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Ryder, Mitch

Mitch Ryder

Singer, songwriter

A Baaad Dude on Detroit R & B Scene

Stardom With Detroit Wheels

Hard Times

Selected discography

Sources

Rolling Stone once called Mitch Ryder the Godfather of Motor City Rock and Roll; other tastemakers dubbed him the King of White Soul and the Master of Blue-Eyed Rhythm and Blues. In 1965, several newspapers quoted Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones roaring, Mitch has got it! But, over the years, what he had was nearly destroyed by overwork, mismanagement, and substance abuse. Although decades later he remains a rock legend, Ryder is no longer as recognized as he once was. Nonetheless, he continues to perform, often to rave reviews, write critically acclaimed songs, and thrill his cult audience.

Ryder was born William Levise, Jr., on February 26, 1945, in Detroit, Michigan. As a child, he lived in the suburbs of Detroit, but as he was prone to discipline problems, summers saw him shipped off to live in the city with his grandmother. Ryder told Goldmines Ken Settle of his early exposure to music there, recollecting, I really started hearing and buying records. I think the first big one for me was A Fool in Love by Tina Turner. His interest in music grew, and he wrote the school song for his junior high and later worked with a high school band called Tempest. But it wasnt until he earned a Number One rating at a county solo/ensemble festival for his rendition of Danny Boy that young Billy Levises confidence really soared.

A Baaad Dude on Detroit R & B Scene

In 1962, a 17-year-old Levise emerged on the burgeoning Detroit rhythm and blues scene. The Village, considered one of the soul clubs, featured music that, local lore has it, made the walls bulge and the streets quake. Soul singer and Village star attraction Nathaniel Mayer remembered Levise to Settle as a baaad dude, elaborating, It was amazin because, you know, usually when guys sing with all that soul, first thing you think its a black dude, then you look up and theres a white dude doin it. So all of us was shocked. Levise cut Thats the Way Its Gonna Be/Fool for You, an R & B single on Reverend James Hendrixs gospel Carrie label, and shortly thereafter began fronting a band known as the Peps. The constant rotation of musicians in that outfit, however, began to drive him crazyoften, no one showed up at all.

One night in early 1964, while Levise was hanging around at the Village waiting for his musicians to arrive, he met another group. It was resolved that they would jam together sometime or have a few beers, but the actual result was Billy Lee and the Rivieras. By that summer, this new band found theyd developed a rather large and fanatical following. Dave Prince, disc jockey at Detroits WXYZ, heard of the band and began

For the Record

Born William Levise, Jr., February 26, 1945, in Detroit, MI; married twice.

Became professional singer, c. 1962; recorded Thats the Way Its Gonna Be/Fool for You, Carrie, c. 1963; singer with the Peps, 1963-1964; singer with Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels (originally Billy Lee and the Rivieras), 1964-1966; signed with New Voice label, 1964; released Jenny Take a Ride, 1965; became solo performer, 1967; released The Detroit-Memphis Experiment, Dot, 1969; singer with Detroit, 1971-1972; singer with Knock Down, Drag Out Band, early 1970s; worked as laborer, Denver, 1972-1977; resumed performing/recording career, 1978.

Addresses: Agent Entertainment Services International, 6400 Pleasant Park Dr., Chanhassen, MN 55317.

booking them to open for Motown acts at the renowned Walled Lake Casino, about 40 miles northwest of Detroit.

After just a few shows, Billy Lee and the Rivieras were headlining, billed above top Motown performers. Prince introduced their music to Bob Crewe, a New York City-based independent record producer and head of his own labelNew Voice Recordsand management firm. Crewe, whod had major success with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, was eager to see the band after listening to a tape Prince had recorded. Prince arranged for Crewe to see Billy Lee and the Rivieras at a large venue where they were third on the bill of a Dave Clark Five concert. Although the former Levise and company were only scheduled to play a few songs, the frenzied audience kept them onstage for nearly an hour and a half. Crewe was shocked and sold, insisting that the band be in New York City within the week.

As another band had already made a name for themselves as the Rivieras, the Lee ensemble became the Detroit Wheels, and Billy Lee became Mitch Ryder, a moniker lifted from the pages of a 1965 Manhattan phone book; the pairing of Ryder, a play on rider, and wheels seemed apt.

Stardom With Detroit Wheels

Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels didnt hit big with their new name for nearly a year, but when they did, in December of 1965, they hit hard. When the band combined Chuck Williss slow burner C.C. Rider with the driving rhythm of Little Richards Jenny, Jenny to form Jenny Take a Ride, the music world took notice.

For the next two years the hits and the fans kept coming. Songs like Little Latin Lupe Lu, Break Out, Takin All I Can Get, Devil With a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly, Sock It to Me, Baby, and Too Many Fish in the Sea made indelible marks not only on the rock and pop charts, but on the R & B charts as well. The Wheels showing on the R & B charts was of particular significance as they were the only white group to come out of Motown at that time; whereas black Motown acts were crossing over to the white pop market, Ryder and his cohorts were crossing from the pop/rock market into R & B, testimony to their reverence for the black art form and the black communitys respect for the band.

The Devil/Molly cut, from their second LP, Breakout...!!!, was just one example of Ryders interpretive genius. Shorty Longs obscure Motown release Devil With a Blue Dress On, paired with Richards legendary 1958 screamer Good Golly Miss Molly, was such hyperkinetic, frenetic fun that as late as 1988, Rolling Stone listed it among its 100 best singles of the previous 25 years. Such amalgamations helped create near-hysteria during Wheels concerts and ultimately became one of their trademarks. The medleys ended up on albums lafgely because the band had been rushed into recording; they hadnt had time to learn anything new and were thus forced to cull the best pieces from their club act.

During the bands second year at the top, a number of people, including Bob Crewe, began slowly working on Ryder to become a solo act, with Las Vegas as their goal; Vegas seemed to be where the big money was. (This was before the tremendous stadium shows that would evetually become commonplace). In May of 1967 Ryder finally gave in and left the Detroit Wheels to don the $2,000 tuxedo of the Las Vegas cabaret singer. I just wanted to make some big, brassy music, Ryder told Goldmines Settle. On the whole, record buyers found Mitch Ryder singing You Are My Sunshine and Personality/Chantilly Lace on his What Now My Love? album somewhat ridiculous. Finally, Ryder split with Crewe and fled the glitzy folly.

In 1969 he released The Detroit-Memphis Experiment, the generally agreed on brilliance of which restored his credibility in the wake of the Vegas material hed produced with Crewe. But although it was critically acclaimed, Experiment sold poorly. In 1971 Ryder formed a seven-man hard rock band that reunited him with Wheels drummer John Badanjek. This outfit was called simply Detroit, as was their only album. According to Settle, Ryders personal life was becoming increasingly tortuous, and business dealings were in massive disarray after Crewe purportedly stuck Ryder with horrendous expenses before their partnership dissolved, [but the Detroit album] captured the soulful spirit and metallic drive that was the epitome of urban rock.

Hard Times

By then, Ryder desperately needed to get out of rock. After Id quit Detroit, he admitted to Settle, I really wanted a rest, although I couldnt afford one. I didnt have any money saved up; I wasnt making enough to save any. He performed with a group called the Knock Down, Drag Out Party Bandreally a just-for-fun projectthat allowed him to keep his hand in the business. But soon, even that became too much, and in 1972, Ryder moved to Denver, and, it seemed, out of music altogether. He reasoned to Settle: Probably by the time I moved out there I had waited way too long to get off the stage and take a break.... I knew I had to be off the stage, but couldnt afford not to.... And having to need that money pushed me into a situation where, mentally, I shouldnt have even been onstage. Mentally, it was bad for me and precipitated a whole series of events which led me to Colorado. In time, he was frightened to perform in public. A reliance on tranquilizers followed. Little things would upset me, Ryder revealed in the Washington Times. When I couldnt control situations, I would refuse to deal with them and would do that by sedating myself.

His sojourn in Denver was certainly a healing period, but Ryder did not swear off drugs and alcohol until 1988. He did not leave music behind during his five years out west, as many have suggested; while working as a laborer by day, he wrote songs at night, eventually rehearsing with new musician friends hed made. Very slowly, Ryder began to re-enter the music business.

