Episode 36: Jeff “Skunk” Baxter Discusses His Life in Rock ‘n’ Roll and the U.S. Intelligence Community

Episode of: STEM-Talk

< Back to STEM-Talk
Apr 25, 20171h 7m
Episode 36: Jeff “Skunk” Baxter Discusses His Life in Rock ‘n’ Roll and the U.S. Intelligence Community
Apr 25 '171h 7m
Play Episode

In a rare departure from interviews with scientists and engineers, STEM-Talk Host Dawn Kernagis and IHMC Director Ken Ford interview Jeffrey “Skunk” Baxter about his life as a musician and founding member of Steely Dan, and how he went on to become a defense consultant on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The two fields seem completely different, but Baxter explains the similarities between them and talks about how improvising in jazz is a skill that can carry over into defense analytics and tactics. Baxter’s bio includes playing with a number of well-known bands, such as Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers. As a studio musician for 35 years, Baxter recorded with Donna Summer, Dolly Parton, Ringo Starr and Rod Stewart. He was a record producer for Carl Wilson, the Beach Boys and Stray Cats. He also composed music for movies and television. He has achieved a certain renown in Washington as an advisor and consultant for multiple agencies and defense technology companies. He chaired a Congressional Advisory Board on missile defense and was a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute. Baxter also holds a unique affiliation with IHMC as “senior thinker and raconteur.” He and Ken go way back—to Ken’s own days in the rock ‘n’ roll business, which the two discuss in the interview. Baxter’s IHMC bio is available at http://www.ihmc.us/groups/jbaxter/. More information on him is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Baxter or https://www.facebook.com/skunkbaxter/. In 2009, Baxter gave an IHMC lecture entitled “The Revolution in Intelligence.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GRkCyvIz70 2:12: Dawn reads a five-star iTunes review. 3:04: Dawn reads Baxter’s bio and introduces Jeff and Ken. 4:38: Baxter talks about musicians who influenced him growing up, from Beethoven and Chopin to Thelonious Monk and Ella Fitzgerald. 5:05: Baxter was five years old when his mother gave him a great gift: “She taught me to read.” 6:04: Baxter read a lot of military history because of his father, who spent five years in active duty and 20 years in the reserves. 7:00: Baxter describes his beginnings as a musician. 8:00: His love of the complexity and improvisational nature of jazz helped prepare him for work in the intelligence community. 10:25: Ken asks Baxter to talk about his days in the ‘70s as a founding member of Steely Dan. 11:15: Baxter shares his insights about studio recordings. 12:27: Baxter notes that a long time ago Ken was very involved in rock ‘n’ roll as an agent who booked and managed bands. 15:30: Baxter talks about Steely Dan and the unsung hero of the band, Roger Nichols, who was the engineer. 17:30: Baxter describes his transition from Steely Dan to The Doobie Brothers. 21:11: Ken comments that the evolution of The Doobie Brothers was remarkable. He asks Baxter about bringing Mike McDonald to the band. 23:20: Dawn asks about Baxter’s transition from full-time rock musician to advisor on missile defense. 23:30: Baxter quips: “A radar is just an electric guitar on steroids.” 25:35: Writing a paper on converting the Aegis system to do theater missile defense on a mobile platform led Baxter to a position as a missile defense consultant on the Senate Armed Services Committee. 26:28: Baxter describes D.C. as “a whole new world to me” filled with “unbelievably talented, smart patriotic men and women.” 27:25: How Baxter used Beethoven, Bach, Jimmy Hendrix and Pink Floyd to teach radar at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. 28:50: Edward Teller, the Hungarian-American theoretical physicist, was also a concert pianist. Baxter talks about how he began to realize that more and more physicists he met were also musicians. 29:48: Dawn asks how Baxter was received by the defense community in D.C., given his rock band background. 31:33: Baxter talks about his first ‘brutal” press conference on missile defense (not considered back then by the press as a worthy endea...

0:00 / 0:00