Everyone knows the drill. “Gee, I just had Chinese yesterday,” or “Oh, no, we can’t go to Del Taco ’cause I had a burrito there a few years ago and got real sick,” and even the adamant “We are not going to Corky Bell’s. Did you see how low their Health Department score was last month?”
Sure, choosing a restaurant might be difficult, but when the discussion was about bass players most everybody agrees that Donald “Duck” Dunn was the man!
Dunn died last week in his sleep after a gig in Japan with guitarist Steve Cropper. For more than 48 years, Dunn was the top-call touring and recording bassist for scores of great musicians.
Duck, a self-taught musician, was also a member of the first major interracial group Booker T and the MGs, laying down the bottom end on their many hits that included their irresistible numbers Soul Limbo, Time is Tight, and Hip Hug-Her.
But it was his studio work as staff bassist for the Memphis-based Stax Records that most folks hear every day on the radio without realizing they are listening to the Duck.
Yes, that’s Dunn on Otis Redding’s numerous hits, from Respect to Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay. Johnnie Taylor’s Who’s Making Love, Wilson Pickett’s Mustang Sally, and both the Blues Brothers and Wilson Pickett’s hit versions of Soul Man all feature Duck’s Fender Precision magic on bass.
Duck’s other Stax artists that feature his funky riffs include most every major hit by Sam and Dave, Pickett, Eddie Floyd, William Bell and early Issac Hayes.
After the hits dried up in Memphis, Duck continued to contribute to records by John Prine, Levon Helm, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Stevie Nicks, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Yes, sometimes you can tell just how good a musician is by the company … and the time they keep.
One of my fave Duck moments occurs on the terrific DVD Stax-Volt Revue: Live in Norway from April ’67. While Sam and Dave (who, ironically, hated each other) are fronting the MGs, Sam (Moore) does a funky dance move that put him accidentally nose-to-nose with the Duck. Both musicians break up in laughter during this priceless scene.
Duck Dunn died knowing that his legacy would always be intact. His 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys is proof-positive that as long as there’s a midnight hour, there will be Duck’s soulful grooves reminding us of just how solid this man’s musicianship will always be regarded … and loved. Another great one is gone. Hey, Duck, give Otis, Carla, and the Wicked Pickett my best, will ya?
TURNER’S QUICK NOTES: Gregg Allman’s autobiography My Cross to Bear debuted at No. 2 on the New York Times Bestsellers list … Roger Waters’s The Wall Tour grossed more than $12.5 million for just two shows last week in Brazil. Waters returns to Atlanta’s Philip’s Arena on June 13.