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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Today, we mark the passing of a musician whose bass line laid down the groove for countless hits in the 1960s and on.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Bass player Donald Dunn - known as Duck, as in Donald Duck Dunn - died this past weekend. Dunn and his bandmates in Booker T. and the MGs made up the rhythm section as Stax Records in Memphis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "HIP, HUG, HER")

BLOCK: Behind Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Albert King or Sam and Dave, you could hear the syncopated bass belonging to Dunn.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLD ON I'M COMING")

SAM AND DAVE: (Singing) ...river of trouble, your about to drown. Hold on. I'm coming. Hold on. I'm coming...

SIEGEL: Duck Dunn was born in Memphis. He started playing in clubs and joined a number of bands, crossing color lines. Dunn told an interviewer in 2007 that when he joined the Ben Branch Big Band in 1962, he was the first white guy in the musicians union in Memphis to be in a black band.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

DONALD DUNN: My brother-in-law was a captain on the police department, and he said, just be careful. And I said, well, I will be. But all - everyone of those guys - even when they played in the club at night, they were - 85 percent of them, except for maybe me and the drummer - they were all high school musical teachers. And, man, that's the greatest lesson I ever learned in my life playing. How can anything wrong? You know, they just took me on their wing, and God love them.

BLOCK: In the mid '60s, Dunn's old friend Steve Cropper invited him to join Booker T. and the MGs. And Dunn continued on as a studio musician in Memphis, and later in Los Angeles. He backed singers and bands who were looking for that Southern soul sound: Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Dunn was a true session musician. He largely stayed in the background. But his fame got a bump when he played himself in a movie.

BLOCK: Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi had formed The Blues Brothers Band as part of a "Saturday Night Live" sketch in 1978. They used real-life soul musicians, including Dunn and Cropper from the MGs. In 1980, they released "The Blues Brothers" movie.

SIEGEL: In this scene, they're trying to get the band back together, and the players are skeptical. Then Dunn speaks up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE BLUES BROTHERS")

DUNN: (as Himself) Jake ain't lying, though. We had a band powerful enough time to turn goat piss into gasoline.

BLOCK: And Dunn was powerful enough to keep performing until this weekend. He was on tour with Steve Cropper in Tokyo when he died in his hotel room. Donald Duck Dunn was 70 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOUL MAN")

JOHN BELUSHI: (Singing) Coming to you on a dusty road, good loving - I've got a truckload. And when you get it, you got something. So don't worry, 'cause I'm coming. I'm a soul man. I'm a soul man. I'm a soul man.

SIEGEL: This is NPR News.

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