The band had a number of top twenty hits in the mid-1960s before lead singer Ryder was enticed away by Bob Crewe with offers of a solo career, after which the group quickly dissolved. Two of its former members, McCarty and Badanjek, later reunited to establish the nucleus of a new band called The Rockets.
The band had its origins in Detroit in the early 1960s. At this time, a young white singer by the name of William Levine, Jr., who was singing at a black soul club called The Village, met a rock & roll group which included McCarty, bassist Earl Elliot, and Badanjek. Levine decided to join the group and took the stage name of Billy Lee, and the band became Billy Lee and the Rivieras. After attracting attention from producer Bob Crewe while working as a support act to The Dave Clark Five, the group moved to New York to start recording. However, since another band had already recorded as The Rivieras, the band decided to change its name again. With the help of a phone book, Levine took the new stage name of Mitch Ryder, and Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels were born. The group’s live performances are said to have had an “explosive quality” and their style has been described as “revved up…R&B”.
Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels had their first big hit in 1965 with “Jenny Take a Ride”, which reached #10 on national charts, and #1 on the R&B chart—the first time a self-contained rock group had achieved the latter distinction. Crewe had originally planned to release the track as a B side, but changed his mind after seeing the reactions of Brian Jones and Keith Richards, of The Rolling Stones, who were in the Stei-Philips studio in New York City as it was being recorded.
Ryder and the Detroit Wheels followed up with another top twenty hit, “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” which peaked at #17. After a couple of misses, the group had its biggest hit with the “Devil With a Blue Dress On”/”Good Golly Miss Molly” medley which reached #4. Around this period they also recorded a number of albums, largely composed of reworked R&B classics, along with a smattering of original compositions.
In 1967 Ryder had another top ten hit with “Sock It To Me, Baby!”, which was banned by some stations as too sexually suggestive. The band had its last hit with the brassy “Too Many Fish in the Sea”/”Three Little Fishes” single, which reached #24. Crewe then persuaded Ryder to quit the group and embark on a solo career.
After Ryder’s departure, Badanjek fronted a short-lived band of the same name which recorded several tracks, most notably “Linda Sue Dixon”, a song glorifying the illicit hallucinogenic drug LSD, which charted worldwide in 1968. They also recorded “Think (About the Good Things)/For the Love of a Stranger”. The band’s line-up during this time is uncertain.
Ryder’s solo career, meantime, had been mishandled and failed to take off. In 1969 he, Badanjek and some other musicians established a new band called Detroit, which recorded an eponymously named album. One single was released from the album, a cover of Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll” that Reed reportedly liked better than his original version, and Reed subsequently hired Detroit guitarist Steve Hunter for his own band. Detroit’s follow-up tour to the album, however, met with little success, after which Ryder departed once again and the band broke up.
In 1972, Badanjek and former Wheels guitarist McCarty reunited to form the nucleus of a new group called The Rockets, which recorded a number of albums through the 1970s and 1980s. McCarty continues to perform today with his group, Mystery Train. John Badanjek remains active as well.
Edited by aideon on 3 May 2009, 07:16
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