Donald “Duck” Dunn, the bassist who helped create the gritty Memphis soul sound at Stax Records in the 1960s with the legendary group Booker T and the MGs and contributed to classics such as In the Midnight Hour, Hold On I’m Coming and Sitting On The Dock of The Bay, has died 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, Japan.
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.
“Today I lost my best friend, the World has lost the best guy and bass player to ever live,” Cropper wrote on Twitter.
Dunn was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1941, and according to the biography on his official website, was nicknamed after the cartoon character by his father, who 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 back-up 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. Jackson was killed in Memphis in 1975 by an intruder in his home.
Cropper and Dunn reunited when they joined Aykroyd and Belushi’s Blues Brothers band and appeared in the 1980 Blues Brothers movie.
“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 once said that he and Cropper were “like married people”.
“I can look at him and know what he’ll order for dinner,” he said. “When we play music together we both know where we’re going.”
Dunn received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2007.
He is survived by his wife, June, son Jeff and grandson Michael.