Donald 'Duck' Dunn and Andrew Love
7th July 2012
It was with great regret that we learned of the sudden death of Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, bass player extraordinaire, at the tragically early age of 70. He was the very archetype of the solid, deep-in-the-groove bass players, always on the button with the rhythm and punching on the accents perfectly. In Booker T and The MGs he meshed with Al Jackson’s sparse drum patterns, forming the bridge to Steve Cropper’s chopping guitar phrasing and allowing Booker T Jones Hammond to float on top, together making up the most perfect instrumental group ever to have laid down a groove - and what a groove.
Although Duck did not play on the original ‘Green Onions’, he made it his own over many years of playing it live and his bass drove the MGs from the time he joined in 1965, debuting on ‘Boot-Leg’ the top deck of Stax 169. He stuck with Stax and was still playing on records for the label right up to the bitter end in 1975.
As a teenager Duck, along with his close friend Steve Cropper, had been fascinated by Rhythm and Blues music, taking every opportunity to see as many as the groups as possible live, including the great “5” Royales and their massively influential guitarist Lowman Pauling. He soon took up bass and played with Steve Cropper and many of the future Stax session guys in a group that became known as the Royal Spades. This eventually became the version of the Mar-Keys that went on the road to plug ‘Last Night’, though Duck’s record debut was on the flip of the 45 ‘Night Before’.
Duck’s bass playing adorns so many great soul records it would be hard to name them all, but just for starters there is ‘In the Midnight Hour’ by Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd’s ‘Knock On Wood’, Sam & Dave’s ‘Hold on I’m Comin’’, pretty much all of the Otis Redding output and early Staples Singers sides for Stax. He also played with blues greats like Muddy Waters and two of the blues Kings, Freddie and Albert plus some of the biggest names in rock music including, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and Tom Petty. He was a member of the Blues Brothers band as well as appearing in both of the films.
Still gigging to the end, Duck Dunn died in his sleep whilst on tour in Japan with his good friends Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd.
The news of Duck’s passing comes at a particularly poignant time for lovers of the Stax label as we also learned that saxophonist Andrew Love died in April after a long illness. Andrew started out at Willie Mitchell’s Hi label, but by 1965 was part of the Mar-Keys, the Stax horn section. Alongside his buddy, the trumpet-player Wayne Jackson, he developed a sound that was to help distinguish a Stax-recorded side from most others, playing on records by Otis Redding through to Isaac Hayes. Post-Stax, Andrew and Wayne played on countless records as the aptly named Memphis Horns, including sides by Elvis, Neil Diamond and even U2, though they still stayed in a soulful groove with Al Green.