Taken from Pretzel Logic, ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number’ is one of the most archetypal Steely Dan songs out there. Latin grooves played by undulating percussion, tight-knight harmonies, glistening choruses: everything that made 1970s Steely Dan great is on display in this slice of expertly crafted jazz-pop. Since its release in 1974, the track been one of the duo’s most enduringly popular singles. For almost as long, fans have wondered who the real Rikki might have been. Well, here at Far Out, we’d like to put the record straight.
In 2006, Donald Fagan told Entertainment Weekly that the Rikki of the title is Rikki Ducornet, an artist and writer currently based in New York. The co-frontman met Ducornet at a Halloween Party party at Bard College in 1967, the humble liberal arts school in Annandale-on-Hudson where Steely Dan formed in 1971. Then known as Leather Canary, the band were invited to provide music for the night’s celebrations. After delivering a raft of new originals alongside covers such as The Rolling Stones’ ‘Dandelion’, Moby Grape’s ‘Hey Grandma’, and Willie Dixon’s ‘Spoonful’, Fagan, Becker and company sank into the crowd – the majority of which was high on LSD – to grab a well-earned drink.
Sweeping past Leather Canary drummer Chevy Chase (Yes, that one), Donald Fagan found himself face to face with Ducornet. The pair got to talking and spent the majority of the night without moving from each other’s side. Even though she was both pregnant and married at the time of their meeting, Fagan decided to give Ducornet his number, presumably urging her not to lose it on exit. Although she was undoubtedly intrigued by Fagan, Ducornet decided not to call him. One wonders what would have happened if she had.
A few years later, Chevy Chase would find fame as one of the most successful comedians of the 1970s. Steely Dan, meanwhile, would score huge hits with tracks like ‘Reelin’ in the Years, ‘Dirty Work’ and, of course, ‘Rikki Don’t Lose that Number’. While all this was going on back in the US, Ducornet was living in the Loire Valley in France, where she’d relocated with her husband Guy Ducornet in 1972. She spent eighteen years there, writing, illustrating, and raising a family. The author of eight novels, five books of poetry, and the creator of internationally-exhibited paintings, Rikki Ducornet, is one of the most important transdisciplinary surrealist artists working today. Clearly, there was something in the water over at Bard College.