Who Gets the Blues?
For the third time in a month, the Stax family is mourning the loss of one of its own.
Donald "Duck" Dunn, internationally famous as the bass player for Booker T. and the MGs and as an anchor and architect of the Stax sound, died Sunday while touring in Tokyo. He was 70.
Dunn's loss follows the April 12 death of Andrew Love, one half of the Memphis Horns, and the May 1 passing of guitarist Charles 'Skip' Pitts, famed for his riff on the "Theme From Shaft."
Steve Cropper, whose name would forever be paired with Mr. Dunn's as one-half of the MGs, announced the loss through Twitter.
"Today I lost my best friend, the world has lost the best guy and bass player to ever live," Cropper posted, adding that Mr. Dunn apparently died in his sleep.
His death joins several notable Memphis musical luminaries.
In addition to Love and Pitts, that list includes Isaac Hayes, Willie Mitchell, Alex Chilton and J. Blackfoot, among many others.
"It's been an awful time," said David Porter, a Stax songwriting legend. "(This) is a tremendous loss, to lose one of the anchors of American music. And someone who was a big part of the Stax family."
Mr. Dunn joined that Stax family in 1964, replacing Lewie Steinberg in the MGs. Although Steinberg played bass on the group's signature song, "Green Onions," it wouldn't take Mr. Dunn long to add his own flavor to that famous Stax sound.
Mr. Dunn and the MGs, which also included Booker T. Jones on organ and Al Jackson on drums, served as the Stax house band, playing on such classics as "In the Midnight Hour," "Hold On I'm Comin'" and "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay." The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
"Duck was one-fourth of the glue that we know and appreciate today as the Stax sound, that identifiable sound you hear in the background," said Deanie Parker, a former singer and executive at Stax. "He was the quarter note that helped make the whole note."
Mr. Dunn also played with numerous other musical icons, including Levon Helm, Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. He received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2007.
With Cropper, he also showed up when John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd got the band back together in their classic love letter to Memphis soul, "The Blues Brothers."
Born in Memphis in 1941, Mr. Dunn's earned his nickname from his father, who made the obvious connection with the cartoon duck.
By the time Mr. Dunn was at Messick High School, he and Cropper were already playing together in the Royal Spades, a group that eventually became the Mar-Keys.
Cropper left to become a session player at Stax, and Mr. Dunn soon followed. While backing up numerous Stax artists, Booker T. and the MGs also scored their own hits, including "Time Is Tight," "Hang 'Em High," and "Soul Limbo."
Porter said Mr. Dunn's versatility was key to creating the Stax sound.
"He was extremely adaptable. If you wanted one flavor on one artist and another flavor on another artist, he could do that," Porter said. "That's why the Booker T. and the MGs records sound so different from the Otis Redding records."
Both Porter and Parker also remembered a kind man, one whose sense of humor made everyone feel at ease.
"If you were ever unhappy with Duck, it could only last for a moment," Parker said. "He was just a jovial, good-natured, very kind person who could really see humor in almost any situation."
Added Porter: "He had the kind of personality that was warm and inviting. A really good cat."
Mr. Dunn is survived by his wife, June; a son, Jeff; and a grandson. Funeral arrangements had not been made public late Sunday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.