The MITCH RYDER Conversation

By Dr. Alan Carlos Hernandez on November 26, 2018

Hollywood (Herald de Paris) —   Of the many gifts given to the world by the Detroit music scene, from the compositions of Duke Ellington to the raw punk power of The Stooges and Hall of Fame nominees The MC5, one of the most enduring has been the unforgettable voice of Mitch Ryder.

Whether performing with or without his Detroit Wheels, Ryder has been one of the most dominant figures in the Motor City’s bountiful music scene for the last 4 decades, which such hits as, “Devil with A Blue Dress On,” and, “Jenny (Take A Ride)” to name few.

This year he presents a collection of brand-new recordings to celebrate the spirit and soul of Christmas, called Christmas (Take A Ride), which finds the blue-eyed crooner offering fresh takes on holiday classics made famous by Elvis Presley, Stevie Wonder, and Bruce Springsteen along with seasonal favorites “Let It Snow,” “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” and more! Christmas (Take A Ride) will be available on both CD and digital starting October 26 via Golden lane Records, a division of Cleopatra Records.

Born William Levise, Jr. in Hamtramck, Michigan on February 26, 1945, Ryder sang with a local black quartet dubbed the Peps as a teen but suffered so much racial harassment that he soon left the group to form his own combo, Billy Lee & the Rivieras.

Ryder has influenced the music of such rock music artists as Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, and also Bruce Springsteen whose version of the song “Devil with a Blue Dress” was part of the No Nukes concert album in the early 1980s. He has also been cited as a primary musical influence by Ted Nugent.

Bruce Springsteen still plays his music on stage. The song titled “Detroit Medley” refers directly to the Detroit Wheels. Included in this medley are the songs, Devil with a Blue Dress, Jenny Take a Ride, Good Golly Miss Molly and C.C. Rider.  The medley from time to time blends in a variety of other songs, but this remains the core section, often featuring guitar solos from Springsteen and piano solos by Roy Bittan.

While opening for the Dave Clark Five during a 1965 date, the Rivieras came to the notice of producer Bob Crewe, who immediately signed the group and, according to legend, rechristened the singer Mitch Ryder after randomly selecting the name from a phone book. Backed by the peerless Detroit Wheels — originally guitarists James McCarty and Joe Cubert, bassist Earl Elliot, and drummer Johnny “Bee” Badanjek –

Ryder reached the Top Ten in early 1966 with “Jenny Take a Ride”; the single, a frenzied combination of Little Richard’s “Jenny Jenny” and Chuck Willis’ “C.C. Rider,” remains one of the quintessential moments in blue-eyed soul, its breathless intensity setting the tone for the remainder of the band’s output.

Ryder & the Detroit Wheels returned to the chart’s weeks later with their reading of “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” scoring their biggest hit that autumn with the Top Five smash “Devil with a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly.” “Sock It to Me Baby!” followed in early 1967.

At Producer Bob Crewe’s insistence, Ryder soon split from the rest of the band to mount a solo career. The move proved disastrous — outside of the Top 30 entry “What Now My Love,” the hits quickly and permanently dried up. In 1969, Ryder teamed with Booker T. & the MG’s for an LP titled The Detroit-Memphis Experiment before returning home and reuniting with Badanjek in a new seven-piece hard rock band known simply as Detroit.

The group’s lone LP, a self-titled effort issued in 1971, remains a minor classic, yielding a major FM radio hit with its cover of Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll” that was praised by Reed himself. However, the years of performing were taking their toll, and as Ryder began suffering more and more from severe throat problems, he retired from music, relocating to the Denver area in 1973. In time he began writing songs with wife Kimberley, also taking up painting and working on a novel.

Naked but Not Dead Ryder resurfaced in 1978 on his own Seeds and Stems label with How I Spent My Vacation, his first new LP in seven years; Naked But Not Dead appeared a year later, and he continued his prolific output in 1981 with two new efforts, Live Talkies and Got Change for a Million? In 1983 ardent fan John Cougar Mellencamp agreed to produce Ryder’s major-label comeback, Never Kick a Sleeping Dog, which generated a minor hit with its cover of the Prince classic “When You Were Mine” but otherwise failed to return the singer to mainstream success, at least at home.

In Europe, and particularly in Germany, he retained a large fan following, releasing In the China Shop on the German label Line in 1986. After satirizing the Iran-Contra debacle with the 1987 single “Good Golly, Ask Ollie,” Ryder issued the full-length Red Blood, White Mink the following year; subsequent efforts include 1990’s The Beautiful Toulang Sunset, 1992’s La Gash, and 1994’s Rite of Passage.

Ryder’s first new studio album in nearly 20 years, the Don Was-produced The Promise, appeared in 2012. In 2018, Ryder released his first holiday album, an up tempo set titled Christmas (Take a Ride).

Herald de Paris editor, Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez spoke to Mitch recently.

AC: When did know that you wanted to sing?

MR: I knew I wanted to be a singer by the age of twelve. It helped that my parents were music lovers, but I was trying to be an animated cartoon artist. That was until I went pro with the music at sixteen.

AC: You have inspired the biggest rockers like Springsteen and Melencamp, who did you want to emulate?

MR: I don’t think I tried to emulate any one artist; however, my influences were James Brown, Little Richard, Johnny Mathis and Hank Williams.

