Joanna Connor is a weekly contributor to Chicago Blues Network with her column “Heart of the Blues.” Joanna is a Guitar Instructor with At Home Chicago Blues. To take lessons with Joanna, click here.

Donald “Duck” Dunn

When I heard BB King’s Sweet Sixteen, I knew I wanted to play bass because that was the thing that made the record: the bass player Donald “Duck” Dunn.

The unsung hero, the guy in the back in the shadows, not as flamboyantly physical as the drummer, not conjuring up fire and brimstone or the sound of tears like the guitarist, not the singer conveying stories through words and emotions through notes sung. No, this is the musician that, without his or her contribution, the whole thing comes crashing down, and the bottom drops out- literally. The bassist is the anchor and the wings, the one who locks an erratic drummer in place, and in the best of circumstance, the other half of a rhythm section that can move mountains, when both are seemingly one in the pursuit and delivery of perfectly executed grooves. 

The bass is the musical equivalent of a heartbeat, it’s sonic palette moves your blood. The propulsive and syncopated lines and sequences that comprise the blues are framed and delivered in the bass line, connected to the essential components of any blues song. You can map out the evolution and metamorphosis of music through the way in which the bass is utilized. The blues would be characterized by rolling, rollicking bass lines, played on barrelhouse pianos, delta guitars, then on an upright bass and eventually an electric bass–ever evolving, ever innovative, always inspiring the band and the listener to move. 

I’ve been blessed to play with some of the best bassists in Chicago. Each musician brought his/her own unique style, their own feel for syncopation, their own tone delivered through hands, instrument, and equipment. I have been abundantly fortunate to have as my cohort Joewaun “Jay Red Bass” Scott the past few years. I am in awe of his precision timing, his laser focus, his potent groove so fierce. I wrote a song about him on my album Rise called the Earthshaker. 

Dig through the jewels of blues past and uncover the genius of Willie Dixon, Louis Myers, Andrew McMahon, Willie Kent, Louis Satterfield, Donald “Duck” Dunn. Seek out the modern masters. Check out Trading Fours and witness the supple and solid and serious experience of Harlan Terson, one of the Chicago blues scene’s venerable practitioners. As a matter of fact, sign up for lessons here and tap into a well spring of knowledge from him. I have a secret desire to be a bassist. I want to create the sensual magic pulsing through the music. Bassists, we love you and salute you. Thank you for putting the sway in our hips. 

– Joanna Connor