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Legendary Bassist Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn Passes Away At Age 70

Donald Duck Dunn
Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Donald “Duck” Dunn, who played on hundreds of rock and soul classics as the bassist for Booker T. and the MGs, and later as a session player, passed away Sunday morning at the age of 70. Steve Cropper, the MGs guitarist, broke the news on his Facebook page at approximately 12:30AM Eastern time.

“Today I lost my best friend, the world has lost the best guy and bass player to ever live,” Cropper, his lifelong friend, wrote. “Duck Dunn died in his sleep Sunday morning May 13 in Tokyo Japan after finishing 2 shows at the Blue Note Night Club.”

Born in Memphis in November 24, 1941, Dunn started playing bass at the age of 16. “I tried the guitar but it had two strings too many,” he wrote on his website. “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.”

Cropper and Dunn soon formed a band, The Royal Spades, which grew into the Mar-Keys. The mother of the band’s saxophone player, Charles “Packy” Axton, was Estelle Axton, who owned the fledgling Satellite Record label. Shortly after their song ‘Last Night’ became a national hit, the label changed its name to Stax.

In 1964, Cropper convinced Dunn to join Booker T. and the MGs after original bassist Lewie Steinberg departed. As the house band for Stax, they provided the music for some of the greatest southern soul music ever recorded. Virtually every song recorded by Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Albert King, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Rufus Thomas and many others for Stax bears their distinct groove, with Dunn holding down the low end.

After Booker T. and the MGs disbanded in 1971, Dunn became a highly sought-after session bassist for those looking for a bit of that Memphis magic. He appeared on records by Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Bill Withers, Muddy Waters, Neil Young (on ‘Are You Passionate?,’ which recently turned 10 years old) and many others. A discography, which probably isn’t complete, is on his website. Movie lovers were able to put the face to the sound when he appeared as himself in the 1980 movie ‘The Blues Brothers.’

As a member of Booker T. and the MGs, Dunn was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy award in 2007.

Dunn is the second Memphis soul great to pass away this year — Andrew Love, who played tenor saxophone with Dunn on those Stax classics, died on April 12. Our deepest condolences go out to his family and the countless musicians who knew and worked with him over the years.

Next: See Other Rockers We've Lost in 2012

Watch Booker T. and the MGs Perform ‘Green Onions’

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Watch Donald “Duck” Dunn Deliver a Memorable Line in ‘The Blues Brothers’

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