Walter Becker’s estate responds to lawsuit from Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen

The lawsuit comes as the two parties battle for ownership of the Steely Dan name following Becker's passing in September

Walter Becker’s estate has issued a response following a lawsuit from former bandmate Donald Fagen over the ownership of the Steely Dan name.

Becker passed away in September at the age of 67. He formed Steely Dan with Fagen after the pair moved to California in the early 1970s, with the band releasing their debut album ‘Can’t Buy A Thrill’ in 1972. Fagen paid tribute to Becker after his passing, writing: “He was smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny.”

Fagen filed a lawsuit against Becker’s estate over ownership of their band’s name last week. The complaint focuses on a buy/sell agreement that was signed by Steely Dan’s members in 1972 which allegedly stated that whenever a member of the band either leaves or dies, the rest of the band purchase that member’s shares in the group.

With Becker and Fagen being the last remaining shareholders in the past few years, Fagen has now claimed that, four days after Becker’s death, Becker’s estate sent a letter to the frontman claiming that the 1972 agreement “is of no force or effect”. The estate is also allegedly attempting to give 50% ownership of Steely Dan to Becker’s widow, Delia Becker.

Fagen, who is also claiming that Becker’s estate have been operating Steely Dan’s website and refuse to share access, is seeking upwards of $1 million in damages, as well as a declaratory judgment that the buy/sell agreement is valid. Should that judgement go through, Fagen would become the sole owner of the Steely Dan name and all of the rights that are associated with it.

Fagen is also suing the band’s business management firm Nigro, Karlin, Segal, Feldstein & Bolno, claiming that they’ve withheld accounting records.

Walter Becker Steely Dan

Steely Dan’s Walter Becker

Becker’s estate has since responded, refuting Fagen’s claim that it sent a letter four days after Becker’s death. Instead, the estate says that Fagen himself sent a demand letter a day after Becker’s death. Read the statement in full beneath.

“We were disappointed to learn that Donald Fagen commenced a lawsuit against (the estate of) Walter Becker, his partner of 50 years, on the eve of Thanksgiving. We believe the agreement to which Mr. Fagen refers in his suit — drafted 45 years ago— was not in effect at the time of Walter’s death.

Mr. Fagen’s lawsuit, riddled with half-truths and omissions, misleadingly fails to state that the day after Walter died, Mr. Fagen had his lawyer send a demand letter to Walter’s estate, thus beginning a legal campaign against Walter’s family immediately after his death. The misrepresentation that his widow, Ms. Cioffi initiated any litigious action is simply untrue. In our view, Mr. Fagen is unfairly trying to deprive Walter’s family of the fruits of their joint labors.

Since Walter’s passing, we have endeavored to achieve a compromise with Mr. Fagen. We were close to a resolution with his longtime counsel who he suddenly fired. We then negotiated in good faith with replacement counsel who Mr. Fagen also fired.”

Late last month, Steely Dan played their first UK show since Becker’s passing. A symbolic empty mic stand sat in the middle of the stage for the duration of the show in tribute to the late musician.