Mitch Ryder is happy to be part of Hippiefest. The Detroit rock pioneer’s just not sure he ever was a hippie.
“When I had long hair and mustache and was in Detroit, that would be as close as I came to even considering myself a hippie,” says Ryder, 61, who was born William Levise Jr. and had his big hits — “Jenny Take a Ride,” “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “Devil With a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Sock it to Me-Baby!” — in 1966-67, just before the curve of the late ’60s hippie explosion.
“For me, being a hippie designated a certain lifestyle, the cultural revolution and that peace, love, flower thing coming out of Frisco and Berkeley.”
And, Ryder notes, at that time he was “locked in a death struggle” with his New York-based producer Bob Crewe that effectively kept him moribund.
“Not only did I not get to be part of (the hippie scene),” he says, “I didn’t even get to be aware of it. My focus wasn’t on the culture; it was on survival.”
So for Ryder, being part of the traveling Hippiefest tour is a chance to get to catch up. He’s spent time chatting with the emcee, Woodstock veteran Wavy
Gravy, as well as members of Mountain and Canned Heat, Melanie and Moody Blues cofounder Denny Laine. “I don’t feel like I’m a part of it,” Ryder says. “I try to talk to them and get their view of what it was like being a star at that time. When I go to these other guys on the show, I intentionally steer the conversation back to that time to get a sense of that era.”
For his part, Ryder is looking both forward and back these days. Now an Oakland County resident, he’s been working on his biography for a number of years and cooperating with another biography that will be published by Wayne State University Press. He also released a new album, “The Acquitted Idiot,” earlier this year in Europe.
But for Hippiefest, Ryder will be playing the old favorites — and has no qualms about doing that.
“These crowds are great,” he says. “Everyone that comes is wearing a tie-dye shirt; if they didn’t bring one — and most do — they’re selling them there, too. And there’s grandmas and grandpas fi nding, somehow, the nerve and energy to dance again. It’s really fun.”
IF YOU GO
Hippiefest, featuring Mitch Ryder, Rare Earth, Canned Heat, Country Joe McDonald, Terry Sylvester, Denny Laine, Mountain, Melanie and Wavy Gravy, takes place at 6:30 p.m. Sunday (August 27th) at DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road north of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $35.50 pavilion, $10 lawn. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit
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