Sunday, May 13, 2012

R.I.P. Donald "Duck" Dunn

R.I.P. Donald "Duck" Dunn

Donald "Duck" Dunn, the bassist who helped create the gritty Memphis soul sound at Stax Records in the 1960s as part of the legendary group Booker T. and the MGs and contributed to such classics as "In the Midnight Hour," ''Hold On, I'm Coming" and "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," died Sunday at 70.

Dunn, whose legacy as one of the most respected session musicians in the business also included work with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd's Blues Brothers as well as with Levon Helm, Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, died while on tour in Tokyo.

News of his death was posted on the Facebook site of his friend and fellow musician Steve Cropper, who was on the same tour. Cropper said Dunn died in his sleep.

Dunn was born in Memphis, Tenn., in 1941, and according to the biography on his official website, was nicknamed for the cartoon character by his father. His father, a candy maker, did not want him to be a musician.

"He thought I would become a drug addict and die. Most parents in those days thought music was a pastime, something you did as a hobby, not a profession," Dunn said.

But by the time Dunn was in high school, he was in a band with Cropper.

Cropper left to become a session player at Stax, the Memphis record company that would become known for its soul recordings and artists such as Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes and the Staples Singers.

Dunn soon followed Cropper and joined the Stax house band, also known as Booker T. and the MGs.
It was one of the first racially integrated soul groups, with two whites (Dunn on bass and Cropper on guitar) and two blacks (Booker T. Jones on organ and Al Jackson on drums), and was later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The group had its heyday in the 1960s as backup for various Stax artists. Dunn played on Redding's "Respect" and "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," Sam and Dave's "Hold On, I'm Coming" and Wilson Pickett's "In the Midnight Hour."

Booker T. and the MGs had its own hits as well, including "Hang 'Em High," ''Soul-Limbo" and, before Dunn joined the band, the cool 1962 instrumental "Green Onions."

"I would have liked to have been on the road more, but the record company wanted us in the studio. Man, we were recording almost a hit a day for a while there," Dunn said.

In the 1970s, the group's members drifted apart.  Cropper and Dunn reunited when they joined Aykroyd and Belushi's Blues Brothers band. "How could anybody not want to work with John and Dan? I was really kind of hesitant to do that show, but my wife talked me into it," Dunn said in a 2007 interview with Vintage Guitar magazine, "and other than Booker's band, that's the most fun band I've ever been in."

Dunn also did session work on recordings by Clapton, Young, Dylan, Rod Stewart, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty, according to his discography.

Dunn received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2007.

He is survived by his wife, June; a son, Jeff; and a grandchild, Michael, said Michael Leahy, Dunn's agent.


  1. DISC ~
    I'd not heard about this prior to seeing it on your blog.

    So Donald "Duck" Dunn has joined 'The 70 Club', eh? That growing list of famous Rock & Pop musicians who have kicked the bucket at age 70.

    Some time ago, I was reading something where someone in the music industry stated that they believed Duck Dunn had laid down the all-time greatest or funkiest bass line on a certain track.

    Wish I could remember where I saw that.

    I put on some BOOKER T. & THE MG's in Duck's honor. Skimming over the liner notes I was reminded that his first instrument was the ukulele.

    When Steve Cropper tried to teach him guitar, he wasn't able to pick it up because he complained it had "too many strings".

    He subsequently got left behind by Cropper and his other music buddies. But then eventually he showed up again, this time with a bass guitar (4 strings, just like a ukulele) and the rest is... as they say... "history".

    Hope I die before I get... into The 70 Club.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  2. Mc Dogg-

    It is somewhat conflicting,right?

    On the one hand, none of these guys were supposed to make it to 70!

    On the other hand, there really aren't any young up-and-comers who seem to have the chops to sustain careers like the old guard did.

    I am sure given a choice, DD would have preferred to go while on tour.

    If you ever find that quote, let me know-I'd want to give that song some serious listening.

  3. DISC ~
    >> . . . there really aren't any young up-and-comers who seem to have the chops to sustain careers like the old guard did.

    Exactly what my ears tell me (even though I don't keep up with the newer sounds like you do). It just seems like for the last 25-30 years everything in Pop music has become electronic - drum machines, synthesizers, etc.

    I know that every old generation thinks that the newer generation has taken music to hell but...

    I can still recall playing records for my parents, and vice versa.

    I remember my parents playing me Fats Waller doing Boogie Woogie riffs on piano. And then I said, "Wait! That sounds like THIS!" and I played them some track from the live R.E.O. Speedwagon album that featured a Boogie Woogie piano solo. (I was probably thinking "Maybe their music ain't so old after all", and they were probably thinking, "Maybe his music ain't so bad after all.")

    I'd play them Starbuck, with Bo Wagner on vibes, and they'd play me Big Band records featuring Lionel Hampton on vibes.

    A young person today would ask, "What the f##kin' f##k is vibes, dude?"

    In 1978 or '79, I discovered Jazz-Funk-Rock keyboardist Brian Auger and fell totally in love with his version of 'Bumpin' On Sunset' from his 'Live Oblivion' album.

    That same year, I played it for my Ma (on "Licorice Pizza", of course) and I can still recall my Pa walking through the room while it was playing and making some derogatory remark. And my Ma (who always was pretty "funky" for an old White woman) said, "Actually, Chuck, this guy is pretty good."

    That day, I realized how "cool" my Ma was, and I realized that truly great musicians transcend time.

    Unfortunately, though, I think we've entered an era where "style" trumps "chops" by a distressing margin.

    In my opinion, it's really sad what has happened to popular music. It really started in our generation though, when very minimally talented groups like 'The Sex Pistols' (a band formed in the mind of a young fashion designer) captured the attention of young and naive morons like ME.

    >> . . . If you ever find that quote, let me know-I'd want to give that song some serious listening.

    OK. I wish I had written it down somewhere. The only thing I'm really sure of is that it wasn't a BOOKER T. & THE MG'S track, but a track for some other artist who they were playing behind in the studio.

    It's hell to get old and lose your teeth, your memory, and your... hmmm... I've lost a third thing also, but I can't remember what it was.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  4. Yeah, but you still gots yer hair!

    Sadly, I think Peter Frampton and Fleetwood Mac are to blame.

    Once record companies realized they could have mega sellers, music changed. Instead of looking for new artists, they looked for sound-alikes.

    We've had this conversation before and agreed-Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty would have never been given a record deal in the environment of the last 20 years.