Tag Archives: Detroit Ain’t Dead Yet

New Album! Mitch Ryder

And Mitch Ryder ain't doing so bad himself...

I must start off with the disclaimer that I am a huge fan of Mitch Ryder‘s music. I’ve written enough pieces here and elsewhere touting the underappreciated master of gritty, soulful, Dee-troit rock’n’roll, mostly complaining that the general public is largely unaware that he didn’t hang ’em up after a few blazing years with the Detroit Wheels.  Ask most people about Mitch Ryder today and they’ll shrug their shoulders; most will only remember the 60’s, and a few might remember the comeback album John Mellencamp produced…in 1983.  Only the most devout of fans is even aware that there’s been a steady output of albums in Germany where he has been a superstar since establishing residency a generation ago. He remains an important, vital artist

I held off on publishing this review for months because I was hoping to release it when it would have done the most good; coinciding with whatever concerted effort was in play to promote the first American album in over a quarter-century from a bonafide legend. But it’s now months later, and…nothing. Apparently I’m too close to the flame and in the vast minority , but either this album was criminally underpromoted, or no one gives a shit about Mitch Ryder anymore. I sure hope it’s the former.  

Here’s my review from the current Bucketfull of Brains:  

 
Subtitled The Promise, Detroit Ain’t Dead Yet is the first American studio album for Mitch Ryder in over twenty-five years. It’s really, really good, and I sure hope you have the chance to hear it because like the tree that fell in that forest, when it fell there was no one around…and whatever sound it made wasn’t heard. This album has been out for months, and were I not a Mitch Ryder lifer, I wouldn’t have known about it.
  

With old Detroit buddy Don Was on hand to twirl knobs, Ryder’s newest finds him bringing the funk as well as singing the blues and rocking out. The greasy, kinetic and keyboard-churning “Junkie Love” not only channels vintage James Brown, but is among the finest tracks Mitch has ever recorded. “Everybody Looses” (sic) scores with the Eric Burdon blueprint, and like Burdon, Ryder has found a new depth to his soulful voice in his post-golden years. Listen to his pipes on “Get Real” as he bends and plies notes with as much power and rasp as he did in his youth. Most of his contemporaries are scaling down arrangements to hide their limitations while Ryder seems to be expanding his to new horizons.  

“My Heart Belongs to Me” might steal a riff from “I’ll Take You There” (the Staple Singers classic) but is the perfect vehicle for Ryder’s gruff soul; lyrically witty and timeless in its appeal. Ditto “If My Baby Don’t Stop Cryin'”, a funky urban ramble that could have easily been a roadhouse jukebox hit in his prime. And a live cover of the Jimmy Ruffin classic “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” (oddly placed within the studio tracks) trumps anything Rod Stewart has attempted to do in his last five albums of interpretations. Less appealing are “Lets Keep Dancing” and the Dylan-esque “The Way We Were”, but two clunkers out of twelve is a batting average I’ll take any day.  

Oddly enough, for an artist who wants the American audience to realize that he is creating new and vital music, the packaging of the album signals apathy in that regard. The cover is a cut-and-paste of a photo of a twenty-ish Mitch, not the sixty-plus visage of his current self. The liner notes, preceded by a quick note  of “Hello England” (?) are merely a reprint of an old bio from 2003  focusing upon Mitch’s early days and how a great career got derailed. At the tail end of the essay there’s a quick note about the Mellencamp project happening after a couple of European solo albums. And lastly – ironically – a statement that “it would be a mistake to consign Mitch Ryder to the past“.  

Fair enough, Mitch. But if that’s the case, why is there no mention of all those albums you’ve made since 1983? How about the events that led to this new stab at an American career? Most of America has no idea that you’ve made any music at all since Never Kick a Sleeping Dog, so why would you issue an album of new music in packaging that screams repackaged oldies? Fire your publicist/manager – or hire one – but don’t blame your audience for ignoring your new music if you can’t even muster the energy to acknowledge it yourself. I’m not certain if this excellent album would fly or fail in such fickle times, but to have it die in the womb because of poor marketing is inexcusable.  

Still rocking at 65

I grew up in New York City, and when I first heard Mitch Ryderand most of the magical music of the 60’s – it was on a transistor radio whose dial constantly spun back and forth between WMCA and WABC. Long before the power of Al Gore’s Internet and the availability of magazines from Creem to Mojo, AM radio was it, unless you had the stones to buy a magazine aimed at teenage girls (“Win a date with Paul McCartney!”) to get your rock and roll fix. (I did – Gloria Stavers‘ trailblazing 16 Magazine was my guilty pleasure and my salvation). When I was growing up, those DJ’s were stars, and one of those legendary voices leading the charge was silenced by a heart attack today.  Ron Lundy, you took that musical journey with me…R.I.P., my friend. Seventy-seven, W-A-B-C!  

And R.I.P. Peter Graves, who would have been eighty-four this Thursday. Mission Impossible was cool as hell, but like Leslie Nielsen, you knew not to take yourself that seriously and are legend thanks to Airplane.  Now you’re really under, Ouver!  

Has it really been thirty years since Airplane??  

