Donald “Duck” Dunn, the bassist who, alongside guitarist Steve Cropper, helped create the sound of Memphis soul at Stax Records as part of Booker T. and the MGs, died in his sleep May 13. He was 70.
One of the most respected session players in the history of popular music, Dunn’s bass is heard on a host of classics recorded in the studios of Stax Records, including Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour,” Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” as well as two hit versions of “Soul Man” – the original by Sam and Dave from 1967, and the 1978 cover recorded by the Blues Brothers.
Dunn was born in Memphis in 1941. He began playing bass in high school, which led to his joining the Mar-Keys with Cropper. He later followed Cropper into Stax Records’ house band, Booker T. & The MGs (which stood for “Memphis group”), one of the first racially integrated soul bands. Along with sessions backing the numerous soul stars on the Stax roster, the band scored instrumental hits of their own, such as “Hip Hug-Her,” “Soul Limbo,” and “Hang ‘Em High.”
Later in his career, Dunn worked with Eric Clapton (with whom he performed at Live Aid in ’85), Tom Petty, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Peter Frampton, Robert Palmer, Rod Stewart, and Levon Helm. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and received a lifetime achievement Grammy award for his work with Booker T. & The MG’s. Most recently, Dunn was semi-retired, playing shows and festivals with Booker T. & The MGs. When he passed away, he was playing with Cropper and vocalist Eddie Floyd in Japan. Dunn was interviewed in the the February ’06 issue of VG.