Steely Dan's Greatest Guitar Solos

It's official: Larry Carlton's blazing work on "Kid Charlemagne" is Steely Dan's best guitar solo. 

That's according to our poll of 100 Steely Dan fans who picked their favorite solo from the list of 10 epic songs below.

The top 3 solos in the survey were Larry Carlton's effortless "Kid Charlemagne," Jeff Baxter's ripping "My Old School" and Elliott Randall's masterful "Reelin' In The Years."


Here's an in-depth look at those three solos.

Larry Carlton, "Kid Charlemagne"


Larry Carlton was a guitar prodigy who started playing professionally as a teenager. At one point he was doing up to 500 recording sessions per year in L.A. for the likes of Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel and Michael Jackson. It was during this period that Larry earned the sobriquet "Mr. 335" because he became so associated with Gibson's classic semi-hollowbody guitar.

Here's Donald Fagen talking about Larry: 
  • Larry Carlton played on quite a few of our records. He's a real virtuoso. In my opinion he can get around his instrument better than stay studio guitarist. His did the solo on "Kid Charlemagne" in two takes.

Walter Becker described Larry's role as a kind of musical director who could translate their ideas for the other musicians on Steely Dan recording sessions. 
  • If Royal Scam is the definitive Steely Dan guitar record, then Larry Carlton is the reason why. He contributed quite a bit to the tunes. There would be a lot of volatile people with volatile musical styles in the room and, in a lot of cases, it seemed to me that Larry, more than anyone else, was holding things together rhythmically and in other ways.
Check out some of his solo work on The Very Best of Larry Carlton


Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, "My Old School"


We've seen Steely Dan multiple times over the years and at every show the biggest crowd-pleaser is "My Old School." The groove is infectious, the story is hilarious and the guitar is outrageous!  

The guitar solo on this track is one of Jeff Baxter's crowning achievements during his stint in Steely Dan. He was a founding member of the group, along with their other amazing guitarist, Denny Dias. 

Jeff got his start working in Manny's Music in New York City, where he ran into a young Jimi Hendrix and ended up playing bass in one of Jimi's early bands. What a way to start your career!

It was after he left NY for LA that he met Donald and Walter and joined the Dan. After Steely Dan stopped touring, Baxter bowed out of the group and went on to join the Doobie Brothers. Pretty good place to land after leaving Steely Dan!

In fact Baxter brought singer Michael McDonald into the Doobies to fill in for an ailing Tom Johnston. He knew McDonald from their time together in Steely Dan.

In a strange-but-true career twist, Baxter's interest in musical technology led him to develop an interest in military technology. He turned that passion into a series of consulting gigs for such government agencies as the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency.   


Elliott Randall, "Reelin' In The Years"

Jimmy Page once called Elliott Randall's work on "Reelin' in the Years" his favorite guitar solo ever. That's quite an endorsement and indeed his playing on the track is very tasty!

Elliott Randall knew Donald and Walter in their early years in New York when they were playing with Jay and the Americans. He started playing on their records but turned down the opportunity to join Steely Dan as a permanent member. He thought the group dynamics would lead to a dissolution of the band, and he was right!

It turns out Elliott had a history of turning down permanent gigs in bands like Steely Dan, preferring instead to focus on studio work. Apparently Jeff Porcaro and David Paich offered him a founding spot in Toto, but he turned that down too!

Check out his album, Elliott Randall's New York.

Leave A Comment

Now it's your turn. What's your favorite Steely Dan guitar solo? Favorite guitarist on their albums? Leave a comment and let us know!

And if you like this post, you might also like:
Steely Dan's Long-Lost Song "Second Arrangement"
More Unreleased Steely Dan Outtakes

34 comments

  • Tom Markuszka
    Tom Markuszka North Carolina
    Great list of solos. I would have placed Boston Rag in the Top 5.

    Great list of solos. I would have placed Boston Rag in the Top 5.

  • Joey P
    Joey P Charlotte NC
    The solo in Peg is probably my favorite guitar solo of the bunch but damn, so many of the solos in the Steely Dan recordings are iconic. It is hard to rank them

    The solo in Peg is probably my favorite guitar solo of the bunch but damn, so many of the solos in the Steely Dan recordings are iconic. It is hard to rank them

  • Keith Shannon
    Keith Shannon Birmingham
    Bodhisattva was Denny Diaz, I truly believe I'm right about that.

