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Friday, July 15, 2011

The Tale of "Mustang Sally"

"All you want to do is ride around Sally, ride, Sally, ride.
One of these early mornings, oh, you gonna be wiping your weeping eyes."
- "Mustang Sally" by Bonny Rice (Sir Mack Rice)

You've heard the lyrics a million times. Every oldies cover band includes a version of "Mustang Sally" in their repertoire as a crowd-pleasing staple. This song, maybe more than any other, gets them on the floor and racing their motors.

"Mustang Sally" is a straightforward R&B classic that made the list of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It is a car song. It is a warning to a wild girl to slow her fast life down. But, above all, it is an enduring soul anthem of the '60s whose story is a great page from rock history.

Bonny Rice, widely known by his professional name Sir Mack Rice, was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He started singing with the Five Scalders (Detroit) in 1955 and joined The Falcons in 1957, remaining with them until 1963. Singer Eddie Floyd was also in The Falcons, and Rice later wrote songs for him when he went on to solo fame. In 1962, Wilson Pickett also joined The Falcons and sang lead on their hit "I Found A Love."

Rice began his solo vocalist career at Stax in 1967, recording on Atco Records beginning in 1968. Rice is one of the few musicians whose career touched both Motown and Stax Records. 

Rice's impressive song writing credentials include "Respect Yourself," "Betcha Can't Kiss Me (Just One Time)", "Cheaper to Keep Her", "Cadillac Assembly Line", "Money Talks", and "Cold Women With Warm Hearts."

"Respect Yourself " The Staple Singers Watts, L.A. 1972

The "Sally" Story

"Mustang Sally" was written and first recorded by Sir Mack Rice in 1965. In May, Rice released his original version of the song. (Sir Mack Rice Discography, Rice's version reached #15 on the U.S. R&B charts that year.

Believe it or not, "Mustang Sally" grew out of a joke involving a friend of his, a drummer and band leader for Della Reese, and time they spent together in New York City. (Mark Travis, "The Story Behind 'Mustang Sally,'" Blog -- The Pony Project)
"The guys in the band were telling me that it was his birthday coming up," Rice said, "and they said Della was probably going to buy him a big Lincoln because she always buys band leaders big cars and stuff for their birthdays. And I told him (the drummer), and he said, 'That's not what I want, man. I want that Mustang.'" 

"What the hell is a Mustang?" Rice asked. It was evident Rice was not impressed. "In Detroit, we drive Cadillacs and Lincolns," said Rice. He continued, "Big, I know you don't want that little car, man."

Although so many people in 1965 were caught in the frenzy surrounding the Ford Mustang, Rice was not caught up in the excitement. "I wasn't used to little cars," he said. "I'm a big guy, you know?"

Still, according to Rice, the drummer kept on insisting he loved the Mustang and told Rice, "That's the car. I'm going to get."

So Rice began teasing him, calling him a "Mustang Mama" and growing the joke into a song that was built around what he called "an old, back-in-the-day nursery rhyme." Here is how that rhyme begins:

"Little Sally Walker sitting in a saucer,
Ride, Sally, ride!"

Rice called the early version "Mustang Mama," but changed the title after Aretha Franklin suggested "Mustang Sally." ("Mustang Sally by Wilson Pickett,

Sir Mack Rice telling the story of "Mustang Sally"

Sir Mack Rice and the original "Mustang Sally"

The song gained greater popularity when Wilson Picket covered it on a single the following year. Pickett's version climbed to #6 R&B and #23 Pop in 1966. He also included "Mustang Sally" on his 1967 The Wicked Pickett album. ("The Wicked Pickett Track Listing,

The song was the B-side of the Young Rascals' "Good Lovin'" single release that went #1. An excellent cover by The Commitments for the movie The Commitments in 1991 re-introduced the song to a whole new audience. Many other famous artists have released cover versions of the song including the following:

The Mar-Keys (1969)
Willie Mitchell (1977)
Magic Slim (1980)
Rufus Thomas (1980)
Buddy Guy (1991)
Sam & Dave (1995)
Fiona Day (1999)
Albert Collins (2000)
Los Lobos (2000)
Solomon Burke (2004)

Final Note

Rice lives in the Detroit area, and (as far as I know) is still performing. In 1992, backed by the soul band The Dynatones, he released his first solo album, Right Now on Blue Suit Records. In 2000, the album This What I Do marked the premier release for the Lexington, Kentucky label Infi Records.

Sir Mack Rice is a rare mix of golden era veteran and contemporary hit maker. After all as Mack says, "As far as I can tell, the call for good R&B hasn't changed much really, has it?" He still aims to deliver.

By the way, it is reported that Rice never has owned a Mustang, though he did ride in one a few years back when he did a show for Ford at company headquarters. He joked about struggling to get in and out of a car like that at his age, but the experience did warm his view of the Mustang a good bit.

"Man!" he said. "It was tight!"

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