Remembering Donald “Duck” Dunn

Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Remembering Donald “Duck” Dunn

Two years ago today, legendary bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn died in his sleep at the age of 70 after playing his fifth night of double shows at the Blue Note, a nightclub in Tokyo, Japan, with his longtime Booker T. & the M.G.’s bandmate, Steve Cropper. While it’s a shame that he left us after having just confirmed to a crowd that he was still very much on his game as a musician, at least he departed with an audience’s applause still ringing in his ears.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee on November 24, 1941, Dunn – who got his nickname from his father in exactly the manner you’d expect: while watching Disney cartoons – grew up alongside the aforementioned Mr. Cropper, and when Cropper started playing guitar with another of his friends, Dunn decided to take a shot at playing bass. Although he was a self-taught musician, it was that unique method of mastering his instrumental that led to his equally unique style, one which can be heard all over the Stax Records catalog, including tracks by Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, Johnnie Taylor, William Bell, Albert King, and numerous others.

As noted, Dunn also made a mark as one of the M.G.’s, although he wasn’t actually a founding member of the band (he didn’t join the lineup until 1964 when Lewie Steinberg departed the ranks), but he’s arguably just as well known to comedy fans for his membership in the Blues Brothers band, appearing in both the original 1980 film as well as its belated sequel, Blues Brothers 2000. Indeed, there is reason to believe that Dunn was a great deal of the reason why Jake and Elwood Blues had a band powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline…and if that line doesn’t resonate with you, it’s clearly time you revisited the film.

Dunn’s most famous credits often outshined some which were equally impressive, including playing on albums by Elvis Presley (Raised on Rock), Stevie Nicks (Bella Donna), and several efforts by Eric Clapton and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, played at Live Aid (with Clapton), was part of the backing band for the Bob Dylan 30th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden, along with the rest of Booker T. and the M.G.’s.

Clearly, Donald “Duck” Dunn made a major impact as a musician, but just in case you need some reminding, here’s a collection of tracks to give you an idea of the variety of artists who made use of his talents over the course of his long career.