Finally, Goldmine contributor Settle reported, with a bold, renewed musical vision, Ryder reclaimed his Detroit turf in 1977, and in 1978, on his own Seeds & Stems label, he released the aptly titled How I Spent My Vacation. The pain, desire, and deception that Ryder had weathered in his life and career are achingly apparent, Settle observed. He went on to echo many criticsand countless fansin his assessment of this record and Ryders later work: The fortunate few who heard this LP were treated to a modern music classic. The album is full of twisted images of lifes gamblers and losers, infused with the realization that in the end they become one and the same. One cannot deny the icy chill in Ryders vocals. It is the voice of a man who had lost everything except the power to reclaim. Time and time again on Ryders subsequent recordings, especially Naked But Not Dead and a handful of European releases, the artist proves that he still possesses a potent and relevant voice in the contemporary mainstream. His is an artistry that is unafraid, and quite eager to take commercial chances and [make] artistic advances.

Although Ryder remains a rock hero and cult favoriteactress Winona Ryder borrowed his borrowed surnameand continues to earn critical praise and wield influence among younger artistsparticularly heartland rocker John Mellencamp, who produced Ryders Never Kick a Sleeping Dog he has yet to recapture the glory he enjoyed as frontman for the Detroit Wheels. He continues to write and tour and has begun work on an autobiography that is being co-written by star music scribe David Marsh. When Settle asked what the most nagging misconception about him is, Ryder replied, I dont think they have any misconceptions about what I am in Europe. In America, I feel that the general public has been denied my presence on a mass level for so long that they dont know me here. So theres really no room for misconceptions. Other than the general public thinking that I may have died. That could be a misconception.

Selected discography

With Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels

Take a Ride, New Voice, 1966.

Breakout... !!!, New Voice, 1966.

Sock It to Me, New Voice, 1967.

Greatest Hits, Roulette, 1987.

Rev Up: The Best of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Rhino, 1989.

With Detroit

Detroit, Paramount, 1971, reissued, 1987.

Solo albums

All Mitch Ryder Hits, New Voice, 1967.

All the Heavy Hits, Crewe, 1967.

What Now My Love?, Dyno Voice, 1967.

Mitch Ryder Sings the Hits, New Voice, 1968.

The Detroit-Memphis Experiment, Dot, 1969.

How I Spent My Vacation, Seeds & Stems, 1978.

Naked But Not Dead, Seeds & Stems, 1980.

Look Ma, No Wheels, Quality, 1981.

Never Kick a Sleeping Dog, Riva, 1983.

Contributor

Michigan Rocks, Seeds & Stems, 1977.

Was (Not Was), Born to Laugh at Tornadoes, Geffen, 1983.

Sources

Books

Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, ABC/CLIO, 1991.

Periodicals

Ann Arbor News (Ml), January 9, 1989.

Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), January 11, 1989.

Boston Globe, July 8, 1988.

Buffalo News (NY), June 23, 1988.

Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA), July 14, 1988.

Detroit Free Press, January 28, 1991; May 15, 1991; May 18, 1991; May 9, 1993.

Goldmine, May 20, 1988.

Rolling Stone, September 8, 1988; February 9, 1989.

Washington Times, July 19, 1988.

Joanna Rubiner

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Ryder, Mitch

Mitch Ryder

Singer, songwriter

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

As front man for one of the most raucuous blue-eyed soul bands of the 1960s, Detroits Mitch Ryder howled high-energy medleys of rock and blues standards. His hard-driving Devil With a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly has a firm place in the canon of infectious dance tunes. But commercial success was fleeting for Ryder. His later work, while hailed by critics, has been largely ignored in his native country, though he has retained a large following in Europe three decades after disappearing from the U.S. pop charts.

Ryder was born as William Levise Jr. on February 26, 1945, in the Detroit enclave of Hamtramck. His father was a big band radio singer. Ryder grew up in the all-white suburb of Warren but learned about rhythm-and-blues music while spending summers with his grandmother in Detroit. Black culture attracted him; he told Rolling Stones Kurt Loder that it seemed a lot more vibrant than goin out to see Fabian.

By the time he was in high school, Ryder was performing under the name Billy Lee in a group called Tempest. At 17, he started singing in a feverish Detroit soul club, the Village, and recorded an R&B single (Thats the Way Its Gonna Be/Fool for You) for a local gospel label, Carrie. Soon he started playing gigs at black clubs as the lead singer for a vocal trio, the Peps, whose other two members were black. His vocals were so soulful that fans sometimes mistook him for a light-skinned black man. His interracial experience set him apart in the days when the Motown sound was just starting to break through the color bar on mainstream pop radio stations.

