Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, who died just over a week ago, was the bass player for Booker T & The MGs (pictured above, with Dunn second from the right), the world-renown house band for quintessential Sixties, Memphis soul label Stax and later a session player for everyone from Bob Dylan to Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Rod Stewart and Tom Petty, not forgetting his legendary stint with The Blues Brothers.

Having already worn out a taped copy of my brother’s Atlantic Soul Classics album (which included some of the biggest hits from Stax and its Volt subsidiary, namely Booker T & The MGs’ timeless 1962 instrumental, Green Onions), it was the classic Blues Brothers film, starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, and its accompanying soundtrack which really brought Dunn and guitarist Steve Cropper to my attention (Hammond organ genius Booker T Jones himself was not involved).

Dunn had previously formed an all-white R & B outfit called The Mar-Keys (initially The Royal Spades) with Steve Cropper, while they were still at school, scoring a massive hit with Last Night in 1961.  The MGs formed out of this band, although Dunn didn’t actually play on Green Onions (his predecessor Lewie Steinberg did).  However, he did play on just about every other record Stax put out in its Sixties heyday.  From his band’s own repertoire, 1965’s Boot-Leg, 1968’s Soul Limbo and 1971’s eight-minute epic, Melting Pot (from their final album for Stax), are all total killers, although Soul Limbo has been forever tainted with an unforgettable association for anyone who grew up in Britain in the Eighties/Nineties as a result of the BBC using it as the theme tune for their cricket coverage*.  Oh well, let’s hope the band did well out of that one…

As a young teenager, I’d not appreciated how important these guys had really been, not just as incredible musicians who’d played on tracks by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Bill Withers, Carla and Rufus Thomas, and Sam & Dave but because Booker T And The MGs was the first ever racially mixed group, setting an incredibly brave precedent against the backdrop of, first, the civil rights movement (1955-68) and, second, the assassination of Martin Luther King (1968).

This classic interview with the band from 2001 (by Mojo magazine’s Barney Hoskyns) sheds more light on just how remarkable this was.  Read a full obituary here.

*Just to clarify, having been berated for this comment on Facebook: tainted may be too strong a word, but any tune that gets picked up like that becomes heavily associated with its usage and this is often a bad thing for its original fans (though quite the opposite for the band and all the new fans, obviously). So, while the BBC using Soul Limbo for the cricket isn’t nearly as bad as Blue Monday being used to sell a credit card etc, any track that gets that level of exposure becomes almost completely redundant (especially for its original fans) from a DJing perspective.  That said, any generation growing up / going out now would be completely oblivious to such an association.  So, you could say it’s pretty much surpassed any tainting by now and potentially has its retro classic status fully restored…

 

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