The world has lost another amazing musical voice. On Sunday, Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn passed away in his sleep while on tour with Steve Cropper in Tokyo. He was 70 years old. Dunn was an integral part of the gritty Memphis soul sound at Stax Records during the 60s. Stax served up music from Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes and the Staples Singers. Dunn worked there as a session bassist with his best friend and guitarist, Steve Cropper. During this time, Dunn laid down bass lines for a number of hits including “In the Midnight Hour,” “Hold On, I’m Coming” and “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” The two joined the Stax house band, Booker T. and the MGs, where they scored a number of hits such as “Hang `Em High,” “Soul-Limbo,” and before Dunn joined the group, “Green Onions.” It was one of the first racially integrated soul groups, with two whites (Dunn on bass and Cropper on guitar) and two blacks (Booker T. Jones on organ and Al Jackson on drums), and was later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Dunn was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1941. He was the son of a candy maker who gave him the nickname of the cartoon character and did not want his son to be a musician. “He thought I would become a drug addict and die. Most parents in those days thought music was a pastime, something you did as a hobby, not a profession,” Dunn said. By the time he was in high school, Dunn and Cropper had put a band together. Booker T. and the MGs recorded a lot in the 60s, but by the 70s the band’s members began to drift apart. In 1975, tragedy struck as their drummer, Al Jackson, was killed in Memphis by an intruder in his home. Dunn and Cropper reunited for the 1980 Blues Brothers film. Donald Dunn recorded with many artists including Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Rod Stewart, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty. Dunn once said that he and Cropper were “like married people.” “I can look at him and know what he’ll order for dinner,” he said. “When we play music together we both know where we’re going.” Dunn received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2007. He is survived by his wife, June; a son, Jeff; and a grandchild, Michael. He will be sorely missed, but his contribution to some of the greatest music of all time will never be lost. Listen to “Chicken Pox” from Booker T. and the MGs’ Melting Pot album to hear why this band is so highly regarded.