Birthdays in March: Harry Belafonte (83), Ornette Coleman (80), Quincy Jones (77), Johnny Pacheco (77), Lloyd Price (77), Mike Stoller (77), John D Loudermilk (76), Herb Alpert (75), Lee 'Scratch' Perry (74), Johnnie Allan (72), Don Covay (71), Flaco Jiminez (70), Tommy McClain (70), Sam The Sham (70), Solomon Burke (69), Victor Uwaifo (69), Jorge Ben (68), Aretha Franklin (68), Lou Reed (68), George Benson (67), Diana Ross (65), Sly Stone (66), Eric Clapton (64), Eugenio Bennato (63), Don Covay (62), , Ry Cooder (63), Ken Boothe (2), Burning Spear (62), Eddy Grant (62), Lene Lovich (61), Nick Lowe (61), Goran Bregovic (6059), Mory Kante 60), Bob Brozman (56), Thione Seck (55), Gary Numan (52), Natacha Atlas (46), Tracy Chapman (46), Neneh Cherry (46), Damon Albarn (42), MC Solaar (41), Camille (32)
He died after doing two shows at a night club in Tokyo. For a musician, that's dying with your boots on. No hanging around for years in death's waiting room in a crappy nursing home, bankrupting yourself and your family.
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!!!”
Duck was not much of a one for flash. He played the root on the one and chord tones for most of the rest. Didn't overdo hammer-ons or pull-offs. (I've read an interview where he actually denied using them at all) I have never heard of him popping or slapping. (Thank god) Didn't really solo as such. Barely even played fills. Lots of bass players want to be lead guitarists. Duck didn't. He understood that just because you are not providing the melody, it doesn't mean you're an accompanist. If all of this makes him sound like some kind of unimaginative journeyman, it isn't meant to. The space and simplicity of The MGs sound isn't the kind of thing that comes about by accident. It takes work and thought. Duck was about doing the simple things perfectly. There's some argument to be had here about art and craft, and how sometimes craft takes on the nature of art by the perfection of its execution. Duck Dunn's execution was always precise and crisp. His groove was rock solid (Incidentally calling a bass player “solid” isn't really that great a compliment. It's a bit like calling food “moist” - it's what it's meant to be. Bass players who are not solid are not good bass players).
He doesn't seem to have been a tortured genius. Played golf. Always comes over as a bit of a buffoon. In the early clips standing alongside Cropper (who at the time may very well have been the coolest white man alive) he always looked a bit of a genial scruff. He always seemed to be enjoying himself too much to be cool. Probably a bit of a caner in his youth (his pupils are the size of dustbin lids in some of those 60s clips). Didn't hold onto any bitterness about getting ripped off by Stax. Settled into session man middle age with occasional trips out with the MGs
He played the same type of instrument for all of his career – a Fender Precision strung with LaBella 760s. The same combination as Jamerson. But there wasn't really that much choice in 1964 so there probably isn't any great significance to that. Later on he played a precision with a jazz neck – easier on tired fingers I always suspected.
He played Black music with Black musicians in Memphis in 1964. He didn't make a big deal out of it. But it was.
I think the comparison with Jamerson is interesting. Jamerson was a jazz musician whose harmonic and rhythmic imagination took Motown records to places that pop music had never been before. Even when he was too pissed to play properly he was astonishing. Duck was a rock'n'roll musician. He was about the groove, later for all that technical stuff. Look at all of that 60s footage on the net. His playing never falters – always driving the band forwards. There are lessons to learn from Duck Dunn just as much as JJ.
Thats all. Just wanted to mark the passing of someone whose playing I loved.