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Steely Dan

Unsung heroes of L.A. rock steppin' out

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Quiet as it's kept, quintessential Noo Yawk, cerebral, cynical "rock" band Steely Dan once did time in the Los Angeles canyon rock scene. Bandleaders Walter Becker and Donald Fagen once served as ABC staff songwriters, hired by their future producer Gary Katz in the early 1970s. Another key secret about this renowned duo named after a dildo in William Burroughs' Naked Lunch: conservative, rock-phobic blackfolks love 'em.

There's proof in my own family: my mother always claimed her favorite rock song was the Dan's "Hey Nineteen"; my twin sister, who loathes rock and finds Gram Parsons "very strange," consistently evinces nostalgia for the vinyl release of Steely Dan Gold. She's even excited about the prospect of the group coming to Charlotte in company with the only yacht rocker truly adopted by us'n: Michael McDonald.

Of course, Fagen and Becker's most famous Negro fanatic may be Virginia native/megastar Pharrell of the Neptunes, N.E.R.D. and millions of hip-hop hooks fame (in da hood, jury's still out on Phoebe Snow). Pharrell's solo debut, In My Mind (StarTrak), has dropped and doesn't challenge the bling status quo. But his previous N.E.R.D. releases and better work with Justin Timberlake and Kelis have all born the trademarks of his reconciliation of Steely Dan with Quincy Jones-era Michael Jackson.

Early Dan hits like "Reelin' in the Years," where its ace boon guitarist/Doobie Brother Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter's solos are prominent in the mix, certainly hew close to the twangy electric grooves of vintage LA rock. However, the duo, augmented by a host of elite '70s session players and such Cali clique lights as singer Venetta Fields, are best known for what became known as fuzak. Some cannot stand the clean, clinical nature of their recordings -- and they have a point. But if you dig Dan classics like "Babylon Sisters," "Kid Charlemagne" and "Peg," then hit this.

Steely Dan and Michael McDonald play Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on Aug. 12, at 7:30pm; $45-$85, lawn $25; www.steelydan.com.

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