Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels - Sock It To Me - Baby! & Breakout
Greetings all. Here’s hoping the later part of the week finds you well and eager for the beginning of the weekend. All is as well as can be expected on this end. Convalescence continues slowly but surely, and though I could be better, I’m a lot better than I was a few weeks ago, so I cannot in good conscience complain. The term blue-eyed soul has over the years been broadly misapplied, in that it has been used to describe any white person “trying” to sing soul music, not necessarily the few that have done so successfully. I like to think of those that have done so consistently, merely as “soul singers”, and those that were unsuccessful generally as painful hacks who should be justly ashamed of their musical wrongdoing (Michael Bolton, you know who you are….). The bottom line (and the essence of the problem when you try to have discussions like this) is that soul is soul and I’ll know it when I hear it. Using criteria like that, the scale shifts from listener to listener, record to record. Certainly there are artists out there that generate some level of consensus, but at the same time there are purists that who have you believe that no “white” person is capable of creating a true “soul” record (I am most assuredly not one of them). If I were to generate a list of white singers from the classic soul era that were capable of delivering an authentically soulful performance, I would have to include folks like Billy Vera (especially for his duets with Judy Clay, and brilliant sides like ‘Really Together’), Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals, New Orleans own Skip Easterling, Eddie Hinton, obscure artists like Steve Colt, and a couple of vocalists that would be more accurately described as “soulful singers” , i.e. Leon Russell and Doug Sahm, who were never really “soul” singers in any real way. I would even go so far as to include someone like David Clayton Thomas, who despite his Top 40 cum rockfest history had a truly great voice. Today’s selections are by a cat that I consider to be near the top of that list, Mitch Ryder. Born William Levise in 1945, he started singing with a black quartet called the Peps in the early 60’s. He went on to form Billy Lee & The Rivieras who quickly became one of the top local acts in the Detroit area. It was there that they were spotted, signed and renamed by Bob Crewe. Now known as Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, the group went on to hit the Top 40 five times between 1965 and 1967. Strangely enough, as much as I listened to oldies radio when I was a kid, I think the first Mitch Ryder record I was aware of was the cover of the Velvet Underground’s ‘Rock’n’Roll’ by his post Detroit Wheels band Detroit, which was something of a staple on NY area FM radio in the 70’s (the song’s distinctive opening riff was also used for years in radio ads for the local drag strip, Raceway Park in Englishtown NJ). It wasn’t until Bruce Springsteen’s live cover of the Detroit Wheels ‘Devil With A Blue Dress / Good Golly Miss Molly’ from the ‘No Nukes’ film became a hit in the early 80’s that I became familiar with Ryder’s mid-60’s work. Say what you want about the fact that with the exception of the two songs I’m blogging today, all of the bands hits were cover tunes (and that their LPs were filled with a similar proportion of covers). Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels were a hot fucking band, with a singer out front that was really feeling the soul. They certainly added a solid dose of rock to the equation, but they never lost sight of their roots. The first tune today, ‘Sock It To Me - Baby’ was their second to last chart entry in 1967. Ryder wails like a man possessed, with the band laying down a solid beat and the guitarist getting just the tiniest bit far-out. It has a real soul party vibe. Today’s second selection, ‘Breakout’ was the title track from their second LP and hit the charts in the spring of 1966. The tune brings a more classic Detroit soul sound (it’d better be, with the band on the LP cover looking tough perched on a mountain of tires in a junkyard), with a memorable horn riff, feverish vocal by Ryder and great backing vocals by the band. If you can get your hands on the first or second LPs, do so. In addition to the hit singles there are many killer cuts, including an absolutely massive cover of the Isley Brothers ‘Shakin’ With Linda’. Not long after the Detroit Wheels chart run, Crewe tried to remake Ryder as a crooner, which proved disastrous both artistically and commercially. In the early 70’s he reunited with some of the Detroit Wheels to for Detroit. And then dropped out of the business for a while. He made a comeback in the early 80’s, courtesy of fan John Mellencamp, and has recorded and performed sporadically since then.