The year 2012 is shaping up to be one of the worst in history for music fans. We’re only five months into it, and we’ve already lost almost a dozen musical legends, including Johnny Otis, Etta James, Don Cornelius, Whitney Houston, Davy Jones, Dick Clark, Levon Helm and Adam Yauch. The latter three died just in the past month.

On Sunday, we added another name to that list: Donald “Duck” Dunn. The legendary bass player for Booker T. and the MGs and session musician on countless classic singles and albums died at age 70 while on tour in Tokyo.

I met Dunn in 2004 at the Sarasota Blues Festival in Sarasota, Fla. I was watching Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm from the side of the stage, and when the band kicked into a medley of classic soul covers, I heard a voice from directly behind me say, “I played on that.”

It was Dunn. And as Ike and his band segued from one song to the next, he kept repeating that line.

It wasn’t braggadocio. It was simply fact. Whether you’re a serious music buff or a casual listener, Dunn’s contributions to popular music are inescapable. During the 1960s, he laid down the groove for the best of the best of R&B, including “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Comin”‘ by Sam & Dave, “Respect” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” by Otis Redding, “Knock on Wood” by Eddie Floyd and “Born Under a Bad Sign” by Albert King.

Often, it was Dunn’s bass line that created the canvas upon which the rest of the musicians would paint. A prime example is Wilson Pickett’s smash 1965 hit “In the Midnight Hour,” which was built around a funky groove suggested by late Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler. That slight delay on the second and fourth beats became the template for R&B for the next decade.

“He (Wexler) said, ‘Hey, there’s this new dance called the Jerk,’ ” Dunn told me in 2006. “He was doin’ it, and we put the beat to it. And that was ‘Midnight Hour.’ “

But that’s not the end of Dunn’s contributions to music. He backed everyone from Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Bob Dylan to Tom Petty, Rod Stewart and The Blues Brothers, with whom he helped revive the careers of R&B legends by re-recording their classic songs on the 1978 album “Briefcase Full of Blues.” He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2007.

The last time I saw Dunn was at a birthday party aboard a yacht for AC/DC vocalist Brian Johnson in 2007. The guest list included numerous famous musicians and actors, and as the party neared a close, they got together for a jam session.

Somebody called for Dunn to play bass. But he was at the bar, enjoying a drink and chatting up an attractive woman, so he politely declined.

No one argued. Because of all the famous people aboard that boat, the unspoken truth was that Dunn stood shoulders above the rest. Therefore, the Duckman could be whatever he pleased.

Rest in peace, Donald.

Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: RHarmonPPH


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