Donald "Duck" Dunn, the famed session bass guitarist for Memphis-based Stax Records and R&B band Booker T. & the M.G.'s, died in Tokyo after performing at the Blue Note night club with fellow musician Steve Cropper. He was 70.
Dunn was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1941. He met future guitarist Cropper in high school. He taught himself how to play bass at the age of 16. And along with Cropper, Dunn formed his first band, The Royal Spades, before changing its name to The Mar-Keys, which had a hit single "Last Night" in 1961.
Dunn's father nicknamed him "Duck" one day while the two were watching a Disney cartoon on TV.
His father, who was a candymaker, did not want his son to be a musician because he thought he would become a drug addict and die, according to Dunn's official website.
"Most parents in those days thought music was a pastime; something you did as a hobby," Dunn said on his website.
Dunn tried several other occupations unsuccessfully before music, such as working in a candy factory alongside his father and working for an electrical company repairing long-range air sirens.
In 1964, Cropper invited Dunn to join his band Booker T. & the M.G.'s, replacing original bassist Lewie Steinberg. With Dunn and Cropper being the two white members, the band was one of the first racially integrated music acts at a time when soul music was generally considered part of black culture.
From then on, Dunn achieved international recognition by performing bass grooves on hits like Otis Redding's "Respect," Sam & Dave's "Hold On, I'm Comin'," and Albert King's "Born Under A Bad Sign."
While continuing to play for Booker T & the M.G.'s, Dunn went on to perform with Muddy Waters, Freddy King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eric Clapton, and Rod Stewart.
Dunn and Cropper were featured as themselves in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers as being part of the band with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. Dunn then appeared as himself again in the 1998 sequel, Blues Brothers 2000.
Dunn's first bass guitar was a Kay. But he later acquired a Fender Precision Bass guitar in 1958. In 1998, Dunn collaborated with Fender to produce the Duck Dunn P-Bass, a candy-apple red signature bass guitar based on the late 1950s style.
In 1992, Booker T. & the M.G.'s were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Dunn performed for the museum's house band when it opened in 1995, playing along with Aretha Franklin, Sam Moore, John Fogerty, and Al Green. Dunn received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy award in 2007.
Dunn died in his sleep yesterday morning after performing a double show with Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd the night before.
"Today I lost my best friend, the world has lost the best guy and best bass player to ever live," Cropper said on his Facebook page.
Dunn is survived by his wife, June; a son, Jeff; and a grandson, Michael.
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