Ronnie assembled the Chiffons in 1960, gathering three girls from a local high school to record his demos. Shopping his songs around New York City in 1962, he found a taker in The Tokens, whose 1961 hit "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" earned them a production deal with Capitol Records. The deal was for 10 records, and by the time Mack showed up, they had recorded 9 - all flopped. "He came up with a composition notebook with all these amazing songs in it," recalled Jay Siegel of The Tokens. "They had the most incredible lyrics; not intellectual lyrics, but just the things that people speak of in everyday language. Most people don't have the talent to write them down as music, but he did."
Ronnie added a fourth girl to The Chiffons, and they recorded the song with The Tokens, assisted by Carole King on piano.
Capitol passed on "He's So Fine," as did the other big record companies. Finally the Laurie label took it, and Mack had his hit.
Searching for Ronnie Mack in the musical archives typically brings up these two stories:
1) The song "Jimmy Mack," a 1966 hit for Martha and the Vandellas, was written after Lamont Dozier attended a music industry event where Ronnie was posthumously honored. The name stuck with Dozier and he used it for the song.
2) The lawsuit brought by Bright Tunes Music (the company controlled by The Tokens that owned the publishing rights to "He's So Fine") against George Harrison for plagiarizing Mack's song on "My Sweet Lord." The case played out like a bad episode of Law & Order, with Harrison's former manager Allen Klein consulting Bright Tunes and then buying the company. The judge ruled that the two songs were "virtually identical" musically, and ordered damages of about $1.6 million, which was later reduced to $587,000 - the amount Klein paid for Bright Tunes.
What gets lost is the real story of Ronnie Mack - the gifted songwriter (had he lived, "he would have sustained and would have been one of the most successful songwriters of the '60s," Siegel told us) and entrepreneurial manager who lifted his family out of poverty. Here is that story, told to us by his sister, Dotty (Mack) Sanders. All photos are courtesy of Ms. Sanders.
Ronnie, as we called him, loved music from the time he was born.
I have a picture of him sitting at a piano at about 3 yrs old.
Ronnie taught his self to play music by ear, which means he was able to listen to a song and play it. He never took any music lessons. Playing music came to him naturally.
By the age of about 17 Ronnie was writing songs. He wrote a song called "Puppy Love" when he was 17 or 18 years old. He sold that song for about $25.00, it became a huge hit. There are many more songs he wrote that we may never know about.
Ronnie was a pretty big guy and my mother would have his suits custom made. Don't ask how my mother, who was a widow with four children, was able to do this, but she was a woman whose faith in God was so strong that there was nothing she couldn't do. She knew that with Christ Jesus she could do all things. Ronnie would sell his suits in order to get the money to publish his music. Of course this would upset my mother to the fullest extent, but Ronnie would tell her "don't worry Ma, I'm going to be rich one day and you won't have to worry about anything."
I can remember me and my brother and sisters looking out the window waiting to see our mother come home from cleaning someone's house. Sometimes her knees would be bleeding and that would hurt my brother so bad, because with my father being dead, he knew he was now the man of the family.
In 1963 my brother's dream came true. He created a group called The Chiffons and he wrote a song for them that became the number one record in the world: "He's So Fine."
Ronnie was able to do all the things he had promised my mother. I can remember one night he came home and woke me and my youngest sister Brenda up and told us to go get in bed with our mother, then he opened this big suitcase and poured money all over us.
What I need you to know is that this blessing didn't come easy for my brother. There were many times he was laughed at because of the clothes he wore and the way he looked, but he had a dream and he never gave up on it.
We need to know that God has ordained our lives before we are even born. God's word tells us that He will withhold no good thing from us but we have a part in that also, we have to have a dream. Remember Joseph was a dreamer. We must work at our dream by gaining as much wisdom and knowledge of what it is we are attempting to do. God's word says "In all things get Wisdom." And we must pray about everything.
Ronnie Mack died at the age of 23. At the time of his death he had the number one record around the world. He never got the chance to see his Gold Record, although his production company, Bright Tunes Production, had done a rush job on getting it made, but unfortunately by that time cancer had taken over his body and mind.
May 26, 2012
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