Bass-guitar legend Donald “Duck” Dunn dies in his sleep after a gig in Tokyo

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Sad news for fans of blues, soul, and R&B music. Bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, whose bottom end fuelled such classic tracks as Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” and Otis Redding’s “Respect”, passed away in his sleep early this morning after a gig at the Blue Note nightclub in Tokyo. He was 70 years old.

“Today I lost my best friend, the world has lost the best guy and bass player to ever live,” wrote guitar legend Steve Cropper on his Facebook page after Dunn was found dead alone in his Tokyo hotel room. The two were close friends and musical compatriots whose working relationship went back to high school and their first band, the Royal Spades. In 1964 Dunn joined Cropper in Booker T & the MGs, the house band for Stax Records, replacing original bassist Lewie Steinberg.

The Memphis-born Dunn is known as one of the most in-demand session players to ever plug in a four-string, having performed on recordings by such artists as Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Roy Buchanan, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton.

Fans of The Blues Brothers—the 1980 John Belushi/Dan Aykroyd musical-comedy in which Dunn played himself (usually smoking a pipe)—may recall his line: “We had a band powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline!”

Dunn—whose early love of Disney cartoons earned him the nickname “Duck”—was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2007.

To read my 1985 interview with Dunn, conducted while he was on tour with Eric Clapton, click here.

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