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How Steely Dan Nearly Went Insane for One Guitar Solo

Steely Dan blew through thousands of dollars—and as many as eight guitar players—just to nail down one solo. This is the inside story of the hit song "Peg."
Steely Dan's masterful 1977 album 'Aja' was released 40 years ago. Walter Becker, the band's cofounder, died earlier this month at the age of 67.
Steely Dan

As the seventies wore on, the core members of Steely Dan—Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who died this month at 67—became as well-known for their studio perfectionism as they were for their songs. The band recorded take after take after take, and relied on a revolving door of top musicians who would be replaced if the band wasn’t pleased with the sound. It was an odd, neurotic approach that turned the creative pair into musical auteurs of sorts, but made finishing a record nearly impossible. With 1977's Aja, though, it resulted in a remarkable distillation of the band's ornate jazz-pop vision.

Dan fans pore over individual solos the way religious scholars study scripture. This is the inside story of Steely Dan’s relentless quest for one legendary guitar solo. The song in question was “Peg,” which appeared on the massive-selling Aja album 40 years ago this week. (These firsthand accounts were provided to Newsweek in the form of phone or email interviews, with the exception of the quotes from Fagen, which are attributed to author Don Breithaupt’s well-researched book about Aja.)

Elliot Scheiner (engineer, worked on Aja): Every track, every overdub, had to be the perfect overdub. They didn’t settle for anything. They were always looking for the perfect.

Having the money, and

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