Sir Mack Rice

Royal titles and other appellations of distinction abound within the realms of music and entertainment: Count Basie. Duke Ellington. Lord Buckley. King Karl. And appearing at the 2011 Ponderosa Stomp is another gentlemanly giant: Sir Mack Rice, who has bestowed upon the world a most regal roll call of hit soul and R&B anthems.

All hail the Rice compositions "Respect Yourself" (the Staple Singers), "Cheaper To Keep Her" (Johnny Taylor), "Cadillac Assembly Line" (Albert King), and – most famously – "Mustang Sally." Wilson Pickett of course cut the most famous version, but this warhorse has been waxed or performed by a host of musical nobility: Buddy Guy, the Young Rascals, Magic Slim, Snooks Eaglin, Albert Collins, the Blues Brothers, the Commitments, and more (not to mention every garage band from Toledo to Timbuktu). It has been said that any given time of day or night, somebody, somewhere is performing "Mustang Sally."

Born in 1933 in Clarksdale, Miss., Rice sang with Detroit's legendary Falcons – whose fellow members included Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett and Joe Stubbs – from 1957 to 1963, scoring hits like "You're So Fine" and "I Found a Love."

"In 1965 Rice wrote his classic, 'Mustang Sally,' which was written as a joke," according to the Black Kettle Productions Web site. "It was first called 'Mustang Mama,' and it was Aretha Franklin who told him that he should call it 'Mustang Sally.' It was produced by Andre Williams, and it was he who gave Rice the title of Sir Mack Rice."

The Rockaeology Web site quotes Rice further on the origins of the song, the idea for which came to him while visiting Della Reese in New York and learning that Reese planned to buy her drummer, Calvin "Eagle Eye" Shields, a new Lincoln as a birthday gift":

"I thought that was great 'cause we're from Detroit, we like big cars, Cadillacs, Lincolns and stuff. So I slipped up and told him one day, I said, 'Man, I heard Della's giving you a Lincoln for your birthday.' He said, 'I don't want that Lincoln, man. ... I want that Mustang.' I said, 'What the hell is a Mustang?' He said, 'You being from Detroit, you don't know what's a Mustang?' I said, 'I sure don't, man.'

"So we were riding down Riverside Drive one day in New York City, getting' high – I mean, drinkin' wine – he looked up there on the sign and he said, 'Hey! That's that Mustang there!'

"I said, 'That little compact car? ... Man, we're from Detroit. We drive Lincolns, we drive big cars. That's a compact right there. Man, are you crazy? You pick that over a Lincoln?' 'Yeah, I love that Mustang, I love that Mustang, I love it.'"

After Rice cut the tune for the Blue Rock label, "Mustang Sally" reached a wider audience as the B-side to the Young Rascals' hit "Good Lovin'" on Atlantic. The song finally met its perfect match in 1966, when Rice and Wilson Pickett shared a bill at New York's Apollo Theater by accident. Rice called in Pickett as a last-minute substitute for Clyde McPhatter, and thus rock history was made. Smitten by Rice's rendition onstage, Pickett vowed to record the song, and he did, producing the definitive version that became a smash hit for Atlantic.

Rice went on to become a staff songwriter and producer at Stax, joining his ex-Falcons bandmate Eddie Floyd and turning out hundreds of dynamite songs for the soul label's talented stable. After Stax imploded, Rice invested his royalties wisely. In recent years he has returned to the stage and has releases several CDs. The Ponderosa Stomp is more than pleased to be presenting one of the greatest songwriting bards of rhythm and blues music in this year's lineup.

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