Thursday, July 8, 2010

I'm Chevy Chase And You're Back in Annandale

I've read several books about the American television show Saturday Night Live (the Michaels-Ebersol show, not the Cosell-Arledge one, although I've also read a book that touched on the latter). Obviously Chevy Chase was a major figure in the SNL books that I read. Because of this, the books touched on Chase's previous career, including his National Lampoon work (e.g. "Lemmings") as well as the Groove Tube.

But it wasn't until I was reading one of Uncle John's bathroom readers that I discovered that Chase was at one point a member of Steely Dan.

Well, sort of. In the same way that Pete Shotton was a Beatle, Chevy Chase was a member of Steely Dan. You see, Chase was a member of a band that preceded Steely Dan. Specifically:

Donald Fagen meets Walter Becker at Bard College in Annandale-On Hudson, New York in 1967. Fagen, a piano player, hears someone playing blues guitar in a student lounge and decides he must introduce himself. He discovers Becker playing a red Epiphone guitar and finds that they share the same interests in music and ironic senses of humor. A partnership is born.

They form several college bands including "The Leather Canary" (which fellow Bard student Chevy Chase sat in with a couple of times) and "The Don Fagen Trio." Fagen and Becker also start to write songs together.

The band name Steely Dan wouldn't appear until several years later, on the west coast.

With Fagen on keyboards and vocals and Becker on bass, they decide to sign up guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and drummer Jim Hodder. With the core band recruited, Donald and Walter need a name for their group. Since both of them were avid readers of 1950's "Beat" literature, they decided to name the band "Steely Dan" after a dildo in William Burroughs' "Naked Lunch."

Chase stayed on the east coast and stayed involved in music ("Lemmings" was a musical), although he became better known for comedy. Jazz Times, however, sees a link between comedy and music:

Comics young and old swear by the magic of comedic timing, but Chevy takes it a step further by using a jazzman’s sense of timing in his comedy. An accomplished jazz pianist, he loves the improvisation and spontaneity essential in the best comedy and jazz.

But Chase's most famous musical moment is one in which he was not involved in the actual music being performed. He is the major person on-screen for a Paul Simon video - the second video to be created for "You Can Call Me Al." Wikipedia:

Paul Simon did not like the original music video that was made, which was a performance of the song Simon gave during the monologue when he hosted Saturday Night Live in the perspective of a video monitor. A replacement video was conceived partly by Lorne Michaels and directed by Gary Weis, wherein Chevy Chase lip-synced all of Simon's vocals in an upbeat presentation, with gestures punctuating the lyrics. Simon wore a bored expression throughout the piece, while also lugging instruments into view (such as conga drums) to sync them with the audio track at the appropriate moments. The only time he sings was to provide the lower-pitched harmony on the phrases "If you'll be my bodyguard" and "I can call you Betty" in the chorus.
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