(CNN) — Donald “Duck” Dunn, the bass player who laid the musical floor beneath soul legends like Booker T. and the MGs, Sam and Dave and Otis Redding, has died at age 70, his family announced Sunday.
Dunn was part of the house band at Memphis, Tennessee’s Stax Records, the R&B powerhouse that turned out hits like “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay,” “In the Midnight Hour” and “Soul Man.” He was also a member of the Blues Brothers, the band that backed up comedians John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in their “Saturday Night Live” appearances and film.
“Duck Dunn was the backbone of the Stax/Volt era,” Aykroyd said in a written statement. “He was and will remain universally loved by all that knew him. His talent, knowledge and warmth, and especially his humor will be greatly missed.”
Dunn died in his sleep in Tokyo after playing dates that had been postponed after the 2011 Japanese earthquake, his son told CNN.
“They were over there doing five shows in a row, two shows every night — and for a 70-year-old guy, that was quite a bit of work,” Jeff Dunn said. The musician had gone back to his hotel after their last show and died before catching a flight back to the United States, his son said.
Dunn was touring Japan with two fellow Stax veterans, singer Eddie Floyd and guitarist Steve Cropper. In a statement on his website, Cropper said, “Today I lost my best friend, and the world has lost the best guy and bass player to ever live.”
Cropper and Dunn were high school classmates who joined Stax in the early 1960s to play with Booker T. and the MGs, which underpinned the label’s lineup. The group’s leader, Booker T. Jones, mourned Dunn in a statement on his own website, saying, “It was totally unexpected, and I’ve rarely had tears come so quickly.”
When Stax folded in the mid-1970s, Dunn and Cropper became top session players, Dunn played with Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and Levon Helm, the former lead singer of The Band, who died in April. Dunn was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Booker T. and the MGs in 1992, and they received a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2007.
Jeff Dunn said the family had no information about the cause of death. A memorial service will be held in Memphis at a yet-to-be-determined date, he said.
CNN’s Denise Quan and Matt Smith contributed to this report.