Whatever gets you through the night. That’s right John. Whatever gets you through. Gets you through.
The days. The days you don’t own. You’re a prisoner of the days. A prisoner uniformed, numbered and defined by your family history and name.
A prisoner marked out by race, class, Zip Code, bank balance and Grade Point Average. And, if you ain’t no fortunate son one day you might wake up to find you’ve been drafted to fight in a war halfway around the world against folks you never heard of.
Everyone thinks they know everything about you from the way you look, the way you walk and of course the way you talk. Because your folks old country was Ireland or Italy or Poland you’re, ‘one of them’ and bound to act just like the way expected of one of them.
And you? Who do you think you are? Looking down the checklist on offer you only know you have to tick the box for, ‘None of the above’.
Sometimes, most of the time, it’s hard to breathe. It feels like you are being suffocated and thrashing about in a steel mesh net that’s tightening, tightening.
The only time you feel you are really breathing, not gasping for breath, is when you follow Grand River Avenue all the way down to the shore.
Down to Walled Lake. Down to the Casino.
To dance, dance, dance, dance until finally you’re breathing clear. Until, miraculously, you feel electrically alive and wholly free. Free.Embed from Getty Images
Now you’ve had your radio tuned permanently to Lee Alan who hosted his show from right here in The Casino. And, you know that music legends have played here. Louis Armstrong himself, Sinatra and Chuck Berry as soon as he got out of the slammer.
Detroit is the home of Motown so here at The Casino Little Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and The Miracles all strut their stuff. The British invasion bands come out to the shore too to see if they can cut it in front of an audience that really knows. Really knows.
And, one thing above all the thousand or so regulars know. Really know. There’s only one band that will hit the stage at a hundred miles an hour and just be warming up. One band from right here in Detroit that will play and play until they drop.
Until they and the dancers circling the floor under the Mirrorball in a haze of smoke and sweat communally become transformed beings. That band, the unchallengeable monarchs of The Casino, are Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels.
Ah Jenny, Jenny, Jenny, won’t you come along with me!
Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels – now that’s burning rubber!
They had been Billy Lee and the Riverias. After producer/songwriter Bob Crewe saw them at Walled Lake they became Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels and in a New York studio in 1965 they achieved an almost impossible feat – to recreate the frenzied glory of their live show and capture it on vinyl.
You can imagine Mitch prowling the floor, doing the splits and knee dropping as he tears into the inspired medley of Little Richard’s, ‘Jenny, Jenny’ and, ‘C.C Rider’ the blues standard which probably came to them through Chuck Willis.
Jim McCarty on the lead guitar, Jo Kubert on rhythm guitar, Earl Elliott on bass and Johnny ‘Bee’ Badanjek on drums whip up a tornado of sound that laid waste the idea that the spirit of Rock n Roll was dead or alive only in bands from across the Atlantic Sea.Embed from Getty Images
More than a million copies were sold as Jenny became a top 10 pop hit and, especially pleasing to the band, Number 1 on the R&B chart.
When you find the secret to capturing the intensity of live performance on record you just gotta do it again! Listen here to Mitch and the boys fire up and lift off like a Saturn 5 space rocket as they make an immortal anthem out of, ‘Little Latin Lupe Lu’ written by Bill Medley of Righteous Brothers fame (track down their version too).
What’s it all about? Your guess wins the prize! What it’s about is the exhilaration of Johnny Bee’s drums sound and the adrenaline rush of Jimmy McCarty’s guitar solo and the ecstatic abandon of Mitch’s vocal.
It’s about being 100% alive and throwing your head back and laughing at the sheer wonder of it all.
Growing up in Detroit Mitch and The Wheels developed a deep love and understanding of the music of the black community all around them – Rhythm and Blues.
So, whatever historians or sociologists might think it was entirely natural for them to turn to the work of a great luminary like Little Richard and a, ‘You gotta be in the know to know’ artist like Shorty Long and in a blast furnace of energy meld, ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ and, ‘Devil With A Blue Dress On’ into an outpouring of ferocious joy.
Find 11 on your dial and keep it there throughout!
Taking on songs like these is high risk strategy. If you don’t pull it off you dishonour music you love and look ridiculous. But, once Johnny Bee kicks things off with an awesome drum tattoo and Mitch pours his heart and soul into the vocal you know that you’re never gonna tire of this record.
Additional musical brilliance here courtesy of Mike Bloomfield on guitar and Barry Goldberg on the organ. They were rewarded with a top 5 hit.
Someone else plugged into the primal source, Bruce Springsteen, recognised this and characteristically doffed his cap with his own tribute in the, ‘Detroit Medley’
Bruce a head and heart scholar of the music knew that for mainline energy and commitment to the Dionysiac essence of Rock ‘n’ Roll Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels have rarely, if ever, been matched let alone outdone.