Jeff “Skunk” Baxter online interview, on America Online

OnlineHost: Your attending Emcee for this event is Greg N. Good evening and welcome to a special event sponsored by RockLink located in the Lifestyles area of the service. Tonight Center Stage presents Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, formerly of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. This is your opportunity to learn what it’s like to work with a rock group. Send your questions to “Skunk” using the Ask a Question feature. He’ll address as many as he can!

Greg N: Welcome Jeff!

JBaxter: Hi everyone!

OnlineHost: You can send your questions for “Skunk” using the “Ask a Question” option!

JBaxter: It’s a pleasure to be with you tonight. Let’ s get right into the questions.

Question: Any possiblility of playing a concert in Des Moines, IA?

JBaxter: Nice of you to ask, anything’s possible!

Question: What’s Skunks favorite Sequencing program – does & computer.

JBaxter: For straight ahead music, let me see – it’s made by Passport Design. It’s called Performer. For movie and TV soundtracks I prefer MasterTrack. Yes I do!

Question: To Mr. Baxter, Do you remember Handshake records? I used to work for them.

JBaxter: One of my favorite albums, by a band called Sneaker, was on Handshake albums. I’ve just formed a band with John Entwhistle and we’re in the process of writing at the moment.

Question: What is your favorite Steely Dan piece? Doobie Brothers song?

JBaxter: My favorite Steely Dan piece would be Razor Boy or Charlie Freak, and Doobie Bros would be How Does The Fool Survive or, Neal’s Fandango.

Question: What’s Skunk Baxter’s favorite guitar?

JBaxter: My own! It’s a Roland GR 505. Made out of plexiglass. With Skunk-o-sonic pickups!

Question: What’s the best way for a novice to learn about sequencing?

JBaxter: Number 1, to read the many periodicals dedicated to home and studio recordings. Such as Electronic Musician Mix Magazine is another, and Home Recording Magazine. Also, number 2, borrow someone’s sequencing program and see if you like it. Ya gotta spend the time. If you find one you like, then just go out and buy it!

Question: Hey, did you go to Mt. Whitney high?

JBaxter: No I didn’t. I went to Taft School in Watertown, Conn. I’m an ex-preppie!

Question: When you played with Steely Dan did you record any tracks live other than Bodhisattva?

JBaxter: We recorded every show we did on cassette. Bodhisattva was taken from a cassette.

Question: With as much as everyone longs for new Steely Dan music, why can’t Becker, Fagen, yourself and the others get together to lay down some tracks? With Donald touring it seems like he’s ready, or is he?

JBaxter: Good question! You never know, anything’s possible!

Question: Hi Jeff! I’m curious to know how you feel about today’s music.

JBaxter: I think on the good side the music seems to be much less produced, much simpler, more basic, and more accessible. It has a raw feel to it that I really enjoy. On the bad side, I think there are too many musicians who think that all they need is hair extensions and some nice close from Melrose Avenue. They expect stardom and instant respect. Maybe they should think about it less as a career and more as a reason to live.

Question: Jeff – Why hasn’t Steely Dan ever toured?

JBaxter: Steely Dan toured for almost 3 years, we played concerts in places like Portland Oregon, LA, Boston, Chicago and Eastern Texas, among other places. We even played the Rainbow in London.

Question: Do you keep in touch with the members of Ultimate Spinach?

JBaxter: I talk to the dummer occasionally. Err -drummer Russ Levine is his name, and he is a producer at NBC television.

Question: What was your basis to quit Steely Dan & go to the Doobies?

JBaxter: I felt that the direction that Steely Dan was headed was much more of a studio and not live-oriented in concept. I think Walter and Donald wanted to carry the studio concept to its “nth” degree. I joined the Doobie Bros because I felt that there was an incredible amount of raw talent and had a bit of a vision of what that band might become. When I asked Michael McDonald to join the Doobie Bros, I felt that vision turn into a reality. What do you think?

Question: Can you tell a little bit about how you got into the music field and how the Doobie Bros. got to be?

JBaxter: I spent a great deal of my childhood in Mexico, and I grew up in Mexico City. I started playing in bands when I was 10 yrs old. I played with guys like Abraham LaBoriel Fito De La Parra. Abraham is now one of the top studio bass players in the world. Fito plays the drums for Canned heat. I found it very advantageous to be around musicians and so wherever I went I would repair and build guitars for people and hang around music stores and that way I met many players. When I was 13 yrs old I was working in a music store on 48th Street in NYC, and at night, was delivering amplifiers to recording studios. I did that for the Manhattan Guitar Club. One day one of the guitar players on the record date didn’t show. I got a shot at it then. Been a session guitar player ever since!

Question: How would you contrast the styles of Steely Dan versus the Doobie Brothers?

JBaxter: I think Steely Dan went straight to the brain and the Doobie Bros went straight to the heart.

Question: What are you doing these days? Solo stuff, or what?

JBaxter: No, I still do a lot of work as a studio guitar player. Also movie and TV sound tracks. Additionally producing bands and doing a lot of R & D for companies like Roland, Allen and Heath Audiotechnica, to name a few. Right now I’m just embarking on a project with John Entwhistle from The Who. We started playing together informally last year at the China Club in Los Angeles. He asked me if I would play on his solo album and I said I would only if he would play on mine. We looked at each other and decided we ought to form a band! We realize that there’s some kind of magic that goes on when we play together, and we haven’t had this much fun in years! We will probably have an album out around Spring of next year. I haven’t had this much fun in years!

