When Mitch Ryder unleashed his yowls, growls and shouts while recording hits like “Jenny Take A Ride,” “Devil In A Blue Dress” and “Sock It To Me,” he cemented his place in music history as the godfather of Detroit rock ‘n’ soul. Ryder became the stitch in the musical fabric of Detroit connecting the two distinct sounds of the Motor City during the 1960s.
“I think the notion that we’re the link is accurate,” said Ryder of his legacy as front man with The Detroit Wheels. At that time, Detroit had a really strong rock identity with the likes of Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes, The Stooges, MC5, Bob Seger, and others. The city also had an equally strong R&B identity as the home of Motown Records and its legendary stable of artists.
“Our sound came about because of my love for rhythm and blues and the band being capable of playing that, along with their love of the contemporary rock of the time. So when we took those two sounds, put them together and added a bunch of adrenalin, that’s what we came up with,” summarized Ryder, who proudly recalls James Brown once telling Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” that Ryder was the best white R&B singer in the business.
Ryder’s impassioned R&B vocals are still in fine form as he will prove tonight when blowing the dust off of his vintage U.S. radio hits at Star Plaza Theatre. Many of those old records were mash ups of two songs. Among them was “C.C. Rider/Jenny Jenny,” “Devil in A Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly,” and “Too Many Fish in the Sea/Three Little Fish.”
“The band and I created that medley style when doing long shows in the early days because we didn’t like getting up a good speed, then stopping and going back to the starting line. Once we got rolling we wanted to keep the momentum and energy going. Live it wasn’t just two song medleys; it was more like five or six song medleys.”
Although most U.S. fans know Ryder solely for his string of ‘60s hits with The Detroit Wheels and consider him an “oldies” artist, he has never stopped recording. Over the decades, Ryder has continued to release albums and singles in Europe, where he is considered to be a contemporary artist.
“Most of my European fans weren’t even aware of the U.S. hits when they became fans of mine,” he said. “Except for England, those early hits weren’t even released over there. So I’ve had sort of a parallel career all these years.”
Ryder had a final U.S. hit single in 1983 with his cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine,” from the John Mellencamp-produced “Never Kick a Sleeping Dog” album. Mellencamp -- whose song “R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A” referenced Ryder in the lyrics -- was at his peak in popularity at the time which enticed MTV to jump on the music video for the song, which featured Mellencamp’s band backing Ryder. “That album put me back in the Top 100 in the U.S. for the first time in 17 years,” recalled Ryder.
Ryder sometimes includes “When You Were Mine” during his set. “When you’re part of a package show with other acts, you don’t have a lot of time and you need to do the hits,” he said. “What songs I do depends on how much time I have on stage.”
Although he probably will not get to any songs from it during tonight’s nostalgia-heavy performance, Ryder’s most recent album is 2012’s “The Promise.”
Recorded at Henson Studios (the old Charlie Chaplin studio lot) in Hollywood with Grammy Award-winning producer Don Was, “The Promise” finds Ryder’s voice in fine form on 11 original tunes and a tasty live cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s R&B classic, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?” It’s the first Ryder album in nearly 20 years to be released in the U.S.