“Fame only did one important thing for me. It gave me a goal to overcome, or die trying” –Mitch Ryder
While the title of this new rock memoir alludes to one of Mitch Ryder’s biggest hits, the Detroit singer talks about many more demons than the specific breed who wear dresses of any color. From start to finish, Ryder’s story is of a performer who has much to be angry about. On one hand, he was a victim of many harsh circumstances in his business and personal life. On the other, he admits to a string of mistakes that kept him from achieving the goals he set for himself all those decades ago. As a result, Devils & Blue Dresses: My Wild Ride as a Rock and Roll Legend is a chronicle of a hard, fast life told in vivid, tightly-sketched chapters that are engrossing even when events are more shocking than many readers might expect.
Born into a dysfunctional working-class family, Ryder is clearly disgusted by the disparity between those dogged by poverty and the monied class who seem to pull all the strings. This resentment was part of his psychological makeup even while he was trying to get that very class to help make his career possible. So his book is full of stabs at the music establishment, and Ryder apparently has good reasons to feel betrayed by the likes of Four Seasons producer Bob Crewe and super-manager Robert Stigwood. Such power brokers not only used him as a pawn for their own ambitions, but contributed to Ryder’s drug and alcohol excesses as well as a sexual confusion that few other memoirs have the courage to lay so bare. Yes, there were women who enabled Ryder’s personal tortures, but he is frank about his own failures in his relationships and his inability to understand love.
Likewise, Ryder’s performing career was a mix of rough-and-rumble years on the road, in the studio, and in duels with management and recording companies. Again, he admits to his own bad choices like turning down Jimi Hendrix and Mike Bloomfield of the Electric Flag who both asked him to join their bands. He praises John Lennon for helping him survive a bad acid trip but has mixed feelings about John Mellonkamp who produced a “comeback” album for Ryder, but without showing much respect for his musical mentor. Ryder worked with some of the best musicians on the planet along with some of the most quarrelsome groups in rock. So music fans will get more than their share of insider insights. For example, Ryder observes one advantage British Invasion bands had over their American counterparts is that they were not decimated by a wartime draft.