I’ve heard a lot of different Steely Dan covers over the years. The Minutemen covering “Dr. Wu”, Wilco covering “Any Major Dude Will Tell You”, and even Zombi covering “Green Earrings”. All of those covers were great in their own special way, either for making the song their own or for sticking to the original so well. Well, I can add Bill Callahan and Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s cover of Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” to the list.
I’m not a huge follower of either, though I have a lot of respect for both. I love Billy’s Superwolf album with Matt Sweeney, and I love Callahan’s simple delivery and subtle songwriting. Covering one of Steely Dan’s most revered songs from one of their most revered albums(Aja) is not something I thought I’d ever hear, but this was the nice surprise my Tuesday morning needed.
There’s a real jazzy quality in this acoustic rendition, and the lead guitar work of Bill Mackay only adds to the dusty, mysterious nature of the track. A real coming together of folk and jazz worlds, but stylistically this feels more in line with a version someone like Charlie Byrd or Gábor Szabó would’ve given us, as opposed to someone in the folk music world.
Callahan and Billy have been covering various artists as of late, with Cat Stevens, Hank Williams Jr, Dave Rich, and Billie Eilish being artists covered. Steely Dan is the latest, and one I’m rather excited about.
I feel that slowly, the world is coming around to Steely Dan. There’s always been diehards, and typically they’re men in their late 60s that grew up on the Dan as teens. They heard “Reelin’ In The Years” the first time they got high, or “Pearl of the Quarter” the first time a girl locked lips with them at a school dance after party. Or maybe they’re just of the intellectual type and dug the beatniks and the Dan was their gateway into hard bop.
Either way, the fan base might not be huge, but it’s very loyal. It took me to my 20s before Steely Dan locked into my brain. Since then they’ve remained one of my favorite bands. I love the technical aspect of the music, the serious grooves, and the sci fi/dark humor referenced in their songs. I love that Fagen and Becker were just two music school dorks from Long Island that somehow transformed into these shadowy, dark princes of intellectual jazz rock. Apparently, Bill Callahan and Bonnie “Prince” Billy love these things as well.
Listen to and buy their cover below.