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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Donald "Duck" Dunn was the reason a generation of dads wear their sex face on the dance floor

Pop music owes as much to the ingenuity of its hired hands as it does to the inspiration of its alleged artists. Donald "Duck" Dunn, whose death has been announced, was more prominent than most because Stax never tried to keep the identities of its players anonymous and he was a member of Booker T & The MGs, the first bunch of session men to have hits in their own right. As a young player he originated the churning bass lines of Otis Redding's I Can't Turn You Loose, Sam & Dave's Hold On I'm Coming and Eddie Floyd's Knock On Wood. It was this material that meant he was rediscovered in the 1980s through The Blues Brothers, an affectionate but ham-fisted parody act which I've never been able to warm to. He died while on tour with The Blues Brothers Band in Tokyo.

Steve Cropper was also on that tour. Now he and Booker T are the only members of the MGs left. The drummer Al Jackson, Dunn's partner in the driest rhythm section that ever drew breath, died in 1975. Listening to Booker T & The MGs provides me with the same kind of pleasure as other people get from listening to the idling engine of an expensive motor car. At first they sound like one instrument. As you get in closer you can hear how much each of the four individual parts is contributing. They make sure they never quite interlock. They draw near and then stand off. By standing off they create the space in the air where the record's magic lives.

As a rule bass players get even less recognition than drummers. This is wrong in so many ways. If it wasn't for bass players like Duck Dunn - and there weren't many bass players like Duck Dunn - the music would have no bottom and Dad wouldn't wear his sex face on the rare occasions he hits the dance floor.