Posts Tagged ‘soul’

Donald “Duck” Dunn (1941-2012): An Appreciation and Tribute

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

I was shocked this morning to read on Twitter that legendary bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn had passed away. Apparently, he was on tour in Japan and died quietly in his sleep at the age of 70.

Duck was one of those select few who had a profound effect on music and influenced countless others while remaining virtually anonymous. He was someone who you might not have heard of, but more than likely, you’ve definitely heard his music. To follow his career is to chart the course of the most important music made over the last 50+ years.

He was best known for being a member of Booker T. & The MGs. It goes without saying that Booker T. & The MGs, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, were pioneers of early Soul music.

But incredibly, Duck had made his way to the pop charts before becoming an MG. He was the bass player for the Mar-Keys in 1961 when they had a #3 hit with the instrumental “Last Night”.

With Booker T. & The MGs, Dunn made incredible soul instrumentals, most notably “Green Onions” and “Time Is Tight”. Beyond the great music they put out under their own name, they were also the house band for their label, Stax Records. This meant that they are playing on all the classic records put out by Stax throughout the 1960’s. That includes the recordings of Otis Redding (“Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay”), Sam & Dave (“Soul Man”, “Hold On, I’m Coming”), Rufus & Carla Thomas (“Walking The Dog”, “Gee Whiz”), Eddie Floyd (“Knock On Wood”), Wilson Pickett (“In The Midnight Hour”) and the great blues guitarist Albert King (“Born Under A Bad Sign”), among many others.

(I’m so happy that YouTube has live footage of this great band)

They don’t often get credit for it, but Booker T. & the MGs were also significant for being a racially integrated group at a time when acts and audiences were segregated in many places across the country.

After Booker T. & The MGs, Duck experienced a second stint in the spotlight when he joined the supergroup of musicians backing John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in the Blues Brothers. Dunn played himself in their 1980 movie and the 1998 sequel, “Blues Brothers 2000”. The first video here has the Blues Brothers and their band covering Wilson Pickett’s “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love”. Duck is prominent with his cloud of curly red hair while smoking a pipe.

In this age of “American Idol”, auto-tune, and pre-fab pop stars, the instrumental is pretty much a dead art form. While the instrumental was Duck Dunn’s claim to fame, his legacy was so much more. He wasn’t a teen heartthrob or a fancy singer. His only gimmick was creating some of the most grooving bass lines that locked in and helped create the world’s greatest rhythm section. According to Wikipedia, “Dunn’s basslines continue to be a source of inspiration for rap and hip-hop artists” which can only attest to the eternal timelessness of the music he created.

I feel so incredibly fortunate to have seen him when toured with Booker T. & The MGs behind Neil Young in 1993 at the Pacific Amphitheater. Rest in peace and thanks to the best bass player ever.