December 13, 1948 |
Washington, D.C., United States
|Genres||Rock, Christian rock, Southern rock|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, songwriter, producer, military advisor|
|Labels||Warner Bros., Capitol, Glass Records, Arista|
|Associated acts||The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, Ultimate Spinach, The Best|
|Oral History, Jeff Baxter reflects on his earliest musical experiences. Interview date July 17, 2001, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Oral History Library|
Jeffrey Allen "Skunk" Baxter (born December 13, 1948) is an American guitarist, known for his stints in the rock bands Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers during the 1970s and Spirit in the 1980s. More recently, he has been working as a defense consultant and chairs a Congressional Advisory Board on missile defense.
He was born in Washington, D.C.
While working at Manny's Music Shop in Manhattan in 1966, Baxter met guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who was just beginning his career as a frontman. For a short period during that year, Baxter was the bassist in a Hendrix-led band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, along with fellow Manny's employee Randy California. Baxter also worked as a guitar tech and amplifier repairman at Jack's Drum Shop on Boylston Street in Boston.
Baxter graduated from the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut and enrolled at the School of Public Communication (now College of Communication) at Boston University in September 1967, where he studied journalism while continuing to perform with local bands.
Baxter first reached a wide rock audience in 1968 as a member of the psychedelic rock band Ultimate Spinach. Baxter joined the band for their third and final album, titled III. After leaving the band, he played with the Holy Modal Rounders and backed singer Buzzy Linhart.
With Steely Dan
After the breakup of Ultimate Spinach, Baxter relocated to Los Angeles, finding work as a session guitarist. In 1972 he became a founding member of the band Steely Dan, along with guitarist Denny Dias, guitarist-bassist Walter Becker, keyboardist Donald Fagen, drummer Jim Hodder and vocalist David Palmer (and session player Elliott Randall on various tracks).
With the Doobie Brothers
While finishing work on Pretzel Logic, Baxter became aware of Becker and Fagen's intentions to retire Steely Dan from touring, and to work almost exclusively with session players in the future. With that in mind, Baxter left the band in 1974 to join The Doobie Brothers, who at the time were touring in support of their fourth album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits. As a session man, he had contributed pedal steel guitar on Vices as well as "South City Midnight Lady" on its predecessor, The Captain and Me. Baxter's first album as a full member of the group was 1975's Stampede. Baxter contributed an acoustic interlude entitled "Precis," significant turns on slide and pedal steel guitar, and the guitar solo for the hit single "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)".
While preparing to tour in support of Stampede, Doobie Brothers founder Tom Johnston was hospitalized with a stomach ailment. To fill in for Johnston on vocals, Baxter suggested bringing in singer-keyboardist Michael McDonald, with whom Baxter had worked in Steely Dan. With Johnston still convalescing, McDonald soon was invited to join the band full-time. McDonald's vocal and songwriting contributions, as well as Baxter's jazzier guitar style, marked a new direction for the band. They went on to continued success with the 1976 album Takin' It to the Streets, 1977's Livin' on the Fault Line, and particularly 1978's Minute by Minute, which spent five weeks as the #1 album in the U.S. and spawned several hit singles; Baxter's work on the album includes a noted performance at the end of "How Do the Fools Survive?".
In early 1979, Baxter and co-founding drummer John Hartman left the band.
Post-Doobie Brothers music career
Baxter has continued working as a session guitarist for a diverse group of artists, including Willy DeVille, Bryan Adams, Hoyt Axton, Eric Clapton, Gene Clark, Sheryl Crow, Freddie Hubbard, Tim Weisberg, Joni Mitchell, Ricky Nelson, Dolly Parton, Carly Simon, Ringo Starr, Gene Simmons, Rod Stewart, Barbra Streisand, and Donna Summer. He has worked as a touring musician for Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, and Billy Vera and the Beaters.
In 1990, Baxter joined John Entwistle, Joe Walsh, Keith Emerson, Simon Phillips and relatively unknown vocalist Rick Livingstone in a supergroup called The Best. The group released a live performance video in Japan before disbanding. He also produced two albums for the hard rock band Nazareth, Carl Wilson, and Livingston Taylor, The Ventures, and Nils Lofgren. He also appeared in the film Blues Brothers 2000 and can be heard on the cast album. He was producer on a Bob Welch album in 1982, "Eye Contact". In 1994 Baxter performed on the video game Tuneland. In 1991 Baxter also produced a documentary video titled 'Guitar' (Warner Brothers VHS and LaserDisc) where he travels the world and interviews respected guitarists he admires.
