The Duck who added sauce to some of soul’s greatest records

Donald Duck Dunn

Donald Duck DunnSometimes in sport, art or music seeing a performer at the peak of their powers can be an inspiring proposition.

It’s possible to argue that it can be even more rewarding to see someone in the twilight of their years just to marvel that they are still alive and doing what God put them on a stage to do.

That is why many will be as excited to see Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan in their seventies than in the seventies. It’s the reason David Hockney’s last show was one of his most fondly received. Or why Paul Scholes, even after his bad weekend, receives more eulogies after his comeback than he did in his pomp. The admiring notices for team-mate Ryan Giggs, with all that we know about his private life, are more conflicted.

You never know when an artist really reaches his or her peak. But you know when you’re running out of chances to check out a true legend.

That is how it felt when sneaking into a basement club in London’s Great Portland Street ten months ago.

Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn, who died at the weekend aged 70, were the house band for Booker T and the MGs and natural music justice suggests they should have been playing Wembley Stadium. Instead, back in July 2011, Cropper and Dunn were in a three-figure capacity London venue, at the behest of soul nut Rob Bailey, where crate diggers of all ages were jigging around to the house band during the golden age of Stax Records.

At London’s 229 Club, they produced a joyous infectious sound that brought that golden sound of Memphis in the 60s to London five decades later. That label’s rivalry with Motown produced a period of producing fantastic soul records which has never been equalled – and, you’d fancy, will never be. And Dunn played bass on a fair few of them including:

Booker T and the MGs’ Green Onions

Wilson Pickett’s In the Midnight Hour

Otis Redding’s Respect

and Sam & Dave’s Hold On I’m Comin’

Just when the audience thought the ceiling on the 229 Club was ready to be raised, MD Cropper asked Eddie Floyd on stage to perform Knock on Wood.

It’s a song which has been covered by everyone from Eric Clapton to Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, Bowie to Cher, Amii Stewart to Ike & Tina. The 2011 version delivered the appropriate levels of thunder and lightning.

“Duck” Dunn died at the weekend shortly after doing what he spent most of his life doing – playing the music he co-created with Cropper, this time in Tokyo.

Long after Stax lost its role as one of the world’s top record labels, its records never lost their rhythm. For that, Donald “Duck” Dunn deserves praise and thanks.