One of the greatest bass guitarists in the history of black music, Memphis born Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, died in his sleep yesterday, following a gig the previous night with Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd at Tokyo’s Blue Note nightclub.
I was particularly sad to hear of his passing. Dunn, as a member of Booker T & The M.G.’s, played a major role in my youth, for not only was this a group that made some classic recordings of their own, they were, even more importantly, the house band at Stax Studio in Dunn’s home city, originators of the seminal ‘Stax sound’, backing some of the true giants of Soul – Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett, to name but some of the artists they worked with. Dunn’s bass underpins so many singles I forever fell in love with as a boy back in the late ’60s – released on the iconic Stax and Atlantic labels, which my brother (who’s 10 years older than me) was particularly partial to, being a Soul loving scooter riding Mod at the time.
The Stax Volt tour, which came to the UK in 1967, saw the band (incorporating the Mar-Keys horn section) back Otis, Sam & Dave, Arthur Conley and Eddie Floyd. If I could have seen any live tour ever, this would have been it. So, as you can appreciate, I’m eternally envious of my brother because he did get to see it. Thankfully the Oslo leg was filmed for posterity and is something I never tire of watching. You can check it out on YouTube
Booker T & The MG’s are also there on stage with Otis Redding at the first major rock festival, California’s Monterey Pop, later in 1967, when Otis won the hearts of ‘the love crowd’ – the performance ending with his prophetic words ‘I’ve got to go now, and I don’t want to go’ – prophetic because Otis would tragically die just under 6 months later, along with most of the members of the Bar Kays, who’d taken over as his live band (Booker T & The M.G.’s being busy with studio commitments), when the plane they were travelling in crashed on its way from Cleveland to Madison, Wisconsin. You can see the Monterey performance here in its full glory:
Dunn’s bandmates were Steve Cropper on guitar, Booker T. Jones on organ / piano, and the late Al Jackson Jr on drums (dubbed ‘the human metronome’, due to the tightness of his beat). This was a beast of a band, breaking down barriers with their racial mix (Jackson & Jones black, Cropper & Dunn white). They scored British hits with ‘Soul Limbo’, ‘Time Is Tight’, ‘Soul Clap 69’ and ‘Green Onions’, the latter of which featured the bands original bassist Lewie Steinberg (Dunn didn’t join until 1964, 2 years after it was recorded), however he did appear on the Mar-Keys US million seller ‘Last Night’ in 1961. ‘Time Is Tight’ kicked off my Random Influences series (see: //blog.gregwilson.co.uk/2011/11/random-influences-on-itunes/), and holds a special place in my affection – undoubtedly one of my all-time favourite 45s. Here they are playing a brilliant live rendition in 1970:
Dunn would be known by a subsequent generation via his appearance, alongside Steve Cropper, in the 1980 film ‘The Blues Brothers’, where he was a member of the band. Apart from Soul / black music artists Dunn also recorded with the likes of Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Rod Stewart, Stevie Nicks and Bob Dylan.
Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn Wikipedia: