Thursday, December 08, 2005

How to get Mitch Ryder's autograph

Sometimes getting a rock star's autograph can require a little time.

Take Mitch Ryder, for instance.

You may remember Ryder from his ferocious 1966-67 singles such as "Devil With the Blue Dress On/ Good Golly Miss Molly," "Sock It to Me Baby," or "Jenny Take a Ride." He's still a staple on oldies radio.

In fact, Ryder was the first great Detroit rock and roller. Born William Levise Jr., he was leader of the Detroit Wheels, the original white American r&b/rock band which hit the Billboard singles chart seven times in two years. He struck gold as a solo act four more times before forming the supergroup "Detroit" in 1971.

Detroit's first and only LP featured eight propulsive tracks inside a beautifully conceived cover designed by Stanley Mouse, a San Francisco artist famed for his concert poster work. The cover evoked Detroit (the city and the band) with its stylized vintage sedan, flag back drop, metal wings and insignia with a small gear dotting the "i" in the group's name.

At the forefront of a new brand of Michigan hard rock, Detroit generated considerable excitement when it topped a bill at Central Michigan University's Finch Fieldhouse on Saturday, April 8, 1972.

The poster for the event, designed by noted artist Gary Grimshaw, featured an eye within a pyramid and a prominent gear with the words "Motor City roll & roll." Sponsored by WCHP Rock Radio, tickets for the show cost $3.

Several thousand fans (including myself) cheered throughout the high energy performances which also included Brownsville Station (famous for the superior original version of "Smokin' in the Boys Room") and Teegarden & VanWinkle (renowned for backing Bob Seger on his "Smokin' OP's" disc). Apparently, there was a lot of "smokin'" going on in those days.

Especially appealing were the screaming rocker "Long Neck Goose" and a Lou Reed-penned song, "Rock 'N Roll." (Reed called the Detroit version the definitive take of his song and, to prove it, stole guitarist Steve Hunter from Ryder's band.)

While my roommates and I got a copy of the concert poster as a souvenir and to display in our dorm room, there was no opportunity to get it autographed. When graduation came, I was not fortunate enough to take home the coveted item.

Years passed.

Ryder, meanwhile, recorded "Never Kick a Sleeping Dog," produced by John Mellencamp, and enjoyed a mid-1980's European revival.

Then, one day in the mid-1990's, my wife Sue and I spotted the poster from the 1972 CMU show on an EBay auction. We bid and won. The item was actually quite rare since concert promoters usually only printed a few dozen posters to to put up around campus and the community.

Although we had returned to CMU periodically through the years, the 1997 homecoming celebration was special. That's because Ryder was to perform at an alumni dance. So, for the price of a pair of $18 tickets, we set off to see him at the same venue he appeared at all those years ago.

On Saturday, Oct. 11, Ryder put on an energetic show in front of an enthusiastic, if older, crowd. His band included Johnny "Bee" Badanjek from the original Detroit Wheels who pounded the skins during Ryder's hit-filled set.

After the encore, Sue was along side the stage and got Ryder's autograph on the old poster. He signed "Always, Mitch Ryder."

To put poster and signature together took 25 years, six months and three days.

Sometimes, getting a rock star's autograph can require a little time.

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