At the age of 64, with 48 years in the music industry, Mitch Ryder has a motto — “Don’t be afraid to try something new. There’s no place for fear in productivity.” And few musicians his age, or even half his age, are as productive as Ryder is these days.
Last year, the Detroit rock icon — born William Levis Jr., in Hamtramck and most famous for a string of mid-’60s hits such as “Devil With a Blue Dress On,” “Sock It to Me-Baby!” “Jenny Take a Ride” and “Little Latin Lupe-Lu” — released a new album, “Air Harmonie,” in Europe, where he remains most popular (particularly in Germany). He wrote all of its songs and also put the finishing touches on an autobiography, “Devils in Blue Dresses: The Wild Ride of a Rock ’n’ Roll Legend,” that he plans to publish this year in conjunction with an “Air Harmonie” release in the U.S.
Ryder’s to-do list is just as crowded. He’s working on another batch of new songs that he plans to record in Berlin next month. He’s got another book underway, which he describes as “some cool stories ... based on what I know as reality.” And there’s a musical, which he’s “probably a quarter of the way” finished with but which he also acknowledges is “ripping my guts out.”
“It’s a sad story,” Ryder says. “It’s about not accepting death and the inevitable, and how you fight against that. I thought it was gonna be easy — OK, write some cool songs, write some cool story lines and there you have it, a musical.
“But it doesn’t work that way. I realized this isn’t a one-man deal; unlike going in and making an album, you have to bring in other creative minds that have their own way of expressing your story ... and give them room to work freely. That’s all very new to me, but it is part of a musical.”
Ryder is starting to look for collaborators for the musical, and he’s also looking forward to getting the autobiography into people’s hands and giving them a look at an eventful life filled with twists and turns, a few controversies and personal triumphs and tribulations.
“It’s been through legal (review) twice,” Ryder, who did not use a ghost writer on the project, says with a laugh. “I don’t include a lot of the little, titillating ugly scenes. It really focuses on maybe seven or eight pivotal characters and how they wove in and out of my life.
“There’s plenty of drama there, believe me.”
Ryder — who proudly contends that he’s “singing better than ever” — hopes his current activities will add new chapters to that story, even if they won’t be included in this particular volume. Work, he says, remains its own reward, and a great one at that.
“I’m putting a lot of energy into it, nonstop,” he notes. “Once I finish one thing, I pick up another one. It’s almost like taking a drink of water every day; you know you’ve got to do it.
“You can’t get better unless you practice. I call it practice; it could be viewed as a life’s work. You just don’t roll over and die and say, ‘I belong in the ’60s. That’s where I’m going to stay.’ That’s bull----. You just don’t stop.”
Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 23) at Callahan’s Music Hall, 2105 South Blvd., Auburn Hills. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35. Call (248) 858-9508 or visit www.atcallahans.com.
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