Hard again

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Hey, this is the man who wrote "Mustang Sally," "Respect Yourself," and "It’s Cheaper to Keep Her," all right? During his nearly five decades in the music business, Detroit’s own Sir Mack Rice has penned some of the most popular rhythm and blues hits ever.

Granted, natural ability probably had something to do with it, but Rice confesses he got some good music education in Memphis working with the folks at the powerhouse Stax Records, as well as with other musicians there. Even the best can get better.

"Memphis was my training ground," says Rice. "I was always funky. When I went there, I was funky. But they was just a little bit funkier."

Born and raised in Clarksdale, Miss., Rice began performing as a teenager in high school with a group called the Scalders, with whom he did some recording. In 1956, Rice hooked up with Detroit proto-Motown R&B outfit the Falcons. In 1959, he achieved international recognition along with the other members of the group – Eddie Floyd, Joe Stubbs and Wilson Pickett – for the record "You’re So Fine."

It was six years later in 1965 that Rice wrote Pickett’s big solo hit, "Mustang Sally," while he was on board with Stax – where he worked for a number of years as a songwriter, producer and arranger. It was at Stax where Rice wrote some of his best-known hits, including the ones listed above.

The problem today, though, is that Rice can’t seem to stop creating even more good music. He’s already got a new CD project ready for release on his own Mustang Sally Records label featuring soul singer Cody Black, who will also be appearing with Rice at the Greektown Arts Festival. Entitled Singin’ Cody Black, the 12-song album already has at least one attention-grabbing number called "Viagra Man." Never let it be said that Sir Mack isn’t up-to-date.

But up-to-date or not, it seems he still can’t get his newer stuff played regularly – if at all – by the radio stations. Although "Viagra Man" is doing fairly well, it’s hardly the only good tune Rice has written in the years since "Mustang Sally."

"I’m still in the R&B thing, like we were doing at Stax," he says, however, "I can write that now shit too."

Rice is convinced that a large part of the problem in getting his newer stuff heard isn’t so much the fault of the DJs as it is who owns those DJs.

"It’s about the money thing," he says.

And it’s the "money thing" that’s making it difficult for Rice to get his newer music distributed. If Rice wants to hear "Mustang Sally" or "Cheaper to Keep Her" (which was a hit for Johnnie Taylor in 1973) on the radio, that’s not much of a problem. Finding albums containing those songs in the music store racks is simple. But trying to find a comfortable place in today’s market for seasoned musicians such as Rice who are forced to prove that they’re still relevant can be about as easy as trying to sprint through quicksand wearing lead boots.

"I need all the help I can get," he says, adding that he hopes the material he’s releasing now will earn him some well-deserved attention – and assistance – from a major label.

"If you get enough attention, a bigger label will come after you," he says. "I can’t do this all by myself."

You know, if Rice would just stop being creative and freeze himself in time, kept company by all his hits of yesteryear, then perhaps things might go easier for him. But Rice isn’t dead yet, folks. And the funny thing about artists is that the desire to create and be an artist doesn’t fade as they mature.

Real artists, like Sir Mack Rice, just keep on keepin’ on. Keith A. Owens is a Detroit writer, editor and musician. E-mail [email protected]

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