Question: Where did you get the name “Skunk”?

JBaxter: Everybody wants to know and I really enjoy listening to all the myriad theories.

Question: My question: What happened to the band Sneaker? And did you ever interact directly w. Ron or Dean Alexenberg? (geese I hope not) (grin)

JBaxter: Sneaker broke up after their second album. There had been some talk that a Japanese record company wanted to re-release their albums now. I hope so! One of the most impressive bands I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. I knew Ron Alexenberg because he was president of Handshake Records, the company to which Sneaker was signed.

Question: Anything to do with Fagen’s “New York Rock & Soul Revue”?

JBaxter: No, I’m busy with my project with John and a guy can only do so much.

Question: I was wondering how Mr. Baxter felt about digital recording technology as it exists today. Neil Young isn’t fond of it.

JBaxter: I think in theory digital recording is a wonderful idea. I think it has a long way to go before it can equal the warmth, transient response and feel of analog. As the price of memory drops farther and farther I think this is only a matter of time. Right now, however, I’ll take an Otari 24 track Dolby SR and Ampex 499 at Plus 9 with the multi-track running at 15 ips. That’s as close to heaven as I can get right now!

Question: What were the events surrounding your split with the Doobies?

JBaxter: After we’ve been together for so many years, many of the members diverged to their own musical directions. It felt like just the time had come. For me, I wanted to start producing records and I couldn’t do both.

Comment: I’d like to tell Jeff that one of the best guitar solos I ever heard was the one he whipped off on Saturday Night Live, with the Doobies, on “Takin’ It To the Streets.” Took the back of my head off, and have heard people talk about it years later.

JBaxter: Well I hope I didn’t cause any permanent brain damage! And thank you very much for the compliment.

Question: Why haven’t you put out a solo album?

JBaxter: Until now I didn’t want to be a part of the “one more solo album” from one more guitar player, from one more famous band syndrome.

Question: Well, I’ll start with a basic. How were the Steely Dan years? Many anecdotes to tell?

JBaxter: The Steely Dan years were great and maybe someday I’ll write a book. In that book there’ll be many chapters – Ultimate Spinach, Holy Modal Rounders, Carly Simon, Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Donna Sommers, Doobie Bros all will also have to have their chapters. Maybe I’ll do a mini-series.

Question: Do you use a keyboard sequencer or a computer?

JBaxter: A computer, A Macintosh II FX. But I prefer to cut tracks using live musicians whenever possible. It’s where science and alchemy meet.

Question: Hi Jeff, Gene Lucero here from San Francisco.

JBaxter: Oh! Hi Gene! Is it raining up there too?

Question: What kind of music are you playing in the new band?

JBaxter: It’s hard to describe but it has a very strong rock n roll/ R & B flavor to it. The material is more radio oriented than you might expect but with plenty of room to stretch out. That format certainly works for 2 other bands I can think of.

Question: Jeff, Please tell us if you like MIDI guitars?

JBaxter: I LOVE Midi guitars. I started working with a Roland on guitar synthesizers in 1974 and I haven’t stopped yet. Keyboard players shouldn’t have all the fun! For a real thrill you should try a MIDI Pedal-Steel Guitar system.

Question: Do you remember a band called The Bliss Band? Did you ever work with them?

JBaxter: I produced the Paul Bliss Band. It was the first album I ever produced and to this day is still one of my favorite productions.

Question: How did you feel about the direction the Doobies took after you left? They certainly changed.

JBaxter: Well I had no problem with it. I think the direction of a band has a lot to do with the members and as members change so does the music. For example, when I joined the Doobie Bros I brought Michael McDonald to the band, I think you would agree that there was a definite change. But something can’t stay fresh forever.

Question: Has music lost some of its “personality” or “heart” by becoming too electronic in your opinion? Clapton’s unplugged success was quite refreshing, I thought.

JBaxter: I think the musical trend, at least in the short term, is moving towards acoustic music. According to sales figures from music stores in the US, sales of keyboards are very flat. You can’t give away synthesizers, electric guitars have levelled off, but acoustic guitars are selling like hotcakes.

Question: When you’re finished here, if you put on a CD of a major artist, who might it be?

JBaxter: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, first and third movement and followed up with John Coltrane’s These Are a Few Of My Favorite Things. And then see if I can find Louie, Louie, on the radio!

Question: Some time back I heard Steely Dan was working on a new album. Any chance of this?

JBaxter: Anything is possible!

Question: Which session drummer do you like playing with?

JBaxter: Jeff Porcaro, David Kemper, Joe Pusateri, Richie Haywood to name a few.

Question: Jeff, various artists have different opinions on this matter. How do you feel about bootleg recordings? The reason I ask is that I’ve got a wonderful concert of you with Steely Dan in 1974 at LA’s Record Plant.

JBaxter: I have no problem with bootleg recording as long as it’s for your own personal use. It’s coming up on 11:00 now, so I want to thank you for coming tonight, and if they want me to “do it again,” (pardon the pun), let me know! Good night.

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