13 December 1948 (age 69)
Washington, D.C., United States
Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (born Jeffrey Allen Baxter on 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.
Baxter joined his first band at age 11. While still a high school student, he worked at Manny's Music Shop in Manhattan in 1966. At Manny's, 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. Moving to Boston to attend college, Baxter worked as a guitar technician and amplifier repairman at Jack's Drum Shop on Boylston Street.
Baxter first reached a wide rock audience in 1968 as a member of the psychedelic rock band Ultimate Spinach. Baxter joined the band for III, their third and final album. After leaving the band, he played with the Holy Modal Rounders and backed singer Buzzy Linhart. By this time, he was using the moniker "Skunk," although the nickname's origins have been kept secret by Baxter.
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-vocalist Donald Fagen, drummer Jim Hodder and vocalist David Palmer.
Baxter appeared with Steely Dan on their first three albums, Can't Buy a Thrill in 1972, Countdown to Ecstasy in 1973, and Pretzel Logic in 1974.
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.
Baxter 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, Burton Cummings, Barbra Streisand, and Donna Summer. He has worked as a touring musician for Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, and Billy Vera and the Beaters.
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