Quietus: Sir Mack Rice

Emma Connolly

Emma Connolly

Emma lives in England. Ace the dog keeps her feet and heart warm while she writes about music and culture.
Emma Connolly

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November 10, 1933 – June 27, 2016.

Clarksdale, Mississippi. A place synonymous with the music and legends of the Blues. The crossroads of highways 61 and 49 is said to be where Robert Johnson made a pact with a stranger one night – a talent with the blues in exchange for his soul. From 1915 until 1943 a man named McKinley Morganfield worked on the large Stovall cotton plantation in Clarksdale before moving to Chicago and becoming better known as Muddy Waters.
Amongst many others Sam Cooke, John Lee Hooker, Son House, Junior Parker, and Ike Turner were born in Clarksdale.

One such other was Bonny Rice, born in Clarksdale in 1933 into hard times – BLUES times. The price of cotton had been falling since the 1920s and the railway depot in Clarksdale operated a route to Chicago that became the main departure point for a wave of migrants, as poverty-stricken black Delta-dwellers moved to the north en masse seeking a better life. In 1950, the Rice family made their north to Detroit. In 1955 Bonny Rice answered a newspaper advert: a group called the Falcons, which included Wilson Pickett and Eddie Floyd, were looking for new members. Rice toured with the Falcons until the early 1960s, and at that point he decided to attempt to build a career in  songwriting. In 1965 he cut a demo of a song about a car. The session pianist – a young lady named Aretha Franklin – suggested that the title should be changed from ‘Mustang Mama’ to ‘Mustang Sally’. With its new title, the song became a minor success both for Rice and the R’n’B group the Rascals, but then it was recorded by Wilson Pickett at Muscle Shoals, Alabama and it went to #6 on the R&B charts and #23 on the Pop charts in 1966. ‘Sir Mack’, as he was then known, had become a successful songwriter. He went on to write the Staple Singer’s hit ‘Respect Yourself’ and his songs were covered by a multitude of major acts including Ike and Tina Turner, Albert King, Rufus Thomas, Etta James, Busta Rhymes, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Otis Clay.

Throughout the 1990s, Sir Mack continued to record and perform, until illness intervened. He remained in Detroit until his death due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 82.