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 "Youre So Fine."
It was six years later in 1965 that Rice wrote Picketts 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 cant seem to stop creating even more good music. Hes 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 isnt up-to-date.
But up-to-date or not, it seems he still cant get his newer stuff played regularly if at all by the radio stations. Although "Viagra Man" is doing fairly well, its hardly the only good tune Rice has written in the years since "Mustang Sally."
"Im 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 isnt so much the fault of the DJs as it is who owns those DJs.
"Its about the money thing," he says.
And its the "money thing" thats 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, thats 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 todays market for seasoned musicians such as Rice who are forced to prove that theyre 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 hes 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 cant 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 isnt dead yet, folks. And the funny thing about artists is that the desire to create and be an artist doesnt 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 firstname.lastname@example.org