As the bass player on dozens of the most soulful hits in the history of pop music, Donald “Duck” Dunn often found himself out on the road playing to fans who had assumed he was black like the stars he supported, notably Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam & Dave.
When audiences encountered a white bassist in the lineup, “A lot of people thought I was a pick-up bass player — they thought Duck Dunn was a black guy who couldn’t make the tour for some reason,” Dunn told an interviewer in 2005 about his best-known role as bassist for Booker T. & the MG’s, which had a string of instrumental hits apart from its status as the house band at Stax Records in Memphis.
“In Europe they’d ask me, ‘What’s it like to play with a black man?’ I never knew what to say; we didn’t think that way — we just played,” Dunn said. “We got the soul sound by blending our country and blues influences. I grew up with the Grand Ole Opry. When we mixed that feel with the blues, we got something new.”
Dunn was still playing that infectious blend of country, gospel, blues and rock with his longtime partner in the MG’s, guitarist Steve Cropper, in Tokyo last week when he died Sunday in his sleep at age 70. They had just completed 10 shows over five days with their Stax Revue. The shows had been postponed after last year’s earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan.