Rock music from the 1970s and '80s is having more than a moment right now. The rising popularity of what's known as Yacht Rock, the breezy tunes with high production that are easy to listen to from that period, has led to a resurgence of a genre that nearly faded away.
Just ask Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, a legendary guitarist who played in some of the most famous bands from that era, like The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. He's embracing this revival of his music with some new performances, including one at City Winery in Boston Thursday night.
“Just look at the album sales for both the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, and it's pretty obvious that people have rediscovered it,” Baxter told GBH’s Morning Edition co-host Jeremy Siegel. “The fact that it brings the music of Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers, Spirit, Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, all the bands that I play with, to a whole other generation — that's very fulfilling.”
His Boston show is a bit of a homecoming, considering that his career in the industry began here when he was a student at Boston University.
“When I got to Boston, I found myself immersed in quite the music scene,” he said.
One of his classmates was James Montgomery of The James Montgomery Blues Band. Baxter started working in music stores like Jack’s Drum Shop, building and repairing guitars.
“I learned a lot about guitars, the ins and outs of the instrument,” he said. “One day I was working at Jack's music shop, and a gentleman came in and asked me if I wanted to join Ultimate Spinach. I said, sure. Why not?”
He played in the short-lived psychedelic rock band, as well as Holy Modal Rounders. He picked up session work, playing bass for Tim Buckley and others, traveling between Boston and New York.
“The next iteration of all that was meeting Gary Katz at Intermedia Sound Studios,” Baxter said. “He heard me doing a session with someone and asked me if I would go to New York and do a session that he was producing with a woman named Linda Hoover.”
The songwriters were Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, who later became Baxter’s Steely Dan bandmates.
“We finished that up, and Donald and Walter said, ‘We never hear anybody who played guitar quite like that,’” Baxter said. “And I said, ‘Well, I've never heard music quite like that.’”
That’s how Steely Dan was born, he said.
“Not to oversimplify, but there was certainly something delightful about being able to drive down the road, turn on the radio and hear your music,” Baxter said. “I ended up playing in all kinds of bands. I ended up playing with Johnny Rodriguez for a while. I played with The Doobie Brothers and Elton John and Linda Ronstadt number of folks. It was just a real rich in terms of fulfillment.”