Tiring of the constant turnover in the Peps, Ryder, in 1964, formed his own band, Billy Lee & the Rivieras, which included drummer John Badanjek, bass player Jim McCallister, and guitarists Jim McCarty and Joe Kubert. Soon they attracted a fanatical following as the house band at the Walled Lake Casino, the hottest spot on the Michigan teen scene, where they opened for Motown acts. They recorded a version of the Contours hit Do You Want to Dance? for a local label, Hyland. Having played with white and black musicians for white and black audiences, Ryder had quickly shown a mastery of the R&B-driven rock music that was galvanizing young people worldwide.

When legendary record producer Bob Crewe saw Billy Lee and the Rivieras steal the show at a Dave Clark Five concert, he recognized their potential and immediately signed the five Detroit boys to a contract with his New Voice label. In New York for the contract signing, they picked the name Mitch Ryder out of the Manhattan phone book. Because there already was a rock group called the Rivieras, the group was renamed the Detroit Wheels.

Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels released their first single, I Need Help, in the fall of 1965. It went nowhere. In December they recorded a medley, covering two rock standards, Little Richards Jenny, Jenny and Chuck Williss C.C. Rider. Called Jenny Take a Ride, the single was an instant success, hitting number ten on the Billboard charts in January 1966. Two months later, the groups cover of the Righteous Brothers Little Latin Lupe Lu peaked at number 17. Their biggest hit followed that fall. It was an infectious remake of an obscure Motown record by Shorty Long, Devil With a Blue Dress On and another Little Richard screamer, Good Golly Miss Molly. The provocative, hyperkinetic song reached number four on the Billboard charts in October 1966. Becoming an all-time favorite of the Baby Boomer generation, it was listed as one of the 100 best singles of the 1963-1988 era by Rolling Stone magazine.

Ryders best songs with the Wheels had the electricity of live performances. The medleys became the groups concert trademark. At a time when black groups were finally busting through with crossover hits, Ryder and the Wheels consistently crossed over in the other direction, with their recordings always faring well on the R&B charts. In all, Ryders string of hits in 1966 and 1967 presaged a later era when racial barriers in music became meaningless.

For the Record

Born William Levise Jr., February 26, 1945, in Hamtramck. MI; married twice.

Professional singer under stage name Billy Lee with the Tempest, c. 1961; recorded Thats the Way Its Gonna Be/Fool for You, Carrie, c. 1963; singer with the Peps, 1963-64; singer with Billy Lee & the Rivieras, renamed Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, 1964-67; released New Voice singles Jenny Take A Ride 1965; Devil With a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly 1966; Sock It To Me - Baby 1967; became solo performer, 1967; released The Detroit-Memphis Experiment, Dot, 1969; formed band Detroit, 1971, released album Detroit; worked as laborer, Denver, 1972-77; resumed music career with How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Seeds & Stems 1978; Naked But Not Dead, Seeds & Stems, 1980; released Never Kick a Sleeping Dog, Riva, 1983; released several albums for German label Lane in 1980s and 1990s.

Addresses: Agent Entertainment Services International, 6400 Pleasant Park Dr., Chanhassen, MN 55317.

Ryder and the Wheels recorded two more hits in early 1967, but their formula was already sounding predictable. Sock It To Me - Baby! charted at number six despite being banned on some radio stations for its sexual innuendos. Ryders most bizarre medley was a merging of the Marvelettes Motown hit Too Many Fish in the Sea and an old ditty dating back to 1939, Three Little Fishes. When that medley managed only 24 on the charts, Crewe convinced Ryder that the Wheels magic had run its course.

The group split up, and at Crewes behest Ryder became a solo act, singing Vegas-style ballads. It was an inexplicable transformation, taking one of the most soulful white singers and remaking him as a glitzy crooner backed by sticky-sweet strings. Only one of Ryders solo efforts for Crewe, What Now My Love, made the Billboard charts, peaking at number 30.

