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Duck!

May 23, 2012

There have been too many fucking significant people dying, and I’ve been too fucking busy to do them justice. And for that, I apologize (say it like you’re from Jackson — trust me, it works).

Anyhow, since it’s one in the morning and I need to be back at work in relatively short order, I’m going to get a quick one in.

Recently, Donald “Duck” Dunn passed on. For those of you who do know Mr. Dunn, it may because of his star-ish turn in The Blues Brothers, and don’t get me wrong, that’s great, but his legacy goes far beyond that. Here’s a little flavor:

The soul music created at Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, was an indelible part of the soundtrack of the 1960s. The magisterial and hypnotic bass-guitar lines on hits by Booker T & the MGs, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes and many others were created by Donald “Duck” Dunn, who has died aged 70.

Dunn made a vital contribution to the hits Hip Hug-Her (1967), Time Is Tight and Hang ‘Em High (both 1969) and many other recordings by Booker T & the MGs, a rare example of an integrated group, made up of himself and Cropper and the African Americans Booker T Jones (on organ and piano) and Al Jackson (on drums). One of their most enduring tracks is Soul Limbo, for many years the theme of the BBC’s Test cricket coverage. Cropper said of his colleague’s playing that its uniqueness sprang from the fact that he was mainly self-taught, rather than learning from tutor books. Dunn also used flat wound strings that created a thudding timbre which matched Jackson’s kick-drum sound.

Dunn was born in Memphis, the son of a confectionery manufacturer, and gained the nickname “Duck” from the Disney cartoon character. Although his was not a musical family, Dunn took up the ukulele at the age of 10, soon graduating to the guitar. The high school band evolved into the Royal Spades, a group of white kids trying to emulate their rhythm & blues heroes such as Ray Charles and BB King. “We played for five dollars and a few beers,” Dunn said later.

After that group’s first hit, Green Onions, the bass player Lewis Steinberg was replaced by Dunn, at Cropper’s insistence. Between 1964 and 1969 Dunn was the first-choice bassist not only for the MGs but for most of the recordings made at the Stax studios on McLemore Avenue. Dunn can be heard on Redding’s I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (1965) and (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay (1967), Eddie Floyd’s Knock on Wood (1966), Albert King’s Born Under a Bad Sign (1967) and In the Midnight Hour (1965) by Pickett.

And who knew he had a friggin’ ukulele connection — not to mention the cricket thing?

Oh, and did I mention that I was planning to learn to play the bass? Well, I still am. And now I’m going to do it in honor of Donald Dunn. May he rest in peace, love & soul.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 23, 2012 3:40 pm

    R.I.P. To Donald “Duck” Dunn. My favorite Booker T. and the MG’s song is “Time Is Tight.” I tried to get a link to it, but for some reason my browser no longer can see YouTube videos. Fuck.

  2. May 23, 2012 4:30 pm

    Here you go:

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