Classic Rock

Mitch Ryder

The R&B legend on being an influence to many, the energy of his records, and being hurt by the arrival of psychedeli­a.

- Interview: Ian Fortnam

The R&B legend on being an influence to many, the energy of his records, and being hurt by the arrival of psychedeli­a.

Bshowsy combining R&B exuberance with rock’n’roll muscle and proto-garage grit, Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels delivered three US Top 10 hits between 1965 and ’67 (Jenny Take A Ride, Devil With A Blue Dress On, Sock It To Me, Baby). The relentless raw power of Ryder’s energetic live

inspired a generation of rock neophytes to accentuate the performanc­e aspect of their oeuvre, initially in Ryder’s home city of Detroit (Bob Seger, The Stooges, MC5, Suzi Quatro, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent) and, as word spread, beyond (Lou Reed, New York Dolls, Bruce Springstee­n, Chrissie Hynde).

Following the Detroit Wheels’ split in ’68 , Ryder recorded The Detroit/Memphis Experiment with Booker T & The M.G.’s and formed Detroit (with Steve Hunter) before embarking on a solo career that continues to this day. His latest album, Detroit Breakout!, includes cameos from Wayne Kramer, Sylvain Sylvain, Walter Lure, James Williamson and Cherie Currie, among others.

When were you first attracted to a career in music? I was about four years old. Mom was a big Hank Williams fan and liked to write music, and would practise her songs on us. That was the beginning of my interest in music. My father was a singer on Detroit radio in the big-band era. I didn’t get serious about music until I got into junior high.

Did the arrival of rock’n’roll spark your interest in making music, or did you come from more of an R&B background? Yeah, given the geographic­al area and the cultural situation in Detroit, while affected by rock’n’roll, there was a big R&B influence. I’ve always loved rhythm ’n’ blues, and we’ve the Charles H Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit which houses the Rhythm & Blues Hall Of Fame. Elvis Presley and myself are the only two white guys in that museum, so I feel honoured.

When you formed Tempest you were still at high school but already operating on the Detroit soul scene. Were soul and rock’n’roll of equal influence on you by then? Equal, but separate. [Motown founder] Berry Gordy dominated the Motown thing, which was almost entirely black. Rock’n’roll was pushed undergroun­d, and it was frustratin­g for the young guys that were into it. I don’t like to blow my own horn, but me and my group the Detroit Wheels kicked down the door for all those frustrated white rock’n’rollers in Detroit.

I’ve spoken with many artists who’ve mentioned your name as a catalyst: Wayne Kramer, Suzi Quatro, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper… David Johansen from the New York Dolls told me he saw you on a Murray The K show in New York City and came away thinking: “That’s what I wanna do.” Poor David [laughs]. Chrissie Hynde also blames me for taking her down that forbidden road. I think she liked the fist fights on stage between the musicians more than anything else. There are those moments when you surrender to your emotions, throw the music aside and say: “I’m gonna punch you.” Prior to the Detroit Wheels, when you were fronting Billy Lee & The Rivieras, how did you first come into the orbit of [Four Seasons writer/producer] Bob Crewe? We recorded a demo and sent it to Crewe, who arranged for us to open for the Dave Clark Five at Detroit’s Masonic Temple. We were frustrated and angry because we had tiny dressing rooms with teeny slat windows that would only allow for a hand to stick out. Every time we stuck a hand out, the thousands of girls in the alley would see it and scream louder. They didn’t know we were on the bill, they just knew Dave Clark. So we looked at each other and said: “They think we’re fucking British. So what are we gonna do, boys? I tell you what, let’s go out and burn Dave a new asshole.” And we did. We had no hit records, but we took our clothes off, jumped into the audience, switched instrument­s, danced, we did every trick we knew.

Your recordings with the Detroit Wheels sound like a party. It was deliberate. We called it live in the studio; none of your usual separation, no guitars or drums boxed off in different rooms, just open mics everywhere. That’s where the energy came from. Nobody else sounded like us at that time. Nobody.

You were the last person to perform with Otis Redding. You must have worn audiences out when you played together. Well yeah, sweat was an issue. We used to have to drink enormous amounts of water. I used to lose five pounds during every performanc­e and have to rehydrate and get my weight back up.

Were you ever approached by Motown? I auditioned for the label with Brian Holland. They needed a good singer, which they believed I was. But they also desperatel­y needed songwriter­s, because they had a hit factory to sustain, and I was only just beginning to write, so that’s what stopped that from happening.

You made an album with Booker T & The M.G.’s in ’69. We put that album out wholly believing in its merits, but it came out at a time when the trendsette­rs were steering the American national consciousn­ess toward psychedeli­a. So with one swift blow, rhythm ’n’ blues became irrelevant. It hurt us all. I had the rock’n’roll edge that helped carry me, but my black brothers didn’t.

Obviously your influence has endured; Detroit Breakout! has guest appearance­s from alumni of MC5, Stooges, New York Dolls, The Runaways… It’s a fantastic line-up. Yeah. And it could be even better. I started my career with a lot of young Brits, and it’d be great to have Keith Richards on rhythm guitar and Eric Clapton on lead for volume two.

What’s next? A new album for next year’s German tour, I’m working on another album, getting ready for the Concert Of Colours with Don Was. It’s always busy, busy, busy with the music. It’s all I know.

Detroit Breakout! Is out now via Cleopatra Records.

“I used to lose five pounds during every performanc­e and have to rehydrate

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 ??  ?? Mitch Ryder: the catalyst for Wayne Kramer, Suzi Quatro,
Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper and many more getting into music.
Mitch Ryder: the catalyst for Wayne Kramer, Suzi Quatro, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper and many more getting into music.

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