The late bassist, famous for his work at Stax Records, left a mark on nearly every genre of pop music.
The bassist usually doesn't get much attention. Occasionally, a flashy player hogs the spotlight with slapping, popping, and soloing, but it's usually just a quiet guy holding down the low end and staying out of the way. For many listeners, Duck Dunn probably seemed like the latter sort of rudimentary player. That's probably the way he would have had it, too. But it would be a mistake to think of Dunn, who died in his sleep at 70 Sunday, as a background player. In fact, he is probably the most influential bassist of the last 50 years, with an impact in every pop genre save country.
Even if you've never heard of Dunn, you've heard a lot of his playing. That's him easing into Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." Those are his monster arpeggios chugging along under Wilson Pickett's "Midnight Hour." It's his syncopation at the bottom of Sam and Dave's "Hold On, I'm Comin'." And that's him in The Blues Brothers, too. As a member of Booker T. and the MG's, the house band at Stax, he played on most of the great Memphis soul hits. (Ironically, though, he didn't play on the band's most famous tune, "Green Onions"—he joined the band two years after it was recorded.) His most obvious peer was James Jamerson, a long-standing member of the Motown backing band. But Jamerson was melodic and intricate, relying on subtle passing notes and elaborate syncopation. Dunn was a riff-master, staying close to the triad of each cord and sticking to the bottom of the register. It's much simpler, but it's never blunt or bludgeoning.