By Jim Schutze
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By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
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By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The original Motor City Madman
Mitch Ryder--one of the best, if not the authentic, white-boy soul belter and architect of the high-energy "Detroit sound" --has made more comebacks than a boomerang. His early fame was built with the Detroit Wheels upon classics like 1965's "Jenny Take a Ride!" (actually a combination of Little Richard's "Jenny, Jenny" and Chuck Willis' "C.C. Rider"), "Little Latin Lupe Lu," and "Devil with a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly." While usurpers like Pat Boone made their nut draining the passion from the hits of black artists for Caucasian consumption, Ryder (born William Levise Jr.) stood toe-to-toe with Little Richard and Big Joe Turner in terms of sweaty, face-scrunching, near-hysterical passion.
Unfortunately, Ryder has also endured some of the worst management and promotion in rock history; his record company followed his early success with an attempt to push him into a Vegas lounge act (remember, this is back when that genre was still tres uncool), squandering his reputation. As the '60s turned into the '70s, he recovered a bit with the band Detroit, then retired amid rumors of indulgence and dissipation. 1978's How I Spent My Vacation announced his return to the public eye, but his darkening mood failed to hold anyone's attention. Interviews with him around this time reveal a tattered road warrior, numbly trudging through a parade of drinks, rented cars, and canceled gigs, seemingly without recall of why he started in the first place.
Never Kick a Sleeping Dog was his John Cougar Mellencamp-produced return in 1983. Ryder revealed that his skills were still in place with a surprising re-definition of Prince's "When You Were Mine" that got him back on the pop charts after a 15-year absence. More impressive still was his duet with Marianne Faithfull on John Baldry's "A Thrill is Just a Thrill," an examination of decadence that positively oozed both singers' familiarity with the subject matter. That same year saw him still the master of his furious old form when he sang on Was (Not Was)'s fevered "Bow Wow Wow Wow."
After that came a series of fair-to-middling releases on the German Line label that revealed Ryder to be experimenting with more techno-style flavors. Recently, he seems to have found a working road formula, dividing his time between Europe and the U.S., where he plays festivals and outdoor events such as the mammoth Sturgis, North Dakota, motorcycle rally. In recent interviews, Ryder seems reinvigorated, rid of the malaise that dogged him in the '80s, and recently he's been touring with original Wheels drummer Johnny Bee (Badnajeck)--one of rock's great primitives. To see him in the relative intimacy of Club Dada should be about as good a test of the old magic as any.
Mitch Ryder plays Club Dada on Tuesday, December 30.