1974 – Guitarist Jeff (Skunk) Baxter quits Steely Dan and joins the Doobie Brothers.
With Steely Dan
After the breakup of Ultimate Spinach, Baxter relocated to Los Angeles, California, finding work as a session guitarist. In 1972 he became a founding member of the band Steely Dan, along with guitarist-bassist Walter Becker, keyboardist Donald Fagen, guitarist Denny Dias, drummer Jim Hodder and vocalist David Palmer (and session player Elliott Randall on various tracks). Becker and Fagen were employed at the time as staff songwriters for ABC Records, and they formed the band as a vehicle to promote their songs.
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. Among his contributions was the guitar solo on the 1974 hit single “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”.
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 to “Black Water” 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 hospitalised 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.
In early 1979, Baxter and co-founding drummer John Hartman left the band.