RIP Donald "Duck" Dunn: 5 Other Great Label Bassists

Categories: Miles-tones

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See Also: "Support Staff: 10 of Pop History's Greatest Backing Bands"

Donald "Duck" Dunn, the bassist for Memphis soul band Booker T & the MGs -- the house band at seminal '60s Stax Records -- passed away in his sleep early Sunday morning, according to his friend and longtime bandmate Steve Cropper. Dunn died with his boots on, on tour with Cropper in Tokyo. He had just played two shows at the Blue Note Night Club the night before he died.

"Today I lost my best friend, the World has lost the best guy and bass player to ever live," Cropper said on Facebook.

A Memphis native, Dunn joined Booker T & the MGs, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, right out of high school. He also appeared as the debonair, pipe-smoking bassist in the Blues Brothers Band in the films The Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000, as well as on Saturday Night Live. One of his lines in the former film, "We had a sound powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline," makes an excellent epitaph.

Here are five other bassists whose sound helped define an entire label...and sometimes more.


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Label: Motown/"The Funk Brothers"

Life: 1936-1983

How many Motown songs are memorable chiefly because of that driving, melodic bass line? Hint: Lots. Then consider that James Jamerson is estimated to have played on 95 percent of the recordings Motown Records released between 1962 and 1968. (The label did not credit individual session players until 1971.)

With all he accomplished, basically revolutionizing the way the bass was arranged into a pop song -- and playing on more No. 1 singles than the Beatles -- it's even more amazing to imagine what he might have done had he not died so young, at only 47.


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Label: Chess Records

Life: 1915-1992

Willie Dixon was not only the bass player for arguably the leading American blues and R&B label of the mid-'40s through the mid-'60s, Chicago-based Chess Records, but one of its principal songwriters as well -- and one of the first to make sure he got full credit for his songs. A very short list of the songs Dixon wrote -- by himself -- starts with Muddy Waters's "I Just Want to Make Love To You," Howlin' Wolf's "Spoonful" and Little Walter's "My Babe."

Also, one single of two Dixon songs Howlin' Wolf cut in 1961 yielded two future blues standards: "Back Door Man," later recorded by the Doors (and many others), and "Wang Dang Doodle," which eventually became closely identified with Koko Taylor, although everyone from Ted Nugent to PJ Harvey has cut their own version.

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