Original Steely Dan drummer Jim Hodder was the first victim of the infamously exacting perfectionism of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. As part of the original “band-focused” lineup of the Dan, Hodder was chosen by producer Gary Katz, who had recorded Hodder’s previous band The Bead Game. Hodder could sing and keep a steady beat, but he struggled to gel with the notorious idiosyncrasies of Becker and Fagen.
Even still, Hodder was given a fair amount of spotlight in the band’s early days. He contributed lead vocals for the song ‘Dallas’, later released as a single from their debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill. As they continued to tour, the members of Steely Dan took on a contained, almost garage rock-like sound, much to the chagrin of Becker and Fagen. Even though guitarists Denny Dias and Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter had the jazz chops that Becker and Fagen were looking for, Hodder was always a straightforward rock player.
That’s not to say Hodder didn’t have a diverse skill set, as he proved by hopping genres across the Steely Dan catalogue. He was game for a funky samba on ‘Do It Again’, the delicate touches of ‘Dirty Work’, and the harder-edged stomp of ‘My Old School’, but no matter what he played, it never seemed as though Becker and Fagen were ever satisfied.
1973’s Countdown to Ecstasy was Hodder last stand as the band’s drummer. Starting with the follow-up, Pretzel Logic, Becker and Fagen began bringing in experienced session musicians to first augment, and then fully replace, the band’s original members, starting with Hodder. One track that underscores the major difference in style between Hodder and the sound that Becker and Fagen were leaning towards was on the track ‘Bodhisattva’.
Becker and Fagen envisioned the song with a more laconic jazz strut but Hodder put an unrelentingly exciting rock backbeat to the song. Even though it wasn’t what the two songwriters had originally wanted, it’s hard to argue that Hodder’s part wasn’t the right choice for the song. ‘Bodhisattva’ works best as a rock song with jazz flourishes, not the other way around. Hodder is clearly no jazz drummer, but he holds the entire song together with a steady hand and even gets some great snare-focused fills into the arrangement.
Hodder’s replacement shouldn’t be seen as a reflection of his skills as a musician – Becker and Fagen even grew tired of the top-tier drumming of players like Jeff Porcaro, Bernard Purdie, and Steve Gadd, replacing them all with drum machines on albums like 1980’s Gaucho. It was simply time for a change, and stylistically he wouldn’t have fit with the new direction that Steely Dan was heading in. Hodder would (whether appropriately or ironically) get sessions to work himself throughout the ’70s, but his best-remembered work is still with the early Steely Dan records, for which he remains criminally underrated.
Check out Hodder’s isolated drums on ‘Bodhisattva’ down below.