Steely Dan is one of the original purveyors of the current “Yacht Rock” bands and arguably one of the best-known bands to be active over the last 50 years. Their songs were staples on prog rock FM stations across the country, and various hit singles were on the heavy rotation playlists of most AM stations as well.
Like famous songwriting duos Lennon/McCartney and Elton John/Bernie Taupin, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen achieved songwriting fame by writing well-crafted songs with elements of humor, snark, and melodies with hooks that became timeless. Other musicians have sampled their most tasty hooks, and their in-the-pocket bass and drum grooves have been emulated by many. A prime example is “Deja Vu/Uptown Baby” by Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz.
Steely Dan’s catchy rock and jazz-influenced song catalog has stood the test of time, as many generations of baby boomers continue to attend their concerts today along with their children and grandchildren, who have also become rabid fans.
The legacy of Steely Dan albums is a rich one indeed, and it takes a lot of practice, polish, stage presence, and commitment to reproduce their body of music within the scope of a cover band. To that end, we have ranked the best tribute bands to the music of Steely Dan so you can select the best live music experience.
Evaluating and Selecting a Great Steely Dan Cover Band
When evaluating what makes for the very best Steely Dan tributes, we looked at the bands in our countdown using the following criteria:
Faithfulness: How much do they sound like the record? Are the guitar and brass solos played faithfully note for note? When they perform, are they well-rehearsed? Do they make it look easy? Are they relaxed when they perform, or do they look tense and uptight?
Musicianship: A really good lead guitarist is a must. If they have really great jazz chops, they will perform the requisite guitar solos faithfully to what you hear on the original record. The same goes for the bass player and drummer. There are very intricate parts and solos, and the original players here played “in the pocket” and were always considered the “backbone” to every Steely Dan song. If the band has a horn section, they get extra points, as some bands cheap out and use a synthesizer or lyricon on the horn parts. It’s just not the same without a saxophone, trombone, and trumpet.
Production Quality: Are their amp and PA systems dialed in correctly? Is the set-up too loud or has too much distortion? Is the bottom end (bass) calibrated with the upper sound frequencies? Can you hear the vocals clearly over the instruments?
Setlist: Playing all of the hits is a good thing, but selected songs from Donald and Walter’s solo albums is also a bonus and shows commitment to their collective musical catalog.
Without further ado, here is the PTB ranking for the very best Steely Dan Tribute Bands.
1. Aja Vu
Our pick for the best Steely Dan tribute band is Aja Vu, a San Francisco Bay Area-based Steely Dan tribute band that has been performing since 2002. The band comprises seasoned musicians who have played with notable artists like Tower of Power and the Doobie Brothers. They are known for their authentic renditions of Steely Dan’s music, capturing the sophisticated harmonies and rock, jazz-infused sound that the original band is famous for.
Aja Vu is a two-time winner of the KFOX Best SF Bay Area Cover Band based on Listener Polls and live competitions held in the studio with local area celebrity musicians on the judging panel. Steely Dan Members Walter Becker and Michael McDonald have called into KFOX praising Aja Vu as well. Frontman and musical director/Lead Guitarist Ron Jamison is a well-respected Jazz Guitar instructor by day and channels Larry Carlton and Walter Becker at evening and weekend Aja Vu concerts. They are kept busy year-round with corporate events and bookings at small and medium-sized clubs and venues.
Ron usually plays a Fender Telecaster or Gibson SG and plays all of the Steely Dan solos note for note. Whether it’s blistering lead licks on Reelin’ in the Years, the lead guitar showcased in Kid Charlemagne, or the iconic opening lead guitar notes mixed with distorted chords and sinuous string bends on Don’t Take Me Alive, Aja Vu is a masterclass on approaching perfection with a Steely Dan cover band.
2. The Steely Damned
Formed in 1992, this Steely Dan tribute band boasts decades of experience and has consistently refined its roster of musicians. Led by the San Diego-based Hank Easton, an exceptionally skilled jazz guitarist, the group has maintained a high standard of musicianship and showmanship since its inception. Highly regarded in the San Diego area, their performances never fail to captivate audiences. The ensemble excels in delivering both Steely Dan’s hit songs and lesser-known tracks from B-sides or Becker and Fagen’s solo albums.
