Mitch Ryder, the legendary “unsung hero” of Michigan rock and roll will be presenting and signing his new autobiography Devils & Blue Dresses: My Wild Ride as a Rock and Roll Legend, at the Book Beat bookstore on Sunday, February 5th between 12:30 -2:30 PM. This is a rare opportunity to meet and hear Ryder speak up close in a small and intimate setting. The Book Beat is located at 26010 Greenfield in Oak Park. This event is free and open to the general public. To reserve an autographed copy of Devils & Blue Dresses, you can order online HERE or call (248) 968-1190 for more information.
* * * * * Devils & Blue Dresses, a review
Mitch Ryder’s autobiography goes well beyond typical eyewitness accounts of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll road stories. His account of rock stardom is one of the most lucid, original, darkly emotional and surreal in rock and roll. In 34 concise chapters, Ryder has penned a passionate and often experimental exposè, told in a distinctly introspective voice, a ‘long nights journey’ through the twisted alleyways of the music business and how his natural talent and notoriety was used and abused by himself and those around him. Readers take caution, this is not a light bedtime story.
Devils & Blue Dresses is an emotionally searing autobiography where Ryder opens his heart and confronts his past with deadly aim. It’s a well-written memoir on music-politics, the weight of fame and identity, and its attendant web of prizes and perils. The book highlights many tragic-comic episodes both high and low; starting with impoverished scenes of childhood, a dysfunctional home-life and Ryder’s early manipulation and naivety inside the commercial hit-making machine. A string of exceptional high moments sparkle throughout the book; witnessing Bob Dylan’s recording of Highway 61, jamming with Jimi Hendrix (who asked Ryder to be his singer), partying with The Beatles at a countryside LSD retreat after their celebratory release of Sargent Peppers and Hollywood screen tests with Sam Peckinpah and others.
Gifted with one of the greatest voices in rock and blue-eyed-soul history, the teenage Ryder was taken under the wing of producer/manager Bob Crewe, an early 60s hit-single Svengali known for his Four Seasons smash hits; “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like a Man”, “Sherry” and Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eye’s Off You”. Crewe would indoctrinate Ryder through strange scenes of stardom decadence while ensconced at his posh Dakota apartment in New York City.
Ryder’s first top-ten hit was the Crewe produced wonder “Jenny Take a Ride” –a rocket of a single that skillfully combined Little Richard’s “C.C. Rider” with “Jenny Jenny” –a classic showcase for Ryder’s high-energy solid gold vocal style. That talent/producer relationship was dramatically revealed by Ryder who said, “Mr. Crewe held all the cards… all of the music appeared on his record labels, or was licensed out, and he held management, recording and publishing contracts… As long as the hit records kept coming, I was safe from the ill will of an industry that, by nature, was insensitive and exploitative and whose executives were, for the most part, angry and bitter at having to suffer the childish abuse of so many of their client victims.” Ryder himself a ‘client victim’ lost most of his royalties and was bound to medieval contracts that froze his assets. Finally he was forced to beg for a $15,000 down payment on his Southfield, Michigan home –and that became one of the last royalty payments Ryder ever received. His love for music and contempt for the industry is burned deep onto every page.
Ryder’s story is a roller-coaster of comebacks, failures, marriages, infidelities, depressions, suicide attempts, career mistakes and close calls. His association with Barry Kramer at Creem Magazine and manager John Sinclair (of MC5 fame) culminated in a heady lost year, but his reformation of the band Detroit produced his 1971 release Detroit, a blistering rock LP that featured the Lou Reed / Velvet Underground single “Rock ‘N’ Roll” -one of Ryder’s last hits and a version Lou Reed declared to be definitive.
The book is filled with first hand documents; recording contracts, publicity shots, family photographs and deeply personal poetic side-bar sections titled, “a window to my soul” – italicized journal entries that convey Ryder’s inner thoughts on Southern Antisemitism, Holocaust museums, the feminist movement, “the dysfunctional existence we call American culture”, and his evaluation of poverty, freedom and democracy. Near the book’s end is a twelve page break-up letter and biting personal assessment from his wife Megan, followed by a glossary (Appendix A) that posts an A-Z listing of the artists Ryder met and his recollections of them, some include; Chubby Checker: I wish I knew how to turn a penny into a dollar like he does. Dave Clark Five: The Riveras and I took care of them before we ever had a hit. Janis Joplin: we talked about how tired we both were… we looked like two penniless vagrants … it was a surreal scene. Little Richard: It was his voice that taught me about energy. Jackie Wilson: …there was Jackie nude on a bed with a nude woman and we conversed for maybe fifteen minutes. Appendix B is Ryder’s outspoken geographic impressions from Canada to Switzerland. Appendix C is a complete discography of singles and albums and Appendix D, “An Essay from Mitch” is a last poetic stream-of-consciousness rage, a Heart of Darkness decent into an empty and bleak apocalypse. A sense of betrayal, anger and vitriol is aimed both at himself, the marketplace and his critics he calls “a pack of vengeful hyenas” – yet through all the pain and rejection there remains the rock steady soul of a Detroit survivor, unafraid to face himself and his demons head-on.
All the loose threads and surreal juxtapositions give the book a down-home slightly dizzy feel where Ryder may in fact be forging new directions in prose. Sincere and courageous to the nth degree and constructed seemingly without editorial direction, his book is one of the most self-analytic, raw and beautiful memoirs in the history of rock and roll. It’s purity comes from the fact he did this completely himself and its uncertain how his fans will receive this type of a creative autobiography, but one thing undeniable is that Ryder has laid out the naked truth for all to see and he remains a verifiable Detroit and national treasure.
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Ryder’s book will also accompany a new album, The Promise, his first release in over three decades. Produced by another Detroit legend Don Was, the disc’s dozen tracks feature eleven originals plus a live cover for the Motown classic “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.” Copies of the new CD will be made available during the signing from our next door neighbors at Street Corner Music. We appreciate your support of this event, for more information please call: (248)-968-1190