DETROIT, Mich. — Mitch Ryder has thrilled audiences on many Detroit stages since he first started performing in his hometown as a teenager. However, when the rocker takes the stage at Detroit’s historic Music Hall on June 11, he will be the one feeling thrilled. On that night, Ryder will be welcomed into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame along with such illustrious musical acts as Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Impressions, Larry Williams and posthumous inductees James Brown, Isaac Hayes and Mary Wells.
When Ryder learned about this honor, he was overcome with surprise and happiness. “I looked at the names of some of those who came before me and it became a celebration of joy for me, I mean Aretha Franklin, David Ruffin, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke and so many other voices that brought me great pleasure throughout my life and career. It is still thrilling me and I’m afraid to wake up from the dream!”
If you have heard Ryder sing — and who hasn’t heard his signature versions of “Jenny Take a Ride” or Devil With a Blue Dress On”? — you know that his style of rock ‘n’ roll is deeply steeped in soul and rhythm and blues. James Brown himself once proclaimed Ryder as the best white R&B singer in the business.
“Jenny Take a Ride” and “Devil With a Blue Dress On,” along with “Little Latin Lupe Lu” and “Sock It to Me, Baby!,” were the knockout singles that catapulted Ryder and his red-hot band the Detroit Wheels to stardom in the mid-’60s. Their kinetic combination of raw garage rock, revved-up R&B and Ryder’s gritty, soulful vocals transformed these tunes into rock ’n’ roll standards that bar bands around the world attempt to emulate today. In fact, these songs form the core of Bruce Springsteen’s “Detroit Medley,” a concert centerpiece of his for more than four decades.
There couldn’t be a more appropriate city for Ryder to be celebrated than Detroit. Hailed by All Music Guide as “the heart and soul of the Motor City rock ’n’ roll scene,” Ryder grew up in working class Detroit. Born William Levise Jr., he took the stage name Billy Lee when he fronted a high school band that would play the Village, one of Detroit’s top black soul clubs. At 17, he recorded an R&B single for the local gospel label, and went on to sing lead in a black vocal group, the Peps.
In 1964, he formed Billy Lee and the Rivieras, a rock ’n’ soul group that quickly conquered Detroit and drew the attention of Four Seasons producer Bob Crewe. Crewe changed the Rivieras to the Detroit Wheels and, as the famous story goes, Mitch Ryder found his new, and permanent, name while flipping through the Manhattan phone book. After the band’s initial success, they broke up due to Crewe’s constrictive control. In 1969, Ryder hooked up with Booker T and the MGs for The Detroit-Memphis Experiment, which has called the “great undiscovered Mitch Ryder party album.” He later reunited with his old Wheels drummer John Badanjek in a band named Detroit. Their sole album featured a standout cover of Lou Reed’s “Rock ’n’ Roll” that impressed Reed enough to lure guitarist Steve Hunter to his own group.
Ryder has built a devoted following, particularly in Europe, through his honest, energizing music. One of his better-known admirers, John Mellencamp produced Ryder’s Never Kick A Sleeping Dog, which featured a “Ryder-ized” rendition of Prince’s “When You Were Mine.” Ryder’s 31 studio albums and 11 live records serve as a testimony to his unending dedication to progress as an artist. His recent U.S. release, the Don Was-produced The Promise, received among his best reviews, with Paste Magazine praising it for showcasing “what he does best — sing soulful, ball-busting rock ’n’ roll.”
Ryder also wrote Devils & Blue Dresses: My Wild Ride as a Rock and Roll Legend, which took a candid look at the many ups and downs he has survived and lived to write about. His unflinching autobiography garnered critical accolades as well as winning several literary honors, including gold medals at the IPPY and the National Indie Excellence awards.
The 5th Annual Black Tie Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony & Concert will be held on Sunday June 11 at the Music Hall (350 Madison Street, Detroit). The Red Carpet festivities begin at 5 p.m., with the ceremony itself commencing at 6 p.m. The event will serve as a fund-raiser to help find a permanent building for the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame. For more information and ticket details, visit http://rhythmandblueshof.com/.
Entering the R&B Hall of Fame, Ryder shared, “is an honor which will stay cherished by me for the rest of my life and as I move on continuing unfinished work I shall always look back to this moment for the humility I will need going forward!”
Mitch Ryder will perform at the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Festival, just outside of Los Angeles, on May 28: