Suit: Widow duped 'Mustang Sally' writer out of rights

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

The estate of the late Sir Mack Rice, who wrote and sang "Mustang Sally," is suing a California company and Rice’s widow for allegedly duping him into signing over the rights to the famous rhythm and blues classic and other songs at below their true value.

Rice, born Bonny Rice in Clarksdale, Mississippi, died at his Detroit home in June 2016 at the age of 82 from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease. He had moved to Detroit in 1950 with his family, graduated from high school and began a career in music that eventually included putting Ford's iconic pony car on the pop charts.

 According to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, Rice’s wife, Laura Butler, allegedly worked with Music Royalty Consulting out of Los Angeles in 2012 to convince him to sign over all future rights and royalties of his life’s work for an undisclosed amount, which Rice received in two checks.

Detroit's Sir Mack Rice leans against the 2005 model of the car he wrote and sang about in 1965's "Mustang Sally." Rice's song, which Wilson Pickett made into a smash, is the pony car's unofficial anthem.

Rice allegedly suffered from dementia for several years before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, according to the complaint, which says he was of “unsound mind” at the time of the deal and not aware of what he was signing or the consequences of the arrangement.

“We are still gathering information on this but are confident that justice will prevail,” said Howard Hertz, attorney for the Wayne County Probate Court estate, which is supervised by Duane Rice, one of the singer’s three sons.

Hertz declined to discuss how much Rice’s catalog of songs, which number into the hundreds, is worth or to provide details beyond the complaint. The complaint does state the lump sum he received was less than Rice had received on an annual basis from royalty payments.

According to the complaint, Rice’s long-standing first marriage ended in 2009 when his wife died and he married Laura in November 2011. The complaint alleges Laura Rice negotiated the royalties sale and benefited from it personally.

According to the complaint, shortly after the deal, a check for $50,000 was written from Mack Rice’s checking account in February 2013 and “diverted” to a fictitious company located at Laura Rice’s business office.

Neither Music Royal Consulting nor Laura Rice could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Laura Rice managed her husband’s career for 15 years — both before and after their marriage — and was compensated for the work, which included basic career decisions and putting him in touch with concert promoters.

But the lawsuit also alleges she is not licensed, as required in Michigan, to act as a personal agency so additionally, any actions she took should be declared void.

Mack Rice obtained the “Sir” title from a Detroit radio disc jockey who said Rice deserved the title, which he adopted as his stage name.

Rice initially wrote “Mustang Sally” under the title “Mustang Mama” but was encouraged by a young Aretha Franklin, a pianist on the demo record, to change it to “Sally.”

In 1965, the song was a Billboard R&B hit for Rice. But it really took off when recorded the following year by Wilson Pickett, who Rice had also worked with over the years in a Detroit group called the Falcons.

Pickett’s version of “Mustang Sally” was so popular that it was declared No. 434 of Rolling Stone magazine's Top 500 Songs of All Time. It was also recorded by the Rascals and numerous others.

Among other songs Rice wrote or co-authored was “Respect Yourself”, which was a 1971 hit for the Staples Singers; “Cheaper to Keep Her” a 1973 hit for Johnnie Taylor (later covered by the Blues Brothers in a film) 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.

The lawsuit seeks to have the sale of all compositions voided and award the estate all damages and relief deemed appropriate by the court.

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