Born in Washington, D.C. in 1948, Jeff is an American guitarist best known for his stints in the rock bands Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers during the 1970s. More recently, he has been working as a defense consultant, chairs a Congressional Advisory Board on missile defense, and he was hired to help compose the theme song of the hit animated series King Of The Hill which he later produced and played with The Refreshments.
While working at Manny's Music Shop in Manhattan in 1966, Jeff met guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who was just beginning his career as a frontman. For a short period during that year, Baxter was a member of a Handrix-led band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, along with fellow Manny's employee Randy California.
Baxter graduated from The Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut and attended the School of Public Communication (now College of Communication) at Boston University, entering as a freshman in September 1967, where he studied journalism and continued his work with local Boston bands.
Baxter first reached the larger rock audience in 1968 as a member of the psychedelic rock band Ultimate Spinach. Baxter joined that band for their third and final album, titled III. He then went on to play with the Holy Modal Rounders.
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".
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 hospitalized 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; Baxter's work on the album includes a noted performance at the end of "How Do the Fools Survive?".
In early 1979, Baxter and co-founding drummer John Hartman left the band.
Baxter has continued working as a session guitarist for a diverse group of artists, including Willy DeVille, Bryan Adams, Hoyt Axton, Eric Clapton, Gene Clark, Sheryl Crow, Freddie Hubbard, Joni Mitchell, Rick Nelson, Dolly Parton, Carly Simon, Ringo Starr, Rod Stewart, Barbra Streisand, and Donna Summer. He has worked as a touring musician with Elton John and Linda Ronstadt and Billy Vera and the Beaters. In 1990, Baxter joined John Entwistle, Joe Walsh, Keith Emerson and Simon Phillips in an abortive supergroup called "The Best". The group released a live performance video in Japan before disbanding. He also produced several albums for the hard rock band Nazareth, Carl Wilson, and Livingston Taylor, The Ventures and Nils Lofgren. He also appeared in the film Blues Brothers 2000 and can be heard on the cast album. He was producer on a Bob Welch album in 1982, "Eye Contact". In 1994 Baxter performed on the video game Tuneland.
He continues accepting studio work; his most recent such work involved tribute albums to Pink Floyd and Aerosmith. He also occasionally plays in The Coalition of the Willing, a band comprising Andras Simonyi, Hungarian Ambassador to the United States; Alexander Vershbow, US Ambassador to South Korea; Daniel B. Poneman, formerly of the United States National Security Council and now of The Scowcroft Group ; and Lincoln Bloomfield, former United States Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs. On June , 2007, Baxter jammed with former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow's band Beats Workin at the Congressional Picnic held on the South Lawn of the White House.