    Bodhisattva was Denny Diaz, I truly believe I'm right about that.

  • Augi
    Augi Summerton , SC
    Bodisatva Don't take me alive Everything you did Ugh This Is Rediculous Impossible Pointless Insane ❤️

    Bodisatva
    Don't take me alive
    Everything you did
    Ugh
    This
    Is
    Rediculous
    Impossible
    Pointless
    Insane
    ❤️

  • John
    John Florida
    Keith Shannon - Denny Diaz did the first solo. Skunk did the closing one

    Keith Shannon - Denny Diaz did the first solo. Skunk did the closing one

  • Dwaine McIntosh
    Dwaine McIntosh Idaho
    When I retrospective I reel in the years with Dan. I have many favorites and they usually take me back to a different message I still appreciate. 3rd world man is still one I link up with and reflect about....

    When I retrospective I reel in the years with Dan. I have many favorites and they usually take me back to a different message I still appreciate. 3rd world man is still one I link up with and reflect about....

  • Jack Shell
    Jack Shell Florida
    Peg. Hands down. Runners up would be Your Gold Teeth II, Green Earrings, and Bodhisattva.

    Peg. Hands down. Runners up would be Your Gold Teeth II, Green Earrings, and Bodhisattva.

  • Marion
    Marion USA va.
    The kid solo truly awesome, give it a try. However I very thing Larry does is that way and believe it or not he has done even better stuff. L C fan forever

    The kid solo truly awesome, give it a try. However I very thing Larry does is that way and believe it or not he has done even better stuff. L C fan forever

  • Julie
    Julie St George UT
    The Boston Rag

    The Boston Rag

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous Milwaukee
    All great but my fav is Don't Take Me Alive.

    All great but my fav is Don't Take Me Alive.

  • Jon
    Jon Cali
    Hey Nineteen on Gaucho, has some tasty licks...

    Hey Nineteen on Gaucho, has some tasty licks...

  • Ross Davison
    Ross Davison New Bedford, MA
    Rick Derringer'a solo on "Show Biz Kids" was always my favorite.

    Rick Derringer'a solo on "Show Biz Kids" was always my favorite.

  • Helena
    Helena Sweden
    Best guitarr solo is in Green earrings.

    Best guitarr solo is in Green earrings.

  • Sam
    Sam Tulsa OK USA
    Don't Take Me Alive Tour Gold Teeth II Show Biz Kids

    Don't Take Me Alive
    Tour Gold Teeth II
    Show Biz Kids

  • Pam Amann
    Pam Amann Cincinnati
    I'd say Third World Man is one of my favorites

    I'd say Third World Man is one of my favorites

  • Reneé
    Reneé Shaker Heights, Ohio
    I'm with Jack. My favorite is "Don't Take Me Alive."

    I'm with Jack. My favorite is "Don't Take Me Alive."

  • John S Taylor
    John S Taylor Dallas tx
    Rick Derriger's Slide On Show Biz Kids has Never Been attempted live The 7 or 8 Tomes I've Seen Them it's the only Lead That They Hae Not Tried To Immulate On Stage Any Tome I Have :Seen Them It Was A Special Performance In Time !! ?

    Rick Derriger's Slide On Show Biz Kids has Never Been attempted live The 7 or 8 Tomes I've Seen Them it's the only Lead That They Hae Not Tried To Immulate On Stage Any Tome I Have :Seen Them It Was A Special Performance In Time !! ?

  • Howie
    Howie Mexico
    There’s a gem off the first album called King of the World. Not a big hit, but a great solo

    There’s a gem off the first album called King of the World.
    Not a big hit, but a great solo

  • David Crockett
    David Crockett Chuckey, Tn.
    This song rarely gets mentioned, but really dig the solo in "Night By Night". The song as a whole isn't too shabby either.

    This song rarely gets mentioned, but really dig the solo in "Night By Night". The song as a whole isn't too shabby either.

  • Philip
    Philip Thailand
    So difficult to choose, but I'm with some of the other people here in choosing Don't Take Me Alive. The Royal Scam was an amazing album for guitar solos.

    So difficult to choose, but I'm with some of the other people here in choosing Don't Take Me Alive. The Royal Scam was an amazing album for guitar solos.

