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Laura Rice disputes a lawsuit's allegations that she took advantage of her late husband, singer-songwriter Sir Mack Rice, and convinced him to sell off hundreds of his compositions, including his best-known creation, “Mustang Sally.”

She is named in a U.S. District Court lawsuit, along with Los Angeles-based Music Royalty Consulting, that alleges they duped Mack Rice into signing over the rights to songs for less than their true value while the singer-songwriter was suffering from dementia. The suit was filed on behalf of Mack Rice's estate by one of his three sons, Duane Rice 

“I cannot believe this. I don’t know anything about what they're are talking about — I was never involved with anything involving his songs and don’t recall him ever doing anything like that,” Laura Rice, 64, said in an interview Wednesday. “All I did was take care of my husband. All their claims are false. I never defrauded him.

“Did I take care of him? Yes,” she said. “He depended on me and I wouldn’t let anything happen to him. Who else was going to help him? They (his sons) didn’t even visit him.”

She recalled Mack Rice complaining to her after a rare visit by one son who lived out of town.

“He said, ‘I thought he came to see me but all he wanted was for me to go with him to an attorney’s office and sign some papers … I ain’t signing any of his damn papers,’ ” Laura Rice said.

Mack Rice died at his Detroit home in June 2016 at age 82. The lawsuit seeks to have any agreements involving him declared void, claiming he was of  “unsound mind” when he signed over his rights and was unaware of the consequences..

The lawsuit claimed Laura Rice negotiated the sale, had her husband sign papers for a notary and personally profited from the deal with a $50,000 check "diverted" from Rice’s account to a fictitious business at her office address in February 2013. 

Laura Rice disputes all of the suit's allegations, saying she was Rice’s primary caregiver for several years but never managed any aspect of his professional career.

The suit describes her as using an alias, Laura Butler; a former last name the songwriter's widow said she hasn’t used in 44 years.

Laura Rice said she has never had an office, had any involvement with any businesses or received any checks for song sales.

Howard Hertz, an attorney for Duane Rice in the Wayne County Probate Court estate case, declined to say how much Rice’s song catalog is worth or provide additional details beyond the complaint.

The federal suit alleges a lump sum paid to Mack Rice was less than he received on annual basis from royalty payments.

“Anyone who knew Mack Rice knows no one could ever tell him how to handle his personal business, or his stuff,” Laura Rice said. “It was his stuff, not mine. But if I wrote any checks, I have copies of all of them.

“He didn’t have much — he owed $150,000 to  the IRS,” she said. “But he said we would always be taken care of and we promised each other that we would never put the other into a mental home, no matter how bad we might get. And we never did.”

The couple had a relationship for 26 years, she said, including during his first marriage, which ended in 2009 when his first wife died. Laura and Mack married in 2011.

Laura Rice believes the lawsuit stems from bad feelings against her by Rice’s sons, who were unhappy with their relationship. She said they were “cold” to her at her husband’s funeral and angry at how his estate was handled.

“At one time, they told the court they would accept giving me 25 percent but when it turned out it was going to be much bigger than that, they became very upset,” she recalled.

“He had told me years before, ’You will be fair by my boys but they won’t be fair with you.' ”

The sons could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"She will contest all the allegations," said Darren Findling, Rice's attorney in the estate case, which is still before Probate Judge Judy Hartsfield.

Mack Rice recorded “Mustang Sally” in 1965 and had an R&B hit with it but Wilson Pickett's version the next year made the pop charts and established the song as a classic. He added "Sir" to his name after a Detroit DJ joked that he should be knighted for writing the song.

Other hits Rice wrote or co-authored include “Respect Yourself,” which was a major hit for the Staples Singers; “Cheaper to Keep Her” a 1973 hit for Johnnie Taylor and “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’” a 1974 hit for Albert King. Kid Rock also covered Rice’s “Detroit, Michigan” on his “Rebel Soul” album in 2012.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

 

 

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