AC: How did your childhood environment, inspire the music you wanted to create?

MR: My childhood didn’t influence the type of music I eventually chose.

AC: Can you remember the first time you performed in front of people and decided this would be your life’s work? What did your family say about you becoming a performer?

MR: My first time singing in public was for a student assembly in my High-School. I sang “Chances Are” by Johnny Mathis. My parents were very supportive of anything I attempted.

AC: How did you get the gig singing in an all-black group the Peps? What was it like performing with them, what kind of gigs did you do, what kinds of songs, what kind of pressure caused you to leave the group?

MR:  I met the Peps while hanging out at the legendary Village (music venue) on Woodward and Alexandrine in Detroit, MI. We performed a wide assortment of engagements from weddings, to private parties, to a variety of venues including a Detroit River cruise ship.

AC: Can music transcend race?

MR: Music absolutely transcends race.

AC: Tell us about the formation of Billy Lee & the Rivieras, what was the musical direction what was the songbook like?

MR: I met the Rivieras also at the Village, where I was performing with The Peps by that time. The Rivieras had auditioned to be one of the weekly house bands at the venue and their manager eventually made some arrangements for them to get up on stage and perform with me.

The summer following high school, we started rehearsing together until we had a quantity and quality of material to start performing publicly. The songbook at that time was a mixture of popular rock songs along with the music coming out of Motown.

AC: Tell us about working with The Dave Clark Five?

MR: The Dave Clark Five gig was set up in response to a query by Bob Crewe to find a showcase gig for me and the Rivieras. At that point we were so disgusted by the free pass being given to the Brits that we were looking for blood. We saw the gig as a lifetime opportunity.

AC: Were you inspired or put off by The British invasion?

MR: As far as the British invasion we viewed it as a challenge. This is when you met Producer Bob Crewe, his credentials as a producer? Bob Crewe’s credentials, when we met him, were heavy on a national playground. Most notably with the Four Seasons, but he also had many other top ten achievements with a variety of other acts up to that point.

AC: Legend has it he renamed the Rivieras, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels by randomly choosing the name out of a phone book, is this true, what really happened?

MR: The rumors about the name of the group, and my new stage name as well, are true.

AC: How did it feel when you heard “Jenny Take a Ride” on the radio for the first time, where were you?

MR: The first time I heard one of my recordings on the radio was fortunately with my wife Susan and my daughter Dawn. It came in the form of a radio wake-up call and the song was “Jenny Take A Ride.”

AC: With CC Rider is it said that you became the ultimate purveyor of Blue-Eyed Soul, how would you define the Blue-Eyed Soul, can you take some of the credit for making it mainstream?

MR: The term Blue-eyed Soul is subtly racist terminology; which I personally don’t like.

AC: What was the story behind, Little Latin Lupe Lou, was she a real person?

MR: Not sure if she is a real person, or not, as the song was written by Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers. All I did was take the song and achieve more success with it; a #17 Hit on Billboard.

AC: Devil with a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly, Sock It to Me Baby are rock and roll anthems, did you write them? Who has been able to do the best job with them besides yourself?

MR: Devil was written by a very cool guy from Motown Records by the name of Shorty Long who unfortunately died way too young in a tragic boating accident on the Detroit River, without ever realizing the money he was making on my version of his song.

Nobody has ever done a decent version of Devil except Bruce Springsteen.

AC: What would you tell young performers about doing a live show what is the most important thing in giving the audience an experience they will never forget?

MR: Audiences need honesty from an artist who uses every talent he or she is in possession of and doing so with a total effort. The audience can then be a fair judge about the worth of a performance.

AC: At the top of your success at Bob Crewes insistence you left the band to start a solo career? What was the thinking behind that? Was it a good or bad career move? Are you serious?

MR: A bad career move doesn’t exist if you have confidence in yourself.

AC: What is the best gig you ever played?

MR: For me the biggest gig has always been and will forever remain the very first gig. That occurred in High School as I sang a Johnny Mathis song called Chances Are in front of a student assembly.

AC:  Did fame and fortune affect you in a self-destructive way? How hard is it to be Famous? Is it worth it? Any regrets?

MR: Fame doesn’t MAKE you do anything. It allows you to do things you probably would not have attempted without it.

AC: What do you think of the music today, who are some of the people you listen to?

MR: Music of today, yesterday, and even music from hundreds of years ago have equality in terms of importance and application to culture and the collective knowledge.

AC: How do you think your music has affected and informed the music industry of the last 50 years?

MR:  I would like to think that my music served as the bridge between the Motown soul factory and the high energy, take-no prisoners rock n’ roll that would roar out of Detroit via Iggy & The Stooges, Ted Nugent, and Bob Seger.

AC: There is allot of industry buzz about your upcoming Christmas Album? Why A Christmas Album?

MR:  I have never done a Christmas album and in my life; and Christmas has always been a big deal. What is your ultimate hope for the project?

MR: I hope this project makes people happy.

AC: How can people order the CD?

MR: The album is available for order in all the usual places. If someone is looking for a physical CD; those can be ordered either directly through Cleopatra Record’s website or on Amazon. If someone prefers a digital download at iTunes.

AC: What are some of things still on your Bucket list?

MR: More songs, my musical…. another book.

AC: What would you like your legacy to be How would you like history to remember you?

MR: Something that would make my family proud.

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