In 1971 in a Universe very far from here, noted arranger and my first mentor Jimmie Haskell called me about an audition. ABC Dunhill was looking for a lead singer for this new group, Jimmie was going to be arranging for—and he thought I might be a good fit. It seems Walter Becker and Donald Fagen had been signed to the publishing company as writers and they were going to do an LP, but ABC Dunhill didn’t think Donald Fagen had what it took to sing lead. What Jimmie didn’t tell me is that they had run an ad in the old Los Angeles Free Press, and had seen everyone in town—so by the time I got to them they were pretty frazzled.
I remember going to the old ABC Dunhill Office on Melrose—and going to a rehearsal room and meeting Walter, Donald, their drummer, and Skunk Baxter—and they asked me what I wanted to sing and I said Motown—well—they all loved Motown, so we did DANCING IN THE STREET and BACK IN MY ARMS AGAIN—it seemed to go well. Walter was a really sweet guy, Skunk Baxter played his ass off — and I was excited.
They gave me a 7” reel of some songs they were thinking of doing on their LP—the only one I can remember is PEARL OF THE QUARTER- asked me to learn them and to come back and see them. Well, I took them home with me—and to tell you the truth didn’t “get them”- but I remember my best friend at the time Myrna did—she loved the stuff -— and told me they were going to be huge (Smart Girl) -— I learned the 3 songs and the next week came back and sang it with the group—once again -– the band played great and I was getting to be pretty friendly with Walter and Skunk. Donald who was quiet and sort of was slinking next to the fender Rhodes—smoking cigarettes not saying much. The guys all had a vote to see if I made it into the band—and everybody raised their hand to let me in the group—everyone except for Donald Fagen. He said he needed to think about it.
Well, of course he should have been the lead singer—but that’s not what the label wanted. Of course I wound up not getting it. I did stay in touch with Walter Becker for a few years giving him updates on my career—and I sometimes think what would have happened with me- If I’d have become Dave Palmer (Who did sing some songs on their first LP inclduding Dirty Work) Would I have wound up a druggie, worn out at 26—but I do remember that they sure played good. Later on, I became a huge fan of their writing – and guess I just hadn’t caught up to their level of sophistication at 21!
Steely Dan – Pearl of the Quarter