Photo by Dino Perrucci
Legendary bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, best known for his work with Booker T. & the M.G.‘s and as a session bassist for Stax Records, died in his sleep on Sunday at the age of 70. Prior to his death, Dunn had performed a pair of shows at the Blue Note in Tokyo alongside longtime collaborators Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd.
Dunn was born in Memphis, TN in 1941, and was given his long-lasting nickname by his father after the Donald Duck cartoon character. The bassist began his foray into the world of music as a teenager, when he formed the Royal Spades (later the Mar-Keys) with future Stax colleagues Cropper and Don Nix. Later, when Cropper left the band to become a full-time session musician at the Stax studio, Dunn followed and became part of the Stax house band, Booker T. & the MG’s. This lineup, which featured Dunn (bass), Cropper (guitar), Booker T. Jones (organ), and Al Jackson Jr. (drums), formed what is considered one of the most respected rhythm sections in music.
During his tenure at Stax, where he remained until the mid-70s, Dunn became known for his contribution to the label’s heavy “bottom” sound and performed on such R&B classic as Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay,” Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour,” and “Hold On I’m Coming” by Sam and Dave.
In subsequent years, Dunn’s resume included work with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers as well as with Levon Helm, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis and many more.
In the early 90s, the MG’s reunited on an album, That’s The Way It Should Be and also went on to back Neil Young on an American tour. Dunn, Cropper, and Jones also served as the house band for Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2004.
Dunn was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 as a member of Booker T & the MG’s. In 2007, Dunn and the surviving members of Booker T & the MG’s members received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy award.
Dunn is survived by his wife, June; his son, Jeff; and his grandson Michael.