When his fling as a Las Vegas lounge singer ended, Ryder broke bitterly with Crewe. Despite his string of hits, Ryder reportedly made only $15,000 as a Crewe property. Ryder traveled to Memphis, recording a unique album called The Detroit-Memphis Experiment with guitarist Steve Cropper. The 1969 release featured blues legends like Booker T & the MGs. While it was a commercial flop, it was a critical success. Ryders disgust with Crewes handling was evident in liner notes where he complained of being raped by the music machine and noted pointedly that Mitch Ryder is the sole creation of William Levise, Jr.

Next, Ryder reunited with drummer Badanjek and formed a group called Detroit. An eponymous album released in 1972 featured a pulsating recording of the standard RockN Roll which became a favorite of musician Lou Reed. But while Ryder was earning kudos within the ranks of fellow rock musicians, his commercial career was going downhill. His new group burned itself out in short time. We used to take acid just to stay awake, man, Ryder told Loder. We couldnt have made a second album if they had wanted us to. Bitter and depressed and battling drugs and alcohol and a throat ailment, Ryder moved to Denver and worked for five years as a laborer in a warehouse, writing songs at night.

In 1978, Ryder re-emerged with a new eight-piece backup band and an album appropriately titled How I Spent My Summer Vacation on his own label, Seeds and Stems. Loder called the album Ryders unacknowledged masterpiece stark and transfixing. Written with his second wife Kim, the albums key songs were graphic accounts of homosexual encounters that Loder notes may have been a bit too astonishing for the era. Two years later Ryder followed with Naked But Not Dead on the same label. These brooding, dark albums helped trigger a renewed interest in Ryder in Europe, where his popularity eclipsed anything he enjoyed in the United States.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Ryder continued to churn out albums, mostly for the German label Line, including Live Talkies, Got Change For a Million, Smart Ass, In the China Shop, La Gash, Rite of Passage, Beautiful Toulang Sunset, and Red Blood, White Mink. In 1983, John Mellencamp produced an American release for Ryder on his Riva label, Never Kick a Sleeping Dog. It featured a gritty cover of Princes When You Were Mine and a sizzling duet with Marianne Faithful on A Thrills A Thrill. Both Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen claimed Ryder as a major influence on their work. Springsteen used some of Ryders hits in his show-closing Detroit Medley during concerts in the 1980s. But a real comeback in the United States still eluded Ryder.

Ryders popularity abroad allowed him enough income from record sales to keep him in the business. Into his 50s he was still working hard at his craft, writing and producing songs and performing at casinos, fairs and bars in Michigan, the Midwest and Europe. Unlike other performers who gained fame in the 1960s, the so-called Godfather of Motor City RocknRoll was still churning out fresh music in the 1990s, rather than relying solely on his heart-pounding blasts from the past.

Selected discography

with the Detroit Wheels

Take a Ride, New Voice, 1966.

Breakout...!!, New Voice, 1966.

Sock It to Me, New Voice, 1966.

Greatest Hits, Roulette, 1987.

Rev Up: The Best of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Rhino, 1990.

All Hits, Sundazed, 1997.

with Detroit

Detroit, Paramount, 1971, reissued, 1987.

Solo albums

What Now My Love?, Dyno Voice, 1967.

All the Heavy Hits, Crewe, 1967.

The Detroit-Memphis Experiment, Dot, 1969.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Seeds & Stems, 1978.

Naked But Not Dead, Seeds & Stems, 1980.

Got Change For a Million, Line, 1981.

Live Talkies, Line, 1982.

SmartAss, Line, 1982.

Never Kick a Sleeping Dog, Riva, 1983.

Red Blood and White Mink, Line, 1989.

Sources

Books

Clarke, Donald, editor, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Viking, 1989.

Erdewine, Michael, editor, All Music Guide to Rock, Miller Freeman Books, 1997.

Hitchcock, H. Wiley and Stanley Sadie, editors, New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Macmillan, 1986.

Larkin, Colin, editor, The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Guinness, 1992.

Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, Banson, 1991.

Periodicals

People, August 13, 1985.

Rolling Stone, September 1, 1983; September 8, 1988; February 9, 1989.

Online

http://www.esientertainment.com/ryder.htm

http://www.members.aol.com/RyderRock/

Michael Betzold

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"Ryder, Mitch." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Ryder, Mitch." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ryder-mitch

"Ryder, Mitch." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved September 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ryder-mitch