He continues accepting studio work; his most recent such work involved tribute albums to Pink Floyd and Aerosmith. In 2012, he appeared on keyboardist Brian Auger's Language of the Heart, and The Beach Boys' That's Why God Made the Radio. He also occasionally plays in The Coalition of the Willing, a band comprising Andras Simonyi, Hungarian Ambassador to the United States; Alexander Vershbow, US Ambassador to South Korea; Daniel B. Poneman, formerly of the United States National Security Council and now the Obama Administration's Deputy Secretary of Energy; and Lincoln Bloomfield, former United States Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs. On June 19, 2007, Baxter jammed with former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow's band Beats Workin' at the Congressional Picnic held on the South Lawn of the White House.
Movies and TV
Baxter worked on King of the Hill (TV series) in 1997 composing songs for 3 episodes. "Peggy the Boggle Champ", "Hank's Unmentionables Problem", and "Square Peg". Also in 1997 he worked on two others as a composer, "The Blues Brothers Animated Series" (TV series), and "The Curse of Inferno" (TV series) . He composed work for " Shelley Duvall's Bedtime Stories" (TV series) "Bootsie Barker Bites/Ruby the Copycat" in 1993. Composed for Pee-wee's Playhouse (TV series) "Tons of Fun" 1987. Beverly Hills, 90210 (TV series) "The Green Room" (1990) Credited soundtracks "Roxanne" 1987 writer and producer for the songs "Party Tonight", "Can This Be Love". "Class of 1984" 1982 "You Better Not Step Out of Line" / performer on "Suburbanite".
Baxter has appeared in a number of documentaries, including "Jan & Dean The Other Beach Boys" (2002), "The History of Rock 'N' Roll, Vol. 7 and 8" (1995), "American Bandstand's 40th Anniversary Special" (1995), TV series "What's Happening!!" Doobie or Not Doobie: Parts 1 and 2 with The Doobie Brothers (1978), "Emerson" (2013), "Turn It Up!" (2013), "Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who" (2007), "Overnight" (2003), "The Doobie Brothers: Let the Music Play" (2012), "The Making of 'Blues Brothers 2000" (1998) and "Guitar" (1991).
Defense consulting career
Baxter fell into his second profession almost by accident. In the mid-1980s, Baxter's interest in music recording technology led him to wonder about hardware and software that was originally developed for military use, specifically data-compression algorithms and large-capacity storage devices. His next-door neighbor was a retired engineer who had worked on the Sidewinder missile program. This neighbor bought Baxter a subscription to Aviation Week magazine, provoking his interest in additional military-oriented publications and missile defense systems in particular. He became self-taught in this area, and at one point he wrote a five-page paper that proposed converting the ship-based anti-aircraft Aegis missile into a rudimentary missile defense system. He gave the paper to California Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher, and his career as a defense consultant began.
Backed by several influential Capitol Hill lawmakers, Baxter received a series of security clearances so he could work with classified information. In 1995, Pennsylvania Republican congressman Curt Weldon, then the chairman of the House Military Research and Development Subcommittee, nominated Baxter to chair the Civilian Advisory Board for Ballistic Missile Defense.
Baxter's work with that panel led to consulting contracts with the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. He now consults to the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. intelligence community, as well as for defense-oriented manufacturers including Science Applications International Corporation ("SAIC"), Northrop Grumman Corp., General Dynamics, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. He has been quoted as saying his unconventional approach to thinking about terrorism, tied to his interest in technology, is a major reason he became sought after by the government.
"We thought turntables were for playing records until rappers began to use them as instruments, and we thought airplanes were for carrying passengers until terrorists realized they could be used as missiles," Baxter has said. "My big thing is to look at existing technologies and try to see other ways they can be used, which happens in music all the time and happens to be what terrorists are incredibly good at."
Baxter has also appeared in public debates and as a guest on CNN and Fox News Channel advocating missile defense. He served as a national spokesman for Americans for Missile Defense, a coalition of organizations devoted to the issue.
Baxter was a member of an independent study group that produced the "Civil Applications Committee Blue Ribbon Study" recommending an increased domestic role for U.S. spy satellites in September 2005. This study was first reported by The Wall Street Journal on August 15, 2007.
Baxter is a Senior Fellow and Member of the Board of Regents at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
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- 1/26/1986 - Ritz (New York, NY), Music Vault
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- Quiggin, Thomas. Seeing The Invisible, World Scientific, 2007, p. 37. ISBN 981-270-482-5
- Michael Barone, The Almanac of American Politics, 2002 ed., p.222
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- Yochi J. Dreazen (May 24, 2005). "Rocker Jeff Baxter moves and shakes in national security". The Wall Street Journal. (available through the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: article. Also available from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel through Google News.)
- Jeff Baxter interview on America Online, July 13 1992
- Editor & Publisher article referencing the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association dinner
- Article and photos about the "Coalition of the Willing" band
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