 

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T.G.I.F. – Ten More Anniversaries

 

It’s not that I wanted to repeat last week’s model of ten famous birthdays that fall on the same day, but damned if February 26th wasn’t a key date for a lot of entertainers and artists who made an impact upon me. Just more credence for the MDC Theory (Memorial Day Conceptions) I proposed last Friday. (I determined that my birth was the result of a St. Patrick’s Day party that got a little crazy.) 

And it’s not all birthdays either – February 26th is also the day we lost a couple of favorites, including one of the best and most influential comedians of all time. So here are ten anniversaries, in chronological order; celebrate their contributions today. 

Seven birthdays...

Tex Avery, 1908 – One of the top animators, voice actors and cartoon directors of all time. He could be a legend just for creating Daffy Duck but in fact was involved in hundreds of cartoons and characters for Walter Lantz studios and the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series, whose ribald humor I appreciate more as an adult than I did as a child. 

Jackie Gleason, 1916 – Maybe we just take some people for granted, especially when they make it look effortless. Gleason was a television pioneer; his eponymous variety show and The Honeymooners are seminal influences in the medium (the Honeymooners concept even spawning a more long-running animated version in The Flinstones). But his turns in The Hustler and Requiem For A Heavyweight show that he was no slouch as a dramatic actor either. 

Video: The Great One 

Fats Domino, 1928 – The congenial, portly piano player continues to inspire blues players and rockers alike with his trademark style. “Blueberry Hill”, “Ain’t That A Shame”, “I’m Walkin” – the list is endless. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me until the 80’s to realize that Fats was why Chubby Checker chose his stage name. We almost lost the legend in Hurricane Katrina but he’s 82 today. 

Godfrey Cambridge, 1933 – Cambridge was a very intelligent man; he earned a full scholarship to medical school but dropped out to pursue an entertainment career.  He was a staple on talk shows in the 60’s and 70’s with a smooth and smart style like fellow comic Bill Cosby (but talked about black and white issues with a more sarcastic edge). He died early; sadly his albums are out of print and he is known to many only for his acting in films such as Watermelon Man and Cotton Comes To Harlem

Johnny Cash, 1932 – Nothing much need be said about The Man In Black that you don’t already know, his recorded legacy is essential listening. But you might not have seen that the last album in the American series has just been released entitled Ain’t No Grave

Listen to sample clips from Ain’t No Grave 

Chuck Wepner, 1939 – The Bayonne Bleeder. Watching Muhammad Ali fight in his prime was like watching Mike Tyson; odds were the challenger wasn’t going to last long. Wepner was given no chance by the pundits but took everything Ali threw at him for fifteen rounds, even flattening the champ in the ninth round. This fight inspired Sylvester Stallone to create Rocky

Mitch Ryder, 1945 – I’ve certainly written plenty about my fondness for Mitch Ryder, and although the link shows you just how prolific he continues to be, it’s not the same as hearing the music. The newest album (misnamed on the AMG entry) is Detroit Ain’t Dead Yet, his first American release since 1983, and an autobiography is scheduled for release this Summer. 

...and three fond farewells.

We remember those lost on this day, including… 

Buddy Miles, 2008 – Most famous for his work with Jimi Hendrix in Band of Gypsys and his hit “Them Changes”, Miles was also a player with Wilson Pickett, a member of The Electric Flag, and leader of his own group The Buddy Miles Express, featuring a hot-shot guitarist named Jim McCarty

Video: Buddy Miles 

Lawrence Tierney, 2002 – Quintessential tough guy for whom it was no act; his real-life boozing and brawling cost him an A-list career. Quentin Tarantino, for all his quirks, has a knack for putting an actor past his prime in a plum role and Tierney will forever be remembered for his turn in Reservoir Dogs as the curmudgeonly caper mastermind Joe Cabot

Bill Hicks, 1994 – I’ve expounded upon Bill Hicks at great length; he’s one of the most important comics in the history of the art form. Although his death at 33 meant an abrupt end to his career, he left us an incredible body of work and continues to inspire comedians to hold a mirror up to society and tell the truth

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New Album! Mitch Ryder

It can't be a comeback if you've always been here.

It can't be a comeback if you've always been here.

 This isn’t the first time I’ve used that headline in 2009 – a live album recorded in the United States (Live in America) was released earlier this year. Hard to find, but extremely worthy.

Later this year – maybe even later this week – a new studio album recorded with Don Was at the controls will be released throughout the world. Originally titled The Promise, then later mis-titled You’re Nuts, Both of Them; it now appears that his first domestic studio release in nearly twenty-seven years will be called Detroit Ain’t Dead Yet. More here.

I’ve expounded on the legend and legacy that is Mitch Ryder before in these pages, so I won’t waste your time rehashing the same praises. I’m just thrilled that (1) the guy is still out there creating great music, and (2) his voice might be even better now. One listen to the recent You Deserve My Art or The Acquitted Idiot should prove that point.

So celebrate a true superstar of rock’n’roll. And if you’ve missed his post-60s career…boy, do you have a wealth of great music to catch up on.

Read my full review in PopMatters.

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