Gone But Not Forgotten: Donald “Duck” Dunn

Donald “Duck” Dunn was a master Bass player who laid down a groove to die for. As a member of Booker T & the MG’s, Dunn played with a who’s who of Blues, R&B and Rock and Roll artists. From Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Sam & Dave and Rufus Thomas to Albert King and Elvis Presley, Dunn laid down the groove for anyone and everyone.

Born on November 24, 1941 in Memphis Tennessee, Donald’s obsession for watching Disney cartoons lead his father to give him the nickname “Duck.” Fellow Memphians Steve Cropper and Charlie Freeman began playing music and formed the band “The Royal Spades.” They convinced Duck to take up the Bass. Many have been quick to point out that Dunn often filled in the gaps and created his own unique Bass lines based entirely on his ear and what he thought worked the best. Donald’s friends soon formed “The Mar-Keys” and recorded a tune for Memphis’ Satellite Records called “Last night.” Dunn can be heard laying down the Bass on this tune in 1961. In ‘62 Dunn left the band which eventually became “Booker T & the MG’s.” Many assume that Duck Dunn is playing Bass on the group’s biggest hit “Green Onions.” It was actually Lewie Steinberg, but Duck replaced Lewie in 1964.

The tale of Booker T & the MG’s is one of the legends that they are. Once Stax Records took off and artists like Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Albert King recorded there, the house band backed them all and often worked countless hours day in and day out at the studio. That house band was none other than Booker T & the MG’s with Mr. Duck Dunn on Bass, Steve Cropper on Guitar, Al Jackson Jr. on Drums and Booker T. Jones on Keys. The MG’s also released their own instrumental albums that were hugely influential and successful.

As the 1970’s dawned Stax Records changed. Booker T & the MG’s found themselves going in different directions and the music of Memphis was as well. Duck’s reputation as an awesome studio and live musician presented him with no lack of work. He performed with countless people throughout the 70’s and 80’s, laying down the groove for Elvis Presley and many others.

Duck always had a fantastic ability to step outside of the Rhythm and Blues world as well. He played on tunes such as “Stop draggin’ my heart around” for Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty in the 1980’s and also found himself front and center as a member of The Blues Brothers Band in the classic movie with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. In the 1990’s Booker T & the MG’s were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and did a reunion tour. The band was also asked to backup Neil Young on his World Tour and once again Duck Dunn and Crew proved they were the tightest musicians on the planet. Flawless playing was heard night after night.

As the New Millennium dawned Duck Dunn could be seen and heard performing in many different settings such as the House Band with Steve Cropper for Eric Clapton’s 2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival. On May 13, 2012 the world lost one of the greatest groove masters of all time. Mr. Donald “Duck” Dunn died in his sleep while on tour in Japan with Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd. He will live on as long as anyone out there chooses to not play a million notes and instead search for the groove. Whenever Bass players put on a tune and try to really figure out how to “lay it in the pocket”, chances are they will be listening to a tune that “Duck” Dunn is playing on. Thanks for the music and R.I.P. Mr. Donald “Duck” Dunn. November 24, 1941 – May 13, 2012

Todd Beebe

Todd Beebe

Todd Beebe is a full time musician/teacher in the Chicago area and a staff writer at BG: Blues And Music News. His first exposure to music was hearing his Grandfather's bands playing Traditional Country music by the likes of Hank Williams Sr., The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. Tracing the roots of that music lead him to his love of the Blues. Todd is available for private guitar instruction at All About Music, Inc. in Mokena, IL. 708-479-0440 www.AllAboutMusicMokena.com For more info contact him @ 708-214-6459 or visit www.ToddBeebeMusic.com.

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