Mitch Ryder has recorded more than 25 albums over four decades. He’s a singer and musician and in real life he’s known as William Sherille Levise Jr. Mitch had a gruff, wailing style of singing, complemented by his awesome energy onstage. His first band called Tempest, was formed while he was attending Warren High School, and often played at a club called the village.

Mitch Ryder's next adventure was his band called Billy Lee and the Rivieras, which was the band he was in when they met songwriter and producer Bob Crewe. (You may remember The Bob Crewe Generation with the song Music to Watch Girls By used in a Diet Pepsi Commercial in the 60s) Meeting and working with Bob Crewe changed everything, including their name. They had to drop the Rivieras because there was already a band with that name. So with the help of a phone book, Levise took the stage name of Mitch Ryder, and at that point Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels were off and running, and from 1964 to 1967 they cranked out quite a few hits and were dominate in the Motor City.

Their form of revved up R&B took off with their first big hit in 1965 with Jenny Take a Ride, which ranked #1 on the R&B chart and #10 nationally on the Billboard charts. Jenny Take a Ride sold over a million singles and was certified gold. They followed up with “Little Latin Lupe Lu”, then "Devil With A Blue Dress On”/”Good Golly Miss Molly”, and another hit with “Sock It To Me Baby”. That last one was actually banned from some radio stations as they considered it too suggestive. Their last hit was “Too Many Fish In The Sea”/”Three Little Fishes” which clocked in at #24 on the charts. At this point Bob Crewe had convinced Mitch Ryder to go solo.

The Detroit Wheels members were John Badanjek on drums, Mark Manko on lead guitar, Joe Kubert on rhythm guitar, Jim McCarty (not the Yardbirds member of the same name) on lead guitar and Jim McAllister on bass. After Mitch’s departure Badanjek formed another short lived band and recorded some songs. Ryder’s solo career, had some bad management advice and failed to achieve success. It was 1969 that he and John Badanjek formed another band called The Band Detroit, which recorded an album and unfortunately the follow up tour to the album did not go well. Ryder departed again and that was the end of The Band Detroit. In 1972 John Badanjek joined with former Wheels guitarist McCarty and created “The Rockets.” Both of these musicians are still active in the Detroit music scene today.

Mitch Ryder was the last person to perform with Otis Redding, performing knock on wood on a Cleveland TV show called Upbeat in December 1967. Redding and four members of his band died in a plane crash near Madison WIsconsin the next day.
Mitch Ryder’s success started waning after the early 70’s, he did release an album “How I Spent My Vacation” in 1978. It’s said after that Ryder withdrew from music after throat issues, moved to Colorado with his wife and kept busy with writing and painting. In 1983 he returned to a major label with John Mellencamp producing a new album “Never Kick A Sleeping Dog.”

In 2005 Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels were inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame, and in 2009 Ryder was also inducted as a solo artist. In February 2012, Mitch released “The Promise” his first effort in almost 30 years. Ryder continues to record and tour in the U.S. and Europe. I last saw him perform in a Charity concert for a fallen police officer in Royal Oak in 2012. The headline photo for this article came from meeting him there.

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I have a gallery of performance photos, taken from old videos of Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, album covers, and memorabilia. 1960’s video quality was not super great, but I think you will still enjoy the photos. At the end of this gallery are the source videos for the stills used in this article.

Early Detroit Rocker Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels

Taking a trip back to the 60's and beyond with the incredible Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels

Source videos for still photos used in this article.

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