Steely Dan, the artistic partnership of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (with a revolving cast of songwriters and players), lasted nearly 50 years before Becker's death in early September. Now, a dispute between Fagen and Becker's estate, which is now owned by his widow Delia Coffi, has put a bitter spin on the legacy of a warm, winking, coolly funky corner of pop.
The suit is over a "buy/sell" contract the members of Steely Dan signed more than 45 years ago, on Halloween, 1972. The contract, included as an addendum to the complaint filed by Fagen's lawyer, Skip Miller last Tuesday (Nov. 21), says that if any of its signees dies or leaves the band, the band's corporation has the right to immediately repurchase their shares at book value. The contract also includes mention that any transfer of those shares to another person is still subject to the agreement. Fagen is the only surviving member of the original lineup of five players who signed the contract.
Delia Coffi's lawyers, Fagen claims, sent him a letter asserting "that the buy/sell agreement dated as of October 31, 1972 is of no force or effect." They also claim that the company managing Steely Dan, Inc.'s finances and business — Nigro, Karlin, Segal, Feldstein & Bolno (NKSFB), which also oversees the estate of Walter Becker — mismanaged Steely Dan's accounts and did not respond to Fagen's request for documents on the band's finances.
Fagen wants $1 million in damages and for the court to rule on whether the buy/sell agreement remains in effect.
When reached, NKSFB declined to comment on the lawsuit or any potential conflict of interest in representing both sides of the pending case.