Bucky Baxter — an ace pedal steel guitarist who played in Bob Dylan’s band for much of the Nineties on Dylan’s Never Ending Tour — died Monday in Sanibel Island, Florida. He was 65. Baxter’s son, singer-songwriter Rayland Baxter, confirmed his father’s death via Instagram on Tuesday.
Born William Baxter in Melbourne, Florida, in 1955, Baxter began studying pedal steel guitar in the Seventies. In the Eighties, he met the country songwriter Steve Earle and played on Earle’s influential 1986 debut, Guitar Town, along with other classic Earle LPs like 1988’s Copperhead Road and 1990’s The Hard Way. Baxter also toured with Earle as a founding member of his longtime backing band the Dukes.
During a tour with Earle, he met Bob Dylan, who asked Baxter to give him steel guitar lessons. In 1992, he joined Dylan’s band as steel player and multi-instrumentalist, hitting the road on Dylan’s storied Never Ending Tour. Baxter traveled the globe with Dylan through 1999, playing more than 750 shows, including a 1995 MTV Unplugged concert, and adding pedal steel to Dylan’s Grammy-winning 1997 album, Time Out of Mind.
Upon leaving Dylan’s band, he released the solo instrumental album Most Likely, No Problem in 1999 and began working with Ryan Adams, touring with the alt-country artist and playing on Adams’ albums Gold and Demolition. He would go on to record with a number of other country and Americana acts, contributing steel guitar to records by Kacey Musgraves, Old Crow Medicine Show, and those by his own son, including 2018’s Wide Awake.
For all his years on the road with Dylan, Baxter says he never tried to strike up a friendship with the reclusive songwriter. “I just worked for him. And we had a good working relationship … but I never went to his house for Thanksgiving or anything,” he told the Dylan fan magazine On the Tracks. “I think that’s why I lasted so long — I conducted myself professionally and let him be. I never bugged him.”