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.
Label: Motown/"The Funk Brothers"
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.
Label: Chess Records
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.
RONNIE BAKER/WINNIE WILFORD
Label: Philadelphia International Records (TSOP)
Life: 1947-1990 (Baker); unknown (Wilford)
It was sometimes a little hard to hear the bass in "The Sound of Philadelphia," the ultra-smooth variety of soul -- and important precursor to disco -- Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff propagated through their Philadelphia International Records starting in the early '70s, but not always. Little is known about Wilford except that he was associated with the group MSFB, whose hit song "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)" introduced Philly soul to the world in 1974 and later became the theme song to Soul Train.
The late Baker, however, was not in fact the "B" in MSFB, (the name stood for "Mother, Sister, Father, Brother"), but played on and/or arranged albums such as the O'Jays' Back Stabbers, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes' I Miss You and the Spinners' self-titled 1972 album, which spawned their signature hit "I'll Be Around." Now that's a bass line for you.
Label: Hi Records
Life: Birthdate unknown
Another Memphis bassist, Leroy Hodges was recruited by Hi Records recording artist and producer Willie Mitchell along with his musical brothers "Teenie" (guitar) and Charles (keyboard/organ). Not much biographical information about Hodges outside his recording credits is available, but those are considerable.
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He played on Al Green's Let's Stay Together and Call Me, Ann Peebles's Part Time Love, O.V. Wright's Memphis Unlimited and even Cat Power's 2006 album The Greatest. Hodges seems to have been alive and well as of an October 2010 photo in the Memphis Commerical Appeal, where he was participating in a session by local musician John Kilzer.
Did we leave anyone out?