Mr. Easton, also the music director, wields an Epiphone hollow-body electric guitar as his instrument of choice. This allows him to effortlessly transition between lead guitar tones in iconic Steely Dan songs like “Peg,” “Don’t Take Me Alive,” and “Do It Again.” Every member of the band contributes significantly, and this collective effort is evident in each performance. Managing a horn section in harmony with the lead, rhythm, and percussion elements is a complex endeavor, yet the band has successfully achieved this year after year.
Attend one of their concerts, close your eyes, and you’ll believe you’re listening to the original Steely Dan touring band. Yes, they are that exceptional!
3. Brooklyn Charmers
It takes a lot of hutzpah to form a Steely Dan tribute band relatively late in the game. For Colin Peterik, a gifted and local Chicago native it was almost predestined for him to forge a professional career with the Brooklyn Charmers, arguably one of the most professional and polished Steely Dan tribute bands. Colin’s Father Jim Peterik who is a local Chicago musical legend was the founder of the rock group Survivor (Eye of the Tiger) and the lead guitarist of the rock band Ides of March (Vehicle). What really sets them apart from the other SD cover bands is the consistent production quality of their YouTube videos as well as their in-studio and live stage performances.
Having the luxury of not one but three stellar lead and rhythm guitar players. Founded in 2021, the Charmers quickly made up for lost time and steadily churned out the complete catalog of Steely Dan songs that are completely faithful to the original SD album productions. Guitarists Sean Briskey and Frnakie Lightning channel the best SD guitarists whenever they perform. Forming the band later had its advantages as they were able to closely study and assess the current crop of SD tribute bands and build upon their success with enthusiasm, musicianship and the original SD vibe.
They have built a loyal and avid fan base in Chicagoland, and their social media presence has dominated that market. They have a full performance calendar year-round, and they appear at first-rate venues with mostly sell-out audiences. They deserve a solid number three ranking for their hard work and will move up the list in no time. Their Focus, Hard work and dedication are paying off for this young SD tribute band. Check them out live. You will not be disappointed.
4. Steely Dane
Steely Dane, which bills itself as the ultimate Steely Dan tribute band, comprises 14 of Dane County’s most accomplished musicians. United by their passion for the Steely Dan and Donald Fagen songbook, the band is committed to delivering not only faithful renditions of these classic tunes but also an electrifying live-show experience.
Their setlists feature a mix of hits, deep cuts, and occasionally entire albums, all designed to get audiences on their feet and singing along. The band’s interpretations of Steely Dan’s hits are meticulously crafted, complete with musical nuances that enrich the original compositions. Their performances are both lively and spirited, earning them a well-deserved place on this list, as attested by consistently positive reviews from concert attendees.
5. Hey Nineteen
Hey Nineteen is an 11-piece band “recognized” (we love when bands say that!) as the most authentic-sounding Steely Dan tribute worldwide. Based in New England, the band tours the East Coast of the USA, amazing audiences with their ability to reproduce the Steely Dan sound accurately and include a high-energy show.
Comprised of top professional musicians, Hey Nineteen brings the big hits and the deep cuts, from ‘Do It Again’ to ‘Your Gold Teeth II’, from ‘Reelin’ in the Years’ to “Doctor Wu” and “Peg” and many more. In getting the SD sound right, Hey Nineteen employs a muscular horn section that adds to the excitement of their most popular songs. Add a groovin’ bass player and drummer, and you have a killer rhythm section that adds excitement to each performance.
The East Coast coterie of SD fans is a tough crowd to please but Hey Nineteen does not disappoint and delivers the goods every time.
6. Pretzel Logic
Pretzel Logic is a premier band recreating the sophisticated music of Steely Dan with masterful detail and precision. Combining the genres of rhythm and blues, rock, and jazz, with signature guitars, smooth vocals, and jazz-inspired horns, Pretzel Logic delivers unforgettable performances enjoyed by audiences throughout California.
