Legendary bassist and Booker T. and the MGs member Donald “Duck” Dunn died this morning in Tokyo at the age of 70. Dunn’s death was announced by his friend and fellow MG, guitarist Steve Cropper. “Today I lost my best friend, the world has lost the best guy and bass player to ever live” Cropper wrote on his website. “Duck Dunn died in his sleep Sunday morning May 13 in Tokyo Japan after finishing two shows at the Blue Note Night Club.”
Dunn was born in Memphis in November 1941 and was gifted the nickname “Duck” by his father when the pair were watching a Donald Duck cartoon on TV. The musician started playing bass at the age of 16. “I tried the guitar but it had two strings too many,” he later joked. “It was just too complicated, man! Plus, I grew up with Steve Cropper. There were so many good guitar players another one wasn’t needed. What was needed was a bass.”
Dunn and Cropper’s band The Mar-Keys scored a hit with “Last Night” in 1961. The pair subsequently became studio musicians at the label Stax, releasing records as members of Booker T. and the MGs and performing on an amazing array of seminal soul-pop hits. Tracks to benefit from Dunn’s firm yet fluid playing include Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay,” Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour,” and Sam and Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’.”
By the early ’70s, Dunn had established himself as a much in-demand session musician and would go on to back Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, and many others. He was also a key member of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers Band and appeared in John Landis’ 1980 movie The Blues Brothers.
Dunn played at both 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival (with Redding) and 1985’s Live Aid (with Clapton). He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of Booker T. and the MGs, in 1992.
Below you can check out footage of Dunn performing with both Otis Redding and Booker T. and the MGs as well as brief video overview of the late bassist’s incredible career.
Levon Helm: A vintage EW interview with the late rock legend