Crash Course: Guitar Workshop With Jeff "Skunk" Baxter

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Jeff Skunk Baxter
Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (Photo By Gary Miller)

Crash Course: Guitar Workshop With Jeff "Skunk" Baxter

Austin Convention Center, Wednesday, March 12 Best known for his work with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter is one of the foremost studio-bred guitarists to emerge from the Seventies. Although his trademark beret and handlebar mustache give him the visual aura of California mellow, Baxter is a formidable and engaging mind. When not playing sessions, he serves as a national security analyst. He apologized in advance for any phone calls that might interrupt the workshop. "Tell General Franks to hold off," Baxter joshed. "I've got a clinic." The linchpin of Baxter's message to would-be guitar heroes was that all things are connected -- scales and chords, notes and phrasing, and even music and physics. Baxter jumped between addressing beginners and intermediates, but the transitions were relatively seamless since even the top players have to constantly reinvent themselves. His first bit of advice to someone who wants to learn to play the guitar? Study classical piano for five years to learn composition, theory, and all the other building blocks of music. Ideally, you want to have flow, which Baxter defined as "the elimination of consciousness between what you think and what you do." He encouraged veteran players to continue taking lessons since everyone has something to teach you, something Michael McDonald can also attest to. "The beginning of 'Minute by Minute'? That was a piano exercise!" Baxter recalled. He also fondly recalled his first big session, at which top session guitarist Tommy Tedesco took "credit" for Baxter's clam and saved his hide. He succinctly summarized the glacial pace of working with Steely Dan by saying, "It used to take us six weeks just to find a comfortable chair at $300 an hour." Aside from his classified work for the DOD, the only thing "Skunk" didn't touch on was the origin of his nickname. "That'll be in my book," he quipped.

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