Founded in 2002, Pretzel Logic has honed their craft now for over 2 decades, expanding their repertoire of SD and Donald Fagen solo tunes to SD fans young and old. From crowd-pleasing top SD hits to more obscure B-Side songs and solo gems, Pretzel Logic easily shifts gears and SD aficionados attending their concerts come away completely satisfied.
Pretzel Logic is one of the older and more mature SD cover bands working today, and that, too, places them in the upper rankings from an experience level.
7. Citizen Dan
Colorado-based Citizen Dan played their first gig in 2013. As a newer SD cover band, they have had more time to assemble a world-class line-up of musicians paying homage to the songwriting team of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.
The band performs straight-up Steely Dan arrangements with spot-on accuracy, delivering a shared vision of a world where there is always “gas in the car – you don’t want to call nobody else – and there is absolutely no static at all.”
Their song list of SD songs expands, and the diversity of songs covered is now wide and deep. For sheer excitement and energy, Citizen Dan does not disappoint the loyal SD fans located around Colorado and the Mountain States.
Buckle up and prepare yourself for a night of great SD songs with a dash of Rocky Mountain vibes added to the mix.
8. The Royal Scam
The Royal Scam is a Steely Dan Tribute Band based in New York City. They have been performing the music of Steely Dan for over 25 years in New York, New Jersey, and the surrounding areas. The band is praised for its great attention to detail, top-notch musicianship, and reverence to the original recordings.
This is a tight-knit band with many players having a Jazz background. They tend to play at smaller Jazz club venues which some concert-goers favor for that up-close and personal interaction with the band. As one of the longest SD cover bands formed in 1992, they have developed a very loyal following in the NYC metro area for three decades now.
There is no substitute for experience, and The Royal Scam is one of the more polished and faithful SD cover bands in existence. They are always working, and you should not have a problem seeing them play year-round in the Metro NY area.
9. Dirty Logic
Dirty Logic, a Steely Dan tribute band based in Asheville, North Carolina, is a group of seven talented musicians who share a passion for the intricate compositions of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. They strive to recreate Steely Dan’s complex and innovative music with precision, presenting a high-energy show that engages audiences with a blend of hits and deep cuts from the band’s extensive discography.
All of the band members are experienced professional musicians with impressive resumes from playing and touring in well-known regional bands. They’ve cultivated a loyal fan base in and around North Carolina and have assembled an exciting and lively stage show featuring the best Steely Dan songs.
The Brass section adds to the excitement and is featured front and center to enhance the repertoire of the Steely Dan setlist. You’ll be dancing in the aisles before you know it, and their faithfulness to the recorded SD versions is uncanny. Check out Dirty Logic!
FM is a Steely Dan tribute band based in New Jersey. The band, composed of a group of well-rounded musicians, is dedicated to recreating the timeless music of Steely Dan. They meticulously perform the complex and innovative compositions of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, delivering an authentic and entertaining musical experience.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary, FM is one of the oldest SD tribute bands. Playing to a NY metro-centric crowd is no small feat, as the original SD founders had grown up in Queens and New Jersey. That NYC sensibility of snark and attitude makes FM a favorite cover band that never disappoints. They give 100% with every performance; their showmanship and energy levels are off the charts. The group has a close, tight-knit bond, allowing them to improvise and add their flavor to the mix of hit SD songs.
11. Simply Dan
Simply Dan is a UK-based Steely Dan tribute band formed by like-minded musicians who wanted to authentically present the kaleidoscopic sounds of Steely Dan.
The 11-piece band focuses on producing the complex harmonies and intricate rhythms of Donald Fagen and his band. They have a penchant for playing Steely Dan covers, challenging themselves by staying faithful to the original recordings while firmly putting their stamp on the material.
