"When he wrote 'Mustang Sally' and he saw that royalty check, he started writing," Laura Rice said. "He never thought 'Mustang Sally' would ever be as big as it became. … He used to tell me, 'Honey that Mustang has rolled a long time.'"
Rice was a songwriter for Memphis, Tennessee-based Stax Records and split his time between there and Detroit, where he moved from Mississippi as a teen.
He wrote "Respect Yourself" with late R&B singer-songwriter Luther Ingram for the Staple Singers, which became Stax's biggest hit. His wife said he wrote it in about 15 minutes after talking with other musicians in the studio about the need for people to respect themselves in order to be respected by others.
Laura Rice and singer Pat Lewis, a longtime friend and collaborator, say he was kind, humble and embodied his other, Memphis-given nickname, "Gentleman." Both delivered the word in a drawn-out, southern accent, sounding more like "Gentlemain."
Lewis, a fellow Detroit resident who went to Stax with Mack Rice in the 1960s and remained close with him until his death, said he was a "gentle soul" who was loved by all -- including ex-bandmates. She said he remained friends with Pickett, who died in 2006, and the other Falcons, even though for a lot of groups, "when they fall out, they fall out."
"Pickett called (Rice) and said, 'You oughtta let me do 'Mustang Sally.'" recalled Lewis, who also sang backup for Aretha Franklin and Isaac Hayes. "Mack said, 'You wanna do it? You got that.' It wasn’t a hit (for) Mack but Pickett, wow, he just blew it out of the park."
In his later years, Rice ran an asphalt company in Detroit and continued writing and performing. Despite his failing health and mind at the end of his life, Lewis said music remained at his core. She recalled their last phone conversation a few days before his death.
"Somebody mentioned my name and he hadn't spoken all day, but all of a sudden he said, 'Patsy Lewis? Where?'" Lewis said. “He said to me, 'Patsy Lewis, hello darling. Girl, we gotta get this music.' I said, 'You are so right, Gentleman.'"
A tribute service has been scheduled for July 6 at Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church. A funeral service is set for July 7.