A Quintessential ‘60s Soul Classic

Since it was introduced four months before the normal start of the 1965 production year and built alongside 1964 Ford Falcons and 1964 Mercury Comets, the earliest Mustangs are widely referred to as having a 1964½ manufacture date.  The Ford Mustang is the longest survivor of the affordable breed of classic American muscle cars.  The iconic look of the Mustang features a long hood and shorter rear body design that helps it deliver performance on the road and the talking Kitt on the TV show Knight Rider was a Mustang.  Enough about the car, I am writing about a song, so don’t use this as a guide for Lee Iacocca’s special project.

Bonny ‘Mack’ Rice, sometimes credited as Sir Mack Rice, was an American songwriter and singer.  His best-known composition and biggest hit as a solo performer was ‘Mustang Sally’.  In the mid 50s he joined The Falcons, whose others members were Joe Stubs, Wilson Pickett, Willie Scholfield, Lance Finney and Eddie Floyd.  He was a 2007 recipient of the Blues Trust Lifetime Achievement Award.  Mack Rice appeared in the 2003 documentary Only the Strong Survive about the last living soul singers along with William Bell, Jerry Butler, Isaac Hayes, Sam Moore, Wilson Pickett, Mary Wilson, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas and The Chi-Lites.

In 1955, Mack Rice (Baritone) started singing with a Detroit doo-wop vocal group called the Five Scalders that included Johnny Mayfield (Tenor), Sol Tilman (Tenor), Gerald Young (Tenor) and James Bryant (Bass).  After graduating High School, he was drafted into the Army and served several years in Germany.  When he returned to Detroit in 1957, his mother mentioned an ad in the newspaper placed by a group looking for new members.  Bonny joined The Falcons in 1957 and he stayed with them till they broke up in 1963 performing as a solo vocalist.  The other members of the Falcons included Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett and Joe Stubbs.  His biggest successes were as songwriter for other artists and Mack later wrote songs for Eddie Floyd when he went solo.  Mack Rice sang with Ollie and the Nightingales, joining them in 1970.  He was also a staff songwriter for Stax Records, and wrote the hits ‘Respect Yourself’ with Luther Ingram for the Staple Singers and ‘Cheaper To Keep Her’ for Johnny Taylor.  Rice is one of the few musicians whose career touched both Motown and Stax Records.  Rice died at home in Detroit on June 27, 2016, aged 82, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

In 1965, Rice wrote a song called ‘Mustang Mama’ after visiting his friend, the actress/singer Della Reese, in New York City. Reese told him that she was thinking about buying her drummer Calvin Shields a new Lincoln for his birthday, which Rice, being from Detroit, thought that getting someone a car was a great idea.  During a drive with Shields, while they were smokin’ some weed, Shields started talking about the Mustang car and Rice let it slip out that he might be getting a new Lincoln for his birthday and the drummer replied, “I don’t want a Lincoln, I want a Mustang.”  Rice said that he had never heard of a Mustang before, but Shields filled him in that it had just come out about a month ago.  They went for a drive and saw a billboard for a Mustang and Shields said, “Look up there, man, on that billboard sign.”  Rice said, “Oh shit, man, that car there?  No no no, it’s too little for me!  In Detroit we’re used to driving big cars man, that little shit?  What are you gonna do with it, you gonna ride in it by yourself?”  Shields kept talking about how much he loved the Mustang and Rice couldn’t believe that Shields wanted such a small car instead of a big ol’ Lincoln.  When he returned to Detroit, Rice decided to write a song about Ford’s new compact titled ‘Mustang Mama’, a tale of a fast car and love gone wrong which was based on a nursery rhyme that Rice had heard as a child growing up in Mississippi “Little Sally Walker”.

“Little Sally Walker/Sittin’ in a saucer Weepin’ and a-cryin’/For a cool drink of water Rise Sally rise/Wipe your weepin’ eyes.”  Rice played the song for his friend and publisher who was married to Aretha Franklin and he brought Rice over to her house to sing some of the song for her.  When he got to the part that says, “Rise Sally rise, Rise Sally rise” Aretha suggested, that he change it to “ride, Sally, ride”.  Aretha put a little piano thing on the song, and suggested that he change the title to ‘Mustang Sally’ and that is how it all started coming together.

Delloreese Patricia Early an American jazz and gospel singer, actress, and ordained minister was known professionally as Della Reese and her career spanned seven decades.  Della Reese started as a gospel singer for Mahalia Jackson when she was only 13 and rose to television fame in her 60s as Tess on the CBS show Touched By An Angel.  She made broadcasting history as the first black woman to host a national talk show.  In the late 1950s, she had some million-selling hits including ‘And That Reminds Me’ and ‘Don’t You Know’.  Reese broke into TV full-time with a starring role in the hit 1975-78 comedy series Chico and the Man.  She also had roles on It Takes Two, Crazy Like a Fox, Charlie & Co. and The Royal Family.  She also took starring roles in the features Harlem Nights and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate and appeared in 20 made-for-TV pictures. Della Reese died on November 19, 2017 at the age of 86.