What really distinguishes Simply Dan is the groove and vibe they create when playing. All of the musicians are extremely proficient, and their performances resonate with their audiences as they replicate the SD catalog of hit songs effortlessly. Their catalog of SD songs extends to their solo albums, so hard-core SD fans will be delighted to hear more obscure songs that even the original SD rarely performs. They’ve built a large following in the UK and Europe, where the SD fans rival the US fans in terms of intensity and loyalty.
12. Slinky Thing
Slinky Thing is a Steely Dan tribute band based in the Bay Area. They are known for their deep dives into the Steely Dan and Donald Fagen catalogs, playing songs rarely attempted by typical tribute bands. They honor the original arrangements and build from there with extended solos and grooves, delivering performances that are both authentic and enjoyable.
Slinky Thing’s members are all veteran musicians who have many decades of collective experience playing SF Bay area venues. The Bay area has a rabid SD fan base, and Slinky Thing serves up SD songs with panache and grace. They are best seen at the smaller venues where the smaller crowds can get down to the funkier songs.
The setlist of SD hits is comprehensive, and the arrangements are always on point. The SF Bay area music scene is a richer one since Slinky Thing emerged as a first-tier SD cover band not too long ago. Their shows sell out quickly as Silicon Valley is SD country with a high concentration of multi-generation fans who are residents.
13. Stanley Dee
Stanley Dee is a UK-based Steely Dan tribute band that takes a fun and enthusiastic approach to the music of Becker and Fagen. They pride themselves on recreating the authentic sounds of Steely Dan, down to the details of the amazing solos and intricate vocal harmonies. They’ve been performing since 2009, delivering shows that are both skillful and filled with joy. Stanley Dee are sticklers for getting the intricate guitar solos just right, and their rhythm and bass section are superb.
The jazz chops of these talented musicians shine through with many of the later songs from the SD catalog. The lead singer is charismatic and they consistently perform crowd-pleasing hits with high energy and, above all, accuracy. The UK has a very large SD fan base, and Stanley Dee provides them with their fix of live SD music year-round.
Aja is a Steely Dan tribute band that has received high praise from notable figures in the music industry, such as saxophonist Jeff Coffin and legendary Steely Dan drummer Bernard Purdie. They are known for their tight, groovy performances and deep appreciation for Steely Dan’s music.
They’ve got a lot on the ball to attract one of the original SD drummers, Bernard Purdie, to perform with them. To see a live drumming legend like Bernard is a treat and a bonus unto itself. Kind of like seeing Les Paul play live at the Iridium in NYC before he passed away. It’s not every day that you can see a living legend drummer perform at the top of his game.
15. Do It Again
The cleverly titled Do It Again is a tribute band that celebrates the music of Steely Dan. They have a significant following on Facebook and have been recognized for their performances, primarily in Delray Beach, Florida. Their fans highly recommend their shows, with one stating, “There is no better Steely Dan tribute band than this one. It is a must-see. If you close your eyes, you wouldn’t know the difference.”
If it’s Perfection and Grace that you seek, look no further than seeing the Do It Again band play the music of SD. Many seasoned musicians are members of this band, and they actually make it look so easy. You can close your eyes, and you will be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the real SD band and Do It Again. They’ve worked hard to get their songs right, and it shows. Their performance chops are exceptional, and every concert is a blast of energy and good times rocking out to the SD hits.
16. My Old School
My Old School is a tribute band dedicated to the music of Steely Dan. They are known for their performances that are both authentic and filled with enthusiasm. They have been featured in Denver Entertainment Hub and 5280 Magazine as one of the best Colorado tribute bands to see.
My Old School has one of the largest set lists of SD songs contained in their repertoire, and each musician is just in the pocket with every SD song they perform. They shine playing in larger venues and crowds and have cultivated a loyal following in the Rocky Mountain states.
All of the guitar and horn solos stand out and underscore the brilliant arrangements of these songs. The groove and vibe they create with each show are visceral and fun to experience in a live concert atmosphere.
