Respect The Duck: Grooving on McLemore Avenue
Donald “Duck” Dunn (November 24, 1941 – May 13, 2012)
In light of the passing of a the great bass player Donald “Duck” Dunn, at age 70, I thought I’d share with you what I was thinking about the Sunday morning after the Saturday night when I heard the news.
First, how fitting that I heard about it on a Saturday night, the night of great parties, great groovy music and great friends. That’s because the story of Duck Dunn incorporates all of those elements. Wherever Booker T and The MG’s (Dunn, drummer Al Jackson Jr., guitarist Steve Cropper and fearless leader, keyboard wizard Booker T. Jones) played, it was a party filled with groovy music. And foremost, their story is one of friendship; literal and symbolic.
Dunn and Cropper, were joined at the hip, and they were the white half of the hippest bi-racial band in Memphis. Their vanilla chocolate swirl taught both ends of a divided south about harmony and brotherhood, especially during the night of rioting after the assassination, in Memphis, of Dr. Martin Luther King. I once saw a documentary, I think it was called Soulsville, where Cropper recalled how he and Dunn felt more comfortable with their black friends on that turbulent night and how they mourned along with them for their slain civil rights hero.
I’m a sucker for a story of brotherhood, especially in the light of racial chaos. And to have their brotherhood be based on a mutual love and understanding of soul music, well that’s sweeter still. Maybe the sweetest thing.
As has been previously noted here on The Pulmyears Music Blog, I’m a huge Beatles fan. So were Booker T and The MG’s. In fact, only a few months after the Abbey Road album came out, in September of 1969, the Memphis crew set about learning, or rather absorbing the essences of, Abbey Road for a tribute album, McLemore Avenue, which was eventually released the following April, 1970.
Just as the Beatles had named their album after the London street outside EMI’s celebrated Abbey Road studios, the MG’s christened their album after the address of Stax Records, a/k/a Soulsville, U.S.A., at 926 East McLemore Avenue in Memphis. And they even posed for an album cover in direct homage to the Fabs zebra crossing.
Duck Dunn’s passing this weekend ended the long partnership he had with Steve Cropper, but it probably will never end their friendship or their legacy. Today, I spent a couple hours exploring that legacy, thinking of all the great sides they cut with Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Sam & Dave, and later, their victory lap in The Blues Brothers and recording & touring with Neil Young.
It’s pretty special.
The original album featured three extended Abbey Road medleys and a sweet soulful take on George’s “Something”. As I was listening to it, I recalled that in 2011, they re-issued the album with six bonus tracks: “You Can’t Do That”, “Day Tripper”, “Michelle”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Lady Madonna”, and an alternate take of “You Can’t Do That”.
I realized that I didn’t have a copy of the extended album in the house so I ordered it from Amazon, such was my panic. It’s in the mail, as they say, but for today I was content to groove on the original, recalling one of the finest crews of their era, and one of the best, most rock steady bass guys ever.
Respect the Duck, and know ye the master of the bass.