Ryder’s Wheels keep on turnin’
A new CD is set for U.S. release; his memoirs are out now
Published: January 4, 2012
Mitch Ryder really shouldn’t need any introduction: Hamtramck-born, he came to the attention of the public in the ’60s, first in Detroit, then the larger musical world, with his rockin’ R&B band the Detroit Wheels. He went on to play in a harder rock ’n’ roll band simply called Detroit, before all but disappearing in the United States. In Europe, he continued to sell records by the bucket-load but, while he remained a much-loved figure in the D, his recorded output here was elusive.
But now his latest album (something of a return to form), The Promise, is about to be released in America. Produced by Don Was, the record captures a mature but still-vibrant Ryder. Previously released in Europe as Detroit Ain’t Dead Yet (The Promise), the record is Ryder’s first U.S. release in nearly 30 years.
A biography of Ryder by James Mitchell, It Was Alright, came out via Wayne State Press in 2008. Ryder gave the book his support, but he obviously felt that there was a story still to tell because he has written his own book, Devils and Blue Dresses, out now. City Slang caught up with the 66-year-old legend (and we don’t use that word lightly) to ask him about the album, the book, and other assorted projects, which include a possible stage show. (Ryder says, "my next challenge ... is a musical, a stage play musical.")
Metro Times: How is your book different from Mitchell’s?
Mitch Ryder: I wanted to do a work of just road stories. All of the silly stuff that’s happened to me, nothing deeper than that and not a biography for sure. He turned it into something a little bigger than that, having ambitions, as writers will. It was really fun, not only to see how seriously he took it and how hard he labored over it, but for him to have that opportunity to be published finally. I felt really good about allowing that to happen in his life. However, my book is a literary work. I chose to use a higher level of language than I’d normally use. It educates people, and it’s compelling to read something where you’re not quite sure the meaning of a word and it pushes you to a dictionary. I think that’s really cool if you can do that to people — help broaden their understanding of the English language. It’s a beautiful language once you get to know it. It’s done in the first person and it is truly subjective. It proves to me that I can write. The next book isn’t going to have to be an autobiography. It can be a fiction, or about some other topic.
MT: You describe your book much like people describe Dylan’s literary work. Challenging, intensely personal ...
Ryder: Dylan must have a huge collection of notebooks and journals that he’s kept, because he describes things in such alarming details. Like, there was a brown piece of paper underneath a pink lamp with a red lampshade. He’s got all this incredible detail. I don’t get that deeply into it because I didn’t keep journals. I suspect he’s got either mountains and mountains of journals, or an overactive imagination. The only comparison I ever got to Dylan was by Don Was when he was producing the new CD. He told me that Dylan and myself were the only two artists he never asked to look at the material in advance. That could be high praise or it could be that he didn’t care. I take it as high praise.
MT: You mentioned that you are working on a musical ...
Ryder: It’s like a dream-nightmare. I had no idea, starting out. I thought that you simply write a story and you write some music. Believe me, it isn’t that simple. There’s a whole set of rules, and at some point I’m going to have to collaborate. I’ll have to deliberately pick people who are very talented in specific areas and allow them to collaborate in order to realize this musical. That’s new territory for me. I have the songs, the words and the basic music, but I don’t have the embellishments. That’s where the orchestration comes in.
MT: What is the plot?
Ryder: The topic is contemporary and it’s timeless, that’s all I’ll say. I’ve gotten some flak for it from people close to me, although they’re supportive in that they are going to let me pursue my fantasy. It’s about trying to define the most powerful element that we know as human beings and that is love.
MT: Musically, is this a traditional musical, or a rock ’n’ roll musical, like Grease?
Ryder: I can tell you what I’m not aiming for — a rock opera, or another Jersey Boys. Something stupid like that. It took them about 10 minutes to create that fucking musical, and yet it’s paying off. That’s not what I consider theater. I consider theater something deeply emotional. Something that affects human beings on different levels.
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