Steely Dan – Deacon Blues (1977)

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“Deacon Blues” is a song written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen in 1976 and recorded by their group Steely Dan on their 1977 album Aja. It peaked at No.19 in the Billboard charts. The song was largely written at Fagen’s house in Malibu and was prompted by his observation that “… if a college football team like the University of Alabama could have a grandiose name like the “Crimson Tide” the nerds and losers should be entitled to a grandiose name as well.” The song’s protagonist has been described by Fagen as “autobiographical’ in that it reflected the dreams of both Fagen and Becker about becoming jazz musicians while they were living in the suburbs. Characterized as a “loser” by Fagen, the song’s subject was meant to reflect “… a broken dream of a broken man living a broken life.” The name “Deacon” was influenced by Deacon Jones, a professional football player who played for the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams.

“They told me to play what I felt. Hey, I’m a jazz musician, that’s what I do … so I recorded my first solo … we listened back and they said it was great. I recorded a second take and that’s the one they used. I was gone in a half hour. The next thing I know I’m hearing myself in every airport bathroom in the world.” – Pete Christlieb

“Deacon Blues” was recorded at Village Recorders in West Los Angeles. Jazz guitarist Larry Carlton used Fagen’s demos to transcribe the chords into a rhythm section which featured Carlton’s guitar on the song’s opening. Saxophonist Tom Scott wrote the horn arrangements for not only “Deacon Blues” but for all of the songs on Aja, a task that he completed in less than two weeks. After the song was recorded Becker and Fagen decided to add a saxophone solo and asked their producer, Gary Katz, to arrange for Pete Christlieb to record the solo. At the time, neither Becker nor Fagen knew Christlieb by name, only by his reputation as a musician on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Christlieb went to the studio and recorded the solo after taping the show one evening.

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