Songwriter Sir Mack Rice Dead at 82
Sir Mack Rice, the performer whose tenure with early Detroit R&B group the Falcons led into a songwriting career studded with all-time classics, has died from Alzheimer's-related complications at the age of 82.
Born in Clarksdale, Miss., Rice spent most of his life in Detroit — where, in 1957, he co-founded the Falcons with Joe Stubb, Lance Finney and future stars Wilson Pickett and Eddie Floyd. The group peeled off a string of hits during the late '50s and early '60s, including "You're So Fine," "Just for Your Love," "The Teacher" and "I Found a Love," but as the various members departed for solo careers, Rice found his true calling as a songwriter for other artists.
A combination of good ideas and good fortune led to Rice's first big hit. Toying with a tongue-in-cheek song inspired by the Mustang sports car, titled "Mustang Mama," Rice hired his friend Aretha Franklin to play piano on the demo — at which point she suggested he change the title to "Mustang Sally." Rice's own version of the song didn't light up the charts, but after the Rascals put their cover on the B-side of "Good Lovin'" — and Pickett's take broke the pop Top 40 the same year — his eyes were opened to the financial benefits of writing a hit.
After "Mustang Sally" roared up the charts, Rice found himself increasingly in demand, and ended up becoming one of a small number of songwriters who consistently found work at both Motown and the Memphis-based Stax Records during both labels' peak years. Subsequent hits included "Respect Yourself" for the Staple Singers, "Cheaper to Keep Her" for Johnnie Taylor and "The Breakdown" and "Do the Funky Penguin" for Rufus Thomas.
Although Rice's musical profile dimmed in later years, he continued to perform, record and work with other artists. He released a solo album, Right Now, in 1992, and remained a respected — albeit lesser-known — figure among rock and R&B artists. "I was completely in awe of him," Bo-Keys member Scott Bomar told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "He was like this mythical songwriting giant — he'd written 'Mustang Sally' and 'Respect Yourself' and all these songs that were lesser known but just as amazing like 'Money Talks' and 'Tina the Go-Go Queen.'"
Through it all, Rice remained a proud resident of Detroit, where his community roots included ownership of local paving company Rice Asphalt. "I love Detroit," he told the Detroit News. "That’s why I write about what our city’s famous for. I covered all three car companies! ‘Mustang Sally,’ then ‘Cadillac Assembly Line' and then I wrote ‘K Car for Sale’ later on. Lee Iacocca used it for his first commercial."
Rice's wife Laura added that, in spite of his many successes, he remained so down to earth that some in his social circle didn't even know about his illustrious past — including her own pastor.
"He said, ‘Laura, I thought the man did asphalt. I looked on the internet, and this man was a real star!’ I laughed. He was my husband to me. If you didn’t know who Mack was, Mack would never tell you. I liked that," she told the paper. "Mack was some kind of guy, he was a kind spirit, and a gentleman. ... Mack used to say, ‘Pray more and worry less.’ That became his motto for everything. ‘Pray more and worry less.’ He is saying that to me now."
Artists We've Lost in 2016