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R.I.P., Donald "Duck" Dunn


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From Steve Cropper's Facebook page:

Today I lost my best friend, the world has lost the best guy and bass player to ever live. Duck Dunn died in his sleep Sunday morning May 13 in Tokyo Japan after finishing 2 shows at the Blue Note Night Club.
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I'm Sorry you lost a friend

He wasn't my friend, he was a well known musician who played with Steve Cropper (the person that posted the message above on his Facebook page). Donald "Duck" Dunn, along with Cropper, were members of Booker T. and the MG's, perhaps best known for their instrumental hit "Green Onions" (though Dunn didn't actually play on that cut as he wasn't a member of the MG's yet). He had a long and impressive career that included stints in several different bands as well as being a sought after session musician. Even though I'd heard "Green Onions" many, many times and I had heard of Booker T. and the MG's it wasn't until the Blues Brothers came along that I really became aware of who Donald "Duck" Dunn was. The one and only time I ever saw him in concert was when he was a member of Neil Young's band during the Music In Head tour in 2000.

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Booker T remembers Donald "Duck" Dunn:

My good friend and bass player, Donald “Duck” Dunn has passed away this morning in Tokyo. He was in the company of good friends Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper. My daughter Cicely called to tell me the news. Steve said he died in his sleep.

I am struck deeply by Duck’s death, have just begun to shed tears over Levon Helm, Andrew Love, and Chris Ethridge. And I must here mention that we have also lost Skip Pitts – (guitar on “It’s Your Thing” and “Shaft”).

God is calling names in the music world. He gave us these treasures and now he is taking them back. Duck was too close to me for me to at this point realize the full implications of his passing. I’m just trying to pray for those who were closer to him – his wife June, and his son Mike, and his brothers and sister.

I can’t imagine not being able to hear Duck laugh and curse, but I’m thankful I got to spend time and make music with him. His intensity was incomparable. Everyone loved him. None more than Otis Redding.

Of all the “departures” of the past 30 days, this one is the hardest and most crushing for me. It was totally unexpected, and I’ve rarely had tears come so quickly. I’ve always believed that every closing door opens another, and this one will have some good effect too, somewhere down the line.

Thank you all for your prayers and condolences, and just know that Duck is somewhere smiling down on all of us saying, “Got Damn!!!”

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Donald 'Duck' Dunn: Honoring a Stax master -- and 'Time Is Tight'

May 14, 2012 | 12:32 pm

Who was Donald "Duck" Dunn? Among many other things, he was the creator of one of the great basslines of the last half century, the propellent run that pushes "Time Is Tight," Booker T & the M.G.'s classic 1969 instrumental, into the stratosphere.

Dunn, who died Sunday in Tokyo at age 70, may often have been overshadowed by bandmates organist Booker T. Jones and guitarist Steve Cropper, but remove the bassline from "Time Is Tight" and dozens of other soul classics that he played on in the 1960s, when Memphis, Tenn., was the hub of rhythm & blues and Stax was its shining light, and much of the momentum that pushes those songs vanishes.

Dunn understood how to remain as the rudder, guiding songs while adding just enough flair to create waves. You can hear it on Otis Redding's version of "Respect," where, unlike on Aretha Franklin's better-known version, Dunn's bass roams around down below, creating a turbulent bottom-end swirl. His funky bassline on "Hip Hug-Her" arrives with a fuzzy distortion whose presence echoed through funk jams in the decade following its arrival in 1967; it and other Dunn lines foretold the more groove-oriented R&B of the early 1970s as practiced by Curtis Mayfield, Sly & the Family Stone and Funkadelic.

One wonder of music is the often magical ways in which it makes its way through the culture and into our ears. For example, I first heard "Time Is Tight" not through the classic Booker T version, but on "Black Market Clash," the Clash's 1980 EP.

The Clash's version is faster and has a little bit of a post-disco feel to it. I heard it while living just up the Mississippi from Memphis in southern Illinois, and despite the proximity, the song had to travel across the Atlantic and into the ears of a bunch of punks before making its way back to the heartland and denting my consciousness. Ever since, "Time Is Tight" has been one of my jams, a song that I turn up every time it comes on.

And while there's no denying the genius of Jones, Cropper and drummer Al Jackson Jr., one listen to the the spare precision of Dunn on another Booker T classic, "Slim Jenkins' Place," from their 1967 album "Hip Hug-Her," is to appreciate how much the bassist's tone guided the band. It illustrates Dunn's quiet impact -- how a bassist can be a model of restraint while still transforming the entire feel of a song.

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