Howard Rodman first met Becker when they were just ten years old.
“It took Walter Becker to look out at this suburban landscape of postwar six-story housing and recognize it for what it was,” he said. “Not a bedroom community, not a bridge or tunnel or E train away from Manhattan, but something grand and glorious in and of itself: Forest Hills.”
Walter Carl Becker was the guitarist, bassist, and co-songwriter of the jazz-rock band Steely Dan. In 1967, he befriended Donald Fagen, the band’s lead singer, and their first album Can’t Buy A Thrill was released in 1972.
Two Against Nature won the band four Grammys in 2001, and Becker and Fagen are Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees. Well-known hits include “Do It Again,” “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and “Deacon Blues.”
At the street renaming, Q104.3 radio host Jim Kerr asked fans trivia questions and handed out Steely Dan-related prizes for correct answers.
“What song on Circus Money did Walter sing to a woman who was gone, perhaps even on a distant star?” Kerr asked attendees.
Fan Lisa from Bristol correctly guessed “Paging Audrey” and won the chart used by the tracking band when they recorded the song.
“For many years, Becker used guitars and basses made by his favorite luthier,” he also asked. “What was Becker’s favorite make of guitar and bass?”
Another fan correctly guessed LIC-based Sadowsky, and won a guitar strap used by Becker and some “very rare guitar picks.”
One of the speakers, Matt Kerns, is co-creator of the database of Becker’s famous “Hey 19 Raps.”
“When I was first asked if I would speak, my instinct was to say no,” he said. “It’s hard to say something about someone who so often expressed things better than anyone else. When Walter passed away on September 7 of last year, music magazines rushed on Walter as the silent partner of Steely Dan. Anyone who knew him to any degree knows that Walter Becker was anything but silent.
“He was literate without being pretentious, sophisticated with a splash of sophomoric humor,” Kerns continued. “Walter inherently knew that if he didn’t try to write songs for everyone, he could write music that reached someone.”
“Walter is such a champion in my eyes, he took me under his wing and really showed me that I can relax in the person that I am to sing live” said singer Cindy Mizelle. “It’s so cool to take a walk down Walter Becker Way.”
In recent years, Orick Salazar served as Becker’s guitar tech.
“Walter was more than just a musical genius,” he said. “He was very smart and an amazing human being that helped a lot of people. I am very grateful for his advice.”
Attendee Ben Larah of Balfour has been a Steely Dan fan since he was 15.
“Their music sounded so different than anything I heard before,” he said. “An amazing blend of jazz, blues, pop and rock, with a focus on virtuosic musicianship and clever lyrics. Walter Becker apparently had a lifelong fondness and pride for Forest Hills, so having his old street corner named after him is a fitting honor.”
Darren Hirst traveled from London to attend the ceremony, and ended up winning Becker’s leather jacket. The music of Steely Dan has been the soundtrack to his life.
“Their sardonic and skeptical take on modern society coupled with a cool jazz vibe leaves few who can be legitimately compared to their composing and performance skill,” he said. “I have always found their lyrics intellectually challenging and the musical rhythms and composition so innovative.”
Laura Tommaso made the trek from Italy.
“Don and Walt brought the passion for jazz, psychedelic music, Bob Dylan, and Ray Charles into a unique music outfit called Steely Dan, and there was nothing like it before or after,” she said. “What made him memorable was being himself.”
Some fans hope to see more recognition of Becker's roots in Forest Hills throughout the neighborhood.
“At Halsey JHS 157 he was valedictorian, and we would play music at his grandma’s home across from Yellowstone Park,” recalled Middle Village resident Ira Nagel. “I remember his horn-rimmed glasses and Squire briefcase. Maybe we can recognize him at Halsey with a plaque, ceremony, and a musical tribute?”