Each song ever recorded has a story. A person penned some words or a musical melody and at some point the two things married. Words and Music live happily ever after…or not. To stay a happily married couple they need to be played on the radio, in clubs, on the road and ultimately through recording devices which we now call cell phones.
Sir Mack Rice (aka Bonny Rice) sang in a few vocal groups. In 1957 he joined a group called the Falcons. He wrote songs for the group and for other singers. A new lead singer joined the Falcons in 1960. He sang the lead part on their first big hit in 1962 called “I Found The Love.” His name was Wilson Pickett.
Like many lead singers in a pack of singers, as soon as they had the hit Wilson Pickett left the group to go solo. The group broke up in 1963. BUT…Sir Mack Rick kept writing songs. He was friends with the great Della Reese and paid her a visit in 1965. She was already fairly successful and she told Rice she wanted to buy her drummer, Calvin Shields, a new Lincoln for his birthday. Well, Rice couldn’t keep a secret so he told Shields that Della was going to buy him a new Lincoln. Shields, said, “Hell, I don’t want no Lincoln, I want a Mustang.” Shields replied, “What the hell is a Mustang.”
Shields the drummer took Rice the songwriter in his car and they drove around town til he spotted a billboard advertising a Mustang. “There’s that beauty,” said Shields. Rice replied, “Why would anybody want that damn little thing.”
Rice went back home to Detroit and got an idea to write a song about Della Reese buying that Mustang. The song was called “Mustang Mama.” He finished it and visited another great singer friend of his, Aretha Franklin. He wanted her opinion and sang part of the finished song for her. She was puzzled. She said, “At the end of the song you keep this part going about “Ride Sally Ride. Makes no sense to call the song Mustang Mama, call it Mustang Sally. You got a good song there though.”
Sir Mack Rice was elated. He recorded his song in 1965 and had his biggest hit. Mustang Sally went to #15 on the Billboard R&B charts.
The usual touring took place to sell the song and album and Sir Mack Rice was booked to play the Apollo theater and on the afternoon of the performance the headliner, Clyde McPhatter, cancelled. This was bad. Needed a headliner to sell tickets. Sir Mack Rice called his former band mate, Wilson Pickett, and asked him to be the headliner. Agreed.
Sitting in the green room Wilson Pickett heard his old band mate sing his song, Mustang Sally. He said to himself, “I want to record that myself.” The rest is history.
Pickett went to Muscle Shoals Recording Studios in Alabama. They had just started getting the reputation that would make them one of the hottest recording studios throughout the ‘70s.
They had great studio players there and Pickett laid down the track for Mustang Sally, trying to copy the song from the Sir Mack Rice version. And here’s the part I like…one of the great Muscle Shoals studio cats named Spooner Oldham said, “Hey there ain’t no keyboard on that tune. That tune needs a keyboard.” Spooner Oldham played the keyboard.
After the recording was finished, all the musicians had gone home, the track was complete, just needed to get to the record company to transfer the tape to vinyl, disaster struck.
As they were listening to the final version the tape recorder broke and spit the tape out all over the floor in pieces. The recording engineer, legendary Tom Dowd, told them to leave the room and let him have at least a half hour. He pieced and pasted all the pieces together and ‘Voila’ one of the funkiest soul tunes of the ‘60s is still being played every day and for sure every night in dozens of clubs around the world.
Wilson Pickett released the tune in 1967.
Wrinkly Sally and her rusty Mustang are still riding around town fifty years later.
My band, that played every night throughout the ‘70s, was constantly asked to play Mustang Sally. I thought I put her down, like a very old dog, when I moved to Bakersfield in the last decade. Nope. She lives on and on and on and on. My current band is still keeping her flat feet from hitting the ground and she Rides, Sally, Rides all over town.
On another note I haven’t heard yet if our singer, Tracy, is buying our drummer, Dave, a new car. I heard he wants a Lincoln, not a damn little Mustang.