History of the Original Band: Steely Dan
The Steely Dan aesthetic and vibe took their cue from eminent hipster progressive writers like William S Burroughs and Science Fiction novels written in the late fifties and sixties. Jazz was a natural soundtrack to these cultural shifts.
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker met as students at Bard College in the late sixties and shared an intense interest in jazz and blues music growing up in the Metro NY area listening to Jazz artists on the local FM radio jazz stations and watching their Jazz heroes play in Greenwich Village when they were in their teens.
While calling on NYC-based music publishers after college with a notebook of songs and demos, they went door to door at the famous Brill building and ran across the producer for Jay and the Americans who actually liked their songs and rough demos at the time.
This chance meeting with Kenny Vance helped them get a gig as touring musicians to pay the bills as they had no real connections in the music business when first starting out. This gave them time to regroup and secure a job as staff song writers for ABC Records in LA where they wrote songs and formed their first ensemble rock band which they named Steely Dan after a rocket powered sex toy from the William Burroughs book, Naked Lunch.
Their first solo album, Can’t Buy A Thrill, rocketed them to sudden stardom with the hits “Do It Again” and “Reelin in the Years”. Subsequent albums Countdown to Ecstasy, Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied and the Royal Scam were release in the seventies until their masterpiece album, Aja was released in 1977.
With Aja, the band had morphed to smooth jazz pop fusion and most of their albums by now features top-notch Jazz session musicians like Bernard Purdie, Larry Carlton, Victor Feldman, Tom Scott, John Klemmer, Chuck Rainey, Jeff Porcaro, Michael McDonald, Dean Parks, and Rick Derringer to name a few.
These session pros raised the bar with every subsequent Steely Dan album released until Gaucho, their last studio album release before taking a long break, going on a long self-imposed hiatus if you will. Walter retreated to an Avocado farm he purchased on Maui and Donald remained in the NYC environs including his weekend home near Woodstock where he produced his follow-up Solo albums, with The Nightfly emerging as the most well received and best selling solo effort.
A live Compilation album, Alive in America, greatest hits collection, Steely Dan Gold and Citizen Steely Dan 1972-1980 Deluxe CD Box Set of Steely Dan songs from all of their studio albums from Can’t Buy a Thrill on up to Gaucho were all released in short order.
Donald and Walter along with their long-time Engineer Roger Nichols and Producer Gary Katz were all on the same page when it came to achieving sonic perfection on virtually every Steely Dan song. Much to the dismay of ABC Record’s Accountants and Executives, many hours of overtime studio time were booked as getting the perfect performance took priority over the purse strings.
Donald and Walter reunited in the 2000’s, they released Two Against Nature which won a Grammy that year and Everything Must Go. The reconstituted Steely Dan Band went back on tour in support of those new albums and are touring even today after losing their Founding member Walter Becker to Cancer in 2017.
From a historical perspective, Steely Dan’s debut album, Can’t Buy A Thrill catapulted the band with rock pop tunes that featured catch hooks and mainstream melodies and chord progressions. Hints of Jazz, Blues and Latin soul could be detected and the Rock Pop style continued to be dominant in the next few albums.
With the release of Pretzel Logic, Becker and Fagen began shifting squarely into the Jazz realm hiring legendary Jazz musicians and introduced much jazzier compositions paying homage to Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and other famous Jazz Legends who pioneered the Be Bop phase of Jazz in the Fifties and Sixties. Adding more hard core electric guitar work to the Jazz mix took hold in the album Katy Lied with the next Album The Royal Scam emerging as a master class in great lead and rhythm guitar work featuring impeccable guitar solos from guitar greats Larry Carlton, Jay Graydon, Rick Derringer, Mark Knopfler and Denny Dias.
The extremely positive reaction (and sales numbers) for these albums laid the groundwork for their penultimate Masterpiece of an Album, Aja which earned them their first Grammy award. Going all in on the Jazz elements paid off handsomely as the production quality was off the hook (Even by Steely Dan Standards) as they used an All Star line-up of established Jazz musicians to make this album. The production of this album is so pristine and crystal clear that it is used to demo high end sound systems all over the world.