While Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter may not be a household name, those even remotely familiar with the smooth sounds of 70’s rock have surely heard his tasteful tones grace their ears. A founding member of Steely Dan, Baxter’s silky solos can be heard on songs such as “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and “My Old School.” After Steely, Skunk joined The Doobie Brothers while continuing to do session work, even shredding a solo on Donna Summers “Hot Stuff.” He would go on to produce tracks for artists as diverse as Carl Wilson and The Stray Cats, to play on records from Cher, The Ventures, Barbra Streisand, and Joni Mitchell, and to write music for Beverly Hills 90210. Heck, early in his career he played bass in one of Jimi Hendrix’s first bands, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. But in the 80’s, Skunk had one of the strangest career changes one could imagine.
Skunk had always been interested in music technology and in the 80’s the industry was switching over from analog tape to digital, this lead him to start wondering about data compression systems and large capacity storage devices that were developed by the military. His neighbor happened to be a retired Pentagon engineer and, excited by Skunk’s interest, he bought him a subscription to Aviation Magazine.
Baxter was hooked. He ended up writing a five page paper on missile defense systems and presented it to Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, and the rest is history. Since then, he has consulted for many defense companies and organizations and is currently “senior thinker and raconteur” at the Florida Institute For Human and Machine Cognition and was a committee member for NASA’s Exploration Systems Advisory Committee. Why do you think these military types would even listen to a hippie, who played in a band called the Doobie Brothers of all names? It’s his creativity—“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.” I guess that’s thinking outside the box, Skunk!