Legendary musician, Donald Dunn, has passed away today.
Donald “Duck” Dunn (November 24, 1941 – May 13, 2012) was an American bass guitarist, session musician, record producer, and songwriter. Dunn was notable for his 1960s recordings with Booker T. & the M.G.’s and as a session bassist for Stax Records, which specialized in blues and gospel-infused southern soul and Memphis soul music styles. Dunn also performed on recordings with The Blues Brothers, Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Albert King, Levon Helm, Neil Young, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Guy Sebastian, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, Roy Buchanan, Steely Dan and Arthur Conley.
Cropper has noted how the self-taught Dunn started out playing along with records, filling in what he thought should be there. “That’s why Duck Dunn’s bass lines are very unique”, Cropper said, “They’re not locked into somebody’s schoolbook somewhere”. Axton’s mother Estelle and her brother Jim Stewart owned Satellite Records and signed the band, who had a national hit with “Last Night” in 1961 under their new name “The Mar-Keys”. The bassist on “Last Night” was Donald “Duck” Dunn, but he left the Mar-Keys in 1962 to join Ben Branch’s big band.
The Booker T and the M.G.s group was founded by Steve Cropper and Booker T. Jones in 1962; Al Jackson, Jr. served as the band’s drummer. The original bassist, on early hits such as “Green Onions”, was Lewie Steinberg; Dunn replaced him in 1964.
Stax became known for Jackson’s drum sound, the sound of The Memphis Horns, and Duck Dunn’s grooves. The MGs and Dunn’s bass lines on songs like Otis Redding’s “Respect” and “I Can’t Turn You Loose”, Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin'”, and Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign”, were influential. Dunn, Cropper, Jackson, and Jones recorded their first album, 1967’s Hip Hug-Her.
Dunn went on to play for Muddy Waters, Freddie King, and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart. He was the featured bass player for Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” single from Nicks’ 1981 debut solo album Bella Donna, as well as other Petty tracks between 1976 and 1981. He reunited with Cropper as a member of Levon Helm’s RCO All Stars and also displayed his quirky Southern humor making two movies with Cropper, former Stax drummer Willie Hall, and Dan Aykroyd, as a member of The Blues Brothers band.
Dunn played himself in the 1980 feature The Blues Brothers, where he famously uttered the line, “We had a band powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline!” He appeared in the 1998 sequel Blues Brothers 2000, once again playing himself. Dunn supported Neil Young live and in the studio and continued to play with Cropper and Jones, usually with the late Al Jackson, Jr.’s cousin Steve Potts on drums, as Booker T. & the MGs. In the 2000s Dunn was in semi-retirement, although he still performed occasionally with Booker T & the MGs at clubs and music festivals.