Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music and musicians from the 60’s to today. Enjoy the trip!
Kid Charlemagne By Steely Dan. Album: Royal Scam Released May 31, 1976
This song was inspired by Owsley Stanley III, the first “underground” chemist to mass produce high-quality LSD in the 1960s in San Francisco. Walter Becker explained: “It was kind of an Owsleyesque figure that existed in our mind’s eye. I think he was based on the idea of the outlaw-acid-chef of the ’60s who had essentially outlived the social context of his specialty but of course he was still an outlaw.”
According to Donal Fagen, the story in this song takes place from 1968-1976. As time goes on, Charlemagne’s services fall out of favor, leading to his demise.
Steely Dan favorite Larry Carlton played guitar on this track. Donald Fagen said: “He’s a real virtuoso. In my opinion he can get around his instrument better than any studio guitarist. He’s also quite a good blues player. He did the solos on ‘Kid Charlemagne.’ The middle solo he did in two takes and we used parts of both. The last solo was straight improvisation.”
In a Rolling Stone interview before during Steely Dan’s 2009 tour, Becker said that this was their most-requested song, with the line, “Is there gas in the car, yes there’s gas in the car” providing a sing-along moment. Said Becker, “A cab driver once told me that that was the stupidest line he’s ever heard.”