  • Robert
    Robert England
    Any thing LC does is good but to many good tunes to pick one

    Any thing LC does is good but to many good tunes to pick one

  • James
    James Thailand
    I think the solo Denny Diaz, sitar/guitar, in Do It Again is just amazing. So hard to pick just one. Don't take me Alive, Kid Charlemagne, fantastic. Maybe not the most technically difficult but maybe my favorite, Peg.

    I think the solo Denny Diaz, sitar/guitar, in Do It Again is just amazing. So hard to pick just one. Don't take me Alive, Kid Charlemagne, fantastic. Maybe not the most technically difficult but maybe my favorite, Peg.

  • Daniel
    Daniel Vienna
    'nother vote for Green Earrings

    'nother vote for Green Earrings

  • Boyd
    Boyd San Diego Ca
    For me it's the Boston Rag.

    For me it's the Boston Rag.

  • moe
    moe USA
    I heard the greatest guitar tunes in moe's south grill restaurant when I had visited. They have their theme music for the restaurant. According to the taste of customers, they play music in the moe restaurant. If you want to win $2 off coupon to redeem for next visit take their survey on https://patronsurvey.com/moegottaknow/

    I heard the greatest guitar tunes in moe's south grill restaurant when I had visited. They have their theme music for the restaurant. According to the taste of customers, they play music in the moe restaurant. If you want to win $2 off coupon to redeem for next visit take their survey on https://patronsurvey.com/moegottaknow/

  • steve-0
    steve-0 Sherman Oaks
    Boston Rag Show Biz Kids FM Kings

    Boston Rag
    Show Biz Kids
    FM
    Kings

  • Rog the Dodge
    Rog the Dodge Chessington, UK
    The closing solo on Glamour Profession is an absolute masterpiece and my favourite. Very similar to the Skunks on Doobies' How do Those Fools Survive' Was it him?

    The closing solo on Glamour Profession is an absolute masterpiece and my favourite. Very similar to the Skunks on Doobies' How do Those Fools Survive' Was it him?

  • Stephen
    Stephen Knoxville
    I never hear anyone mention Walter Becker's solo on Pretzel Logic. Tasty, melodic and tasteful.

    I never hear anyone mention Walter Becker's solo on Pretzel Logic. Tasty, melodic and tasteful.

  • Tom
    Tom Richmond VA
    Solo on Everything You Did is awesome. Think it's Larry Carlton. Like others have mentioned: Royal Scam is a great guitar album. I also love Denny Dias' solo on King of the World.

    Solo on Everything You Did is awesome. Think it's Larry Carlton. Like others have mentioned:
    Royal Scam is a great guitar album.
    I also love Denny Dias' solo on King of the World.

  • Tatakh
    Tatakh Kortenhoef
    Elliott Randall on Kings Elliott Randall on Reeling in the years Elliott Randall on Black friday Jeff Baxter on Change of the guard Denny Dias on Do it again Show biz kids Jef Baxter on The Boston rag Jef Baxter on Night by night Walter Becker on Pretzel logic

    Elliott Randall on Kings
    Elliott Randall on Reeling in the years
    Elliott Randall on Black friday
    Jeff Baxter on Change of the guard
    Denny Dias on Do it again
    Show biz kids
    Jef Baxter on The Boston rag
    Jef Baxter on Night by night
    Walter Becker on Pretzel logic

  • JC
    JC Traverse City
    Everything you Did simply amazing

    Everything you Did simply amazing

  • Dean
    Dean Michigan
    King of the world so impossible to forget.

    King of the world so impossible to forget.

  • Selene Paris
    Selene Paris New Orleans, LA
    Derringer on "Chain Lightning" is my fave (after KC, of course.) It isn't terribly flashy but it's musical as hell. Sometimes less is more, or discretion is the better part of valor. CL always gets my endorphins going!

    Derringer on "Chain Lightning" is my fave (after KC, of course.) It isn't terribly flashy but it's musical as hell. Sometimes less is more, or discretion is the better part of valor. CL always gets my endorphins going!

  • GB White & 25-40
    GB White & 25-40 Lewes, DE
    Larry Carlton's solo on "Third World Man." The "effect" on his guitar could be produced by someone in the studio at the board. But my understanding is that Carlton went back in and played the solo over, with every note and nuance a split nano-second behind. True or not, I believe it.

    Larry Carlton's solo on "Third World Man." The "effect" on his guitar could be produced by someone in the studio at the board. But my understanding is that Carlton went back in and played the solo over, with every note and nuance a split nano-second behind. True or not, I believe it.

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