Even though Jeff Baxter doesn’t need any introduction to many rock folks, some may be less familiar with him. A little background on this unusual guitar god from his website:
Baxter joined his first band at age 11. In junior high school in Mexico City. He formed a surf band that hit the top 10 on radio in Mexico. While still a high school student, he worked at Jimmy’s Music Shop in Manhattan in 1965 and 1966.
At Jimmy’s, Baxter met guitarist Jimi James (later to become Jimi Hendrix), who was just beginning his career as a frontman and provided him with his first custom left-handed Fender Stratocaster. Baxter and Hendrix went on to become good friends.
After leaving Jimmy’s, Baxter moved on to Dan Armstrong’s guitar repair and custom shop, the mecca for guitar players in New York and around the United States. Moving to Boston to attend college, Baxter worked as a guitar technician and amplifier repairman at Jack’s Drum Shop on Boylston Street.
Skunk first reached a wide rock audience in 1968 as a member of the psychedelic rock band Ultimate Spinach. After leaving the band, he played with the Holy Modal Rounders, played bass for Tim Buckley, and joined the Buzzy Linhart band. While still in Boston, Baxter began establishing himself as a studio musician in both Boston and New York City.
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 Steely Dan. 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.
When Mr. Steely and Mr. Dan decided to use only studio musicians and stop touring, Skunk – as he now seems to like to be called – moved on to the Doobie Brothers.
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, Burton Cummings, Barbra Streisand, and Donna Summer. He has worked as a touring musician for Elton John and Linda Ronstadt.
The one thing Skunk hasn’t done – till now – is to release a solo album. In an interview in Glide Magazine, he said that he and his music partner CJ Vanston put their heads together and got it done. (I’m gonna guess he had Covid time on his hands as well.)
So how is it? Well, given that it’s Baxter you can assume tons of good guitar There’s some ripping stuff here but there’s also some middle-of-the-road stuff. A perfect example is the fact that he covers two Dan songs – “My Old School,” and “Do it Again.”
“School” is especially interesting because in the original, Jeff pulls off one of my all-time favorite solos, a solo he said he had created and found a song to play it on. This version is, somehow, ‘rockier’ than the original but I found the “Do it Again” to be too laid back. I didn’t even recognize it.
Of “My Old School,” he says, “I always felt that the song had a lot of rock potential,” the guitarist says. “That was my goal going in, to muscle it up.” And he sings!
I had almost forgotten about blues guitarist Jonny Lang as I haven’t heard from him for a while. He and Skunk sound mighty fine on this Lenny Kravitz-sounding “I Can Do Without.”
You may or may not know about Baxter’s Defense consulting job. “Baxter fell into his second profession almost by accident. In the mid-1980s, his interest in music recording technology led him to wonder about hardware and software originally developed for military use, specifically data compression algorithms and large-capacity storage devices.
He got 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 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.” He’s got all sorts of security clearances.
Here Jeff covers the song “The Rose” from the Bette Midler movie. Pure instrumental with some nice pedal steel:
One more for ya with country singer Clint Black. (Skunk is an incredibly versatile guy. If it surprises you he’s doing country, don’t be. He says Dolly Parton is his favorite person ever to work with.) It’s actually kinda hard to peg this as country. It’s more like high-tech pop with a funky beat:
BTW, Baxter is reticent to discuss his nickname. But I’ve read that he was peeing outside (maybe against a door), some bandmate opened the door and well, you can fill in the rest. The guy kept saying, “You skunk, you skunk!”