This song is about a girl who lives a wild life in her brand new Mustang car.  Her sugar daddy bought her the car, and this transformed her into Mustang Sally, and now she’s running around town, paying little attention to her boyfriend/benefactor.  The man who is paying for her companionship warns her that she needs to slow it down, or else he will have to put her flat feet on the ground!  Bonny Rice released ‘Mustang Sally’ in May of 1965 and it hit the R&B charts, peaking at #15.

In 1960, Wilson Pickett joined The Falcons and he sang lead on their 1962 hit ‘I Found A Love’, and then he left the group for a solo career later that year.  After signing to Atlantic in 1964, producer Jerry Wexler took Wilson Pickett to Stax Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, where he recorded with Booker T. and the MG’s.  Wilson Pickett came across ‘Mustang Sally’ when Rice was booked to play at The Apollo theater, and the headliner Clyde McPhatter didn’t show.  Rice called his old bandmate Pickett, who performed in McPhatter’s place.  When Pickett heard Rice perform ‘Mustang Sally’, he decided to record it himself.  His version hit the R&B and Pop charts a year and a half after Rice originally recorded the song.  ‘Mustang Sally’ came out on the 1967 Wilson Picket Funk / Soul album, The Wicked Pickett, on the Atlantic Label.  ‘Mustang Sally’ became a hit peaking at 23 on the pop music charts and reaching number six on the R&B charts.  In 2010, Rolling Stone Magazine named Pickett’s version, the 441st greatest song of all time.

Pickett recorded ‘Mustang Sally’ at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, with producer Rick Hall and engineer Tom Dowd at the controls.  He was backed by Memphis guitarist Chips Moman and FAME regulars Roger Hawkins on drums, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, bassist Tommy Cogbill, and keyboardist Dewey ‘Spooner’ Oldham.  FAME had been operating since 1959 and had a big hit recording ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ for Percy Sledge.  FAME’s studio musicians became known as “The Swampers”, immortalized by their name-check in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’.  “Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers And they’ve been known to pick a song or two (yes they do).”

The song, however, very nearly never made it out of the studio.  ‘Mustang Sally’ literally ended up on the studio floor after Pickett finished his final take at FAME Studios.  The tape suddenly flew off the reel and broke into pieces.  However session engineer, Tom Dowd calmly cleared the room and told everyone to come back in half an hour.  Dowd pieced the tape back together and saved what became one of the funkiest soul anthems of the ‘60s.  The Muscle Shoals musicians were building a reputation as some of the best in the business, and they caught the attention of Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records, which was Pickett’s label.  Spooner Oldham played the keyboard on this song.  Spooner noticed there was no keyboard on that record, so he closed his eyes for a second, daydreaming, and he pretended that he was a Harley Davidson motorcycle that was driving through the studio, kind of revving up its engine.

‘Mustang Sally’ has a bouncy groove that provides an unhurried and interminably funky disposition leaving plenty of room for Pickett to testify as he and the instrumentalists riff off of each other.  Soul legend Wilson Pickett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.  The unique sound and quality of his voice only got better with age, singing his hits in their original keys well into his 60s.  He influenced generations of singers and musicians.  Pickett had a heart attack and died while seeking help at a hospital in Reston, Virginia, on January 19, 2006 at 64 years old.

In 1983, 32 years old Sally Ride became the first American woman – and also the youngest – to fly to space alongside four other crew members.  The five astronauts flew aboard Challenger, the ill-fated space shuttle that exploded in Cape Canaveral 73 seconds after take-off three years later.  Dr. Ride was selected because of her expertise with robotics and her ability to maintain her cool under extreme pressure.  When the team took off a crowd of 250,000 watched the launch, with many cheering and singing “Ride Sally Ride” from the Mack Rice song ‘Mustang Sally’.

Mustang Sally
Guess you better slow your Mustang down
Oh Lord, what I said now
Mustang Sally, now baby, oh Lord
Guess you better slow your Mustang down, oh yeah
You been runnin’ all over the town now
Oh, guess I have to put your flat feet on the ground
What I said now, listen;
All you wanna do is ride around, Sally (ride, Sally, ride)
All you wanna do is ride around, Sally (ride, Sally, ride)
All you wanna do is ride around, Sally (ride, Sally, ride)
All you wanna do is ride around, Sally (ride, Sally, ride)
One of these early mornings, baby
Oh, gonna be wiping your weeping eyes
What I said now, look a-here;
I bought you a brand new Mustang, a nineteen-sixty-five
Now you’re comin’ ‘round, signifying oh woman
You don’t wanna let me ride
Mustang Sally, now baby, oh Lord
Guess you better slow that Mustang down, oh Lord
You been runnin’ all over the town now
I got to put your flat feet on the ground
What I said now
Listen to me one more time you all
All you wanna do is ride around, Sally (ride, Sally, ride)
All you wanna do is ride around, Sally (ride, Sally, ride)

Written for FOWC with Fandango – Guide and for Scotts Daily Prompt – Manufacture.

5 thoughts on “A Quintessential ‘60s Soul Classic

  1. Did you ever see the movie “Muscle Shoals”? It’s a 2013 documentary that celebrates Rick Hall, the founder of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. It’s a really good movie. I think you’d enjoy it.

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