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Is this Vancouver’s best cover band?

Steelin' in the Years.
Steelin’ in the Years.

Interview—Kerry Galloway of Steelin in the Years

Steelin’ in the Years is a Steely Dan cover band based in the Lower Mainland. The band is nearly a dozen members strong, and features some of the area’s best local players, performing the hits and deep cuts. If you’re at all a Steely Dan fan, you have to see them. Or book them for your wedding.

A couple of weeks ago, I caught Steelin’ in the Years play an afternoon show. I was blown away.

For one thing, there were ten of them packed onto a small stage, including a three-piece horn section and two vocalists. For another, this band goes deep – past the non-hits and into unreleased territory. I got there for the last two of three sets, and heard plenty of early (“Dirty Work”!) and later-period SD, including lots from the albums Aja and Gaucho.

But the band dug into the archives to pull out an arrangement of “Reelin’ in the Years” that Steely Dan has played live, and for an outtake from the Gaucho sessions called “Kulee Baba” (a shout-out here to John W., who noted the track and sent me this link to an alternate version of Gaucho). For their encore, they did an absolutely smokin’ version of “My Old School”.

So who are these guys, anyway, and where can you see them next?

Steelin’ in the Years formed in 2012, founded by veteran bassist Kerry Galloway and guitarist/producer Joe Cruz. A month and a half after hatching the idea, they had rounded up what Galloway calls “a handpicked team of musicians” to start rehearsing. About a year in, saxophonist and arranger Bill Runge also joined.

Today, Cruz is out, having moved to Los Angeles, and the band’s original background vocalist Melody Diachun has also moved on. But Galloway and Runge are still on-board, along with:

Billy “Donald Faken'” Mendoza – lead vocals
Debbie Low – background vocals (lead on “Dirty Work”), percussion
Talia Butler-Gray – background vocals (lead on “Dirty Work”), percussion
Andreas Schuld – guitar
Phil Robertson – drums
Jason Decouto – keyboards
Geeta Das – trumpet
Dave Say – tenor sax

As for their next gig, it’s a free afternoon show July 5 as part of the Summer Sunday Concerts series at Rocky Point Park in Port Moody.

To find out more about what possesses 10 top musicians to come together to learn and play some of the toughest songs in pop a few times a year, I talked to Galloway. The bassist was reached at the Harbourside Institute of Technology in North Vancouver, where he teaches “music theory for the reluctant.”

Q: What led you to form a Steely Dan cover band?

A: You can safely say that, for trained musicians, Steely Dan is kind of the gold standard. It’s as high an art as popular music gets. If you start getting more adventurous than they did, then you get into jazz. For a trained musician, that’s catnip.

BAND SHOTS (19 of 77)
Q: Was it hard to find musicians to join you in this quest?

A: Here’s the funny thing: within days of word getting out, I heard from  five of the best drummers in the city saying “If you haven’t already got a drummer…”

Bill Runge joined us about a year in. He came up to us at the end of a gig and said, “I’ll write arrangements for the horns.” Of course you don’t say “no” to one of the best arrangers in British Columbia.

Q: I noticed at the Fairview there was a lot of really early and later stuff, not so much middle-period Steely Dan.

A: The way we’ve set it up, we have twice as much material as we have time to play. We’re Steely Dan geeks, but we’ve gravitated towards our favourite albums, Gaucho and Aja.

Q: Do you know of any other Steely Dan cover bands?

A: There’s a lot. There’s one in Seattle I think might be called Pretzel Logic but I’m not sure (note: they’re called Nearly Dan – SC). We shied away from the name Pretzel Logic because a lot of Steely Dan cover bands have called themselves that (like this one – SC). There’s quite a superb one in Toronto.

But I’d like to think that this is one of the better ones out there. Some bands will shy away from their deeper material because it gets really hard. With this band, there’s nothing Steely Dan’s ever done that I wouldn’t feel comfortable about tackling. There are such strong players in this band.

Q: Have you seen Steely Dan live?

A: Yeah, I have. I was here for their comeback concert in ’92, I believe, at the Pacific Coliseum (September 1994 according to this database – SC). It was stunning, absolutely stunning. True to their tradition, they had some of the best musicians in the world with them. I believe they had Dennis Chambers playing drums, and at the time he was the hottest thing in fusion.

The album  Alive In America is a documentation of that tour, and it blew my mind. One of the things is that, like in the jazz world, you see a process of reinvention for themselves. Miles Davis went through four distinct periods in his life, some would say more.  He’d throw out everything he did before. With Steely Dan, they’d take their hits, like “Reelin’ in the Years,” and completely deconstruct them and put them back together in these odd angular shapes live.

Although they’re kind of doing the oldies now, it was pretty vital watching them come back and just wow us with completely different interpretations of old hits.

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