The late bass player Donald “Duck” Dunn was honored Wednesday in the city where he performed on some of R&B’s best-known hits, with musicians leading a lively funeral march down Memphis’ Beale Street.
Musicians played trumpets, saxophones and drums – and more than 100 fans walked and danced – during the New Orleans-style march to remember Dunn, a famed session musician who died May 13 at age 70 while on tour in Japan. Musicians played “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” as they ambled past bars along the street, known as a capital of blues and soul music.
Dunn’s bass guitar helped create the gritty Memphis sound at Stax Records in the 1960s as part of the group Booker T. and the MGs. He can be heard on such classics as Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour,” Sam and Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’“ and Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”
Dunn also worked with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s Blues Brothers, appearing in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers” and its sequel, as well as with Levon Helm, Eric Clapton, Neil Young and Bob Dylan.
Dunn was born in Memphis, Tenn., in 1941, and according to the biography on his official website, was nicknamed for the cartoon character by his father.
Some marchers held yellow, purple and green parasols as they walked. Jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum and soul singer-songwriter Eddie Floyd, who recorded the 1966 hit “Knock on Wood,” were among the musicians who participated.
Floyd, who was on tour with Dunn when he died, said Dunn did not feel well during his last show but he finished it anyway.
“He was outstanding. He didn’t miss a note,” Floyd said. “I guess it was just his time.”
Whalum recalled Dunn’s work with Booker T. and the MGs, one of the first racially integrated soul groups. It had two whites (Dunn on bass and pal Steve Cropper on guitar) and two blacks (Booker T. Jones on organ and Al Jackson on drums), and was later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“He was about respect and humility,” Whalum said. “You respect black music’s heritage and we love you for it.”