the lads as yet. But we still had some pretty good things – producer/cheerleader Gary Katz, guitarist Denny Dias, increasingly suspicious girlfriends, and the benediction of ABC/Dunhill president Jay Lasker. Although somewhat skeptical that our careers would survive now that we were no longer a touring band, Mr. Lasker was still in the marketplace and desperate to hawk vinyl; that is, we still had a record deal and a new budget, at least for the time being. 

Did we mention that we were now in possession of wheels and driver’s licenses? Maybe so. Each afternoon, we’d drive from our rented homes. now in snoozy Studio City, and drive down Ventura Boulevard past Universal City and across Laurel Canyon to the ABC/Dunhill building on Beverly Boulevard. Once in our little vault-like room (leather couch, cheap upright piano, standing lamp), we worked away on our sad little tunes. 

When we needed a break, we could always go upstairs to the second floor and make trunk calls on Dennis Lavinthal’s WATS line. Dennis was the head of the promotion department and very supportive of our work. When we first played him the Pretzel Logic album, he put his face really close to ours and said, “Guys… Not liked…Not liked… LOVED”! 

Occasionally, we’d hang on the third floor where the executive offices were, and sit for a spell in Marv Helfer’s big leather chairs. If we were inclined to investigate in any way the workstations of the beautiful, nubile secretaries whom we worshipped from afar, we wouldn’t tell you about it anyway, especially now. Even the incredible discovery we made one night while rifling Judy’s bottom desk drawer – even that, we are saving for another occasion. 

The other third floor discovery, no less incredible, was that Lee Young – that’s Lester Young’s fucking brother – had his own office there. His office was a mellow hang: We wanted tales of jazz glory, Mr. Young obliged. 

In the last days of our ‘70s touring band, we had finally put together a group that, on one or two magical evenings, may have sounded almost good. The band now featured the considerable talents of drummer Jeff Porcaro, percussionist Royce Jones and keyboardist/vocalist Mike McDonald. Young prodigy Jeff Porcaro was already a veteran of the Sonny And Cher Show studio band. In fact, on the very first tracking date for the new album, he arrived hours late and somewhat the worse for wear after having spent the night partying with Cher and her sister at their posh Malibu digs. Jeff also brought in Mike McDonald, soon to be elevated to superstardom as Michael “White Lightning” McDonald. 

What can we say about those long-ago sessions that has not been previously said or else rejected as unworthy of mention? Here is what we know for sure: 

1. Because Jeff was late and because he had slightly injured his hand the night before, no recording was done on the first scheduled tracking day. 

2. That evening, New Yorkers Chuck Rainey and Hugh McCracken went bowling. 

3. We had tricked out a room at the ABC/Dunhill studio with our splendid double Magneplanar monitor system, and a newly acquired, fabulously expensive set of Audio Research D-76 tube power amps. The studio also featured a brand new Bosendorfer piano and a closetful of exotic audio processors, e.g., a Cooper Time Cube. You should have been there. 

4. Denny arrived at the tracking session and made the announcement that his girlfriend Dolores was back in town, and that they were both craving some authentic New York style “frenchy fries”. 

5. What about maintenance man Bob “Love Machine” DeAvila, wielder of the mobile Real Time Analysis unit, with which we used to sweep the control room clean of real or imagined sonic cooties on a thrice-monthly basis – did that guy think we were nuts, or what? 

O, the things we’ve seen and heard! Perhaps not attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion or C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate, but we did see an Arp synthesizer burning in the courtyard of a West Hollywood schlock factory; we heard the thunder of Roger’s new DeTomaso Pantera idling beneath the echo chambers of Studio B; and were presented with the humongous room-service bill from the Beverly Wilshire hotel, reflecting the cost of the joyful reunion of Mr. Phil Woods and 200 of his closest L.A. jazzer buddies; and we got to experiment with the amazing DBX noise reduction unit that worked like a dream until you tried to retrieve the recorded content. All things considered, the Katy Lied experience poses, we believe, nothing so much as the musical analog of Richard Burton’s strangled query in the sword and sandal epic, The Robe: “Were you… OUT THERE!?” Yes, Richard, we were. 

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