Mitch Ryder said there’s a reason why good music comes out of cities that historically are economically strapped and crime-ridden, like Detroit.
The 69-year-old rock ‘n’ roll singer and Michigan native said, “Basically, you want to find a way out, and if you sing well, play an instrument well or can play sports, you have a chance.”
Ryder, who performs Wednesday night as part of the Woodystock 2014 Happy Together Tour at Huntington’s Big Sandy Superstore Arena, said it’s always been that way and sometimes the tougher the town, the better the quality of artist.
“We’ve had good performers come out of Detroit on a regular basis.”
The list speaks for itself and includes everybody from Ryder and Martha and the Vandellas to Ted Nugent and Bob Seger to Jack White and Eminem.
Ryder laughed and said, “There’s been more since them. Jack White has been around for a while now.”
Seeing artists go from almost nothing to stars is a good thing, he said. It gives people hope and something to aspire to, particularly when they come from those same neighborhoods.
“But it’s disheartening when they become celebrities and behave badly. It takes away from the fun of it.”
Ryder had his run at stardom back in the ’60s with a couple of hits, including “Too Many Fish in the Sea” and “Devil with a Blue Dress On.” But he stepped away from fame in the mid-1970s.
“I moved out to a ranch in Colorado and stayed with my sister for a while,” he said. “I lived in Denver and a couple of other places.”
He still played and worked with a band, but stuck to mostly performing at charity events, hospitals and prisons.
“That was really satisfying,” Ryder said. “People at those institutions, they helped satisfy my need to please people, my need to make people happy.”
He didn’t really come back to the public eye until the ‘80s, after John Mellencamp produced a record with him called “Never Kick A Sleeping Dog.” Even then, his career hasn’t been as big as some of his contemporaries.
Ryder has worked steadily, often in Europe, and recorded every now and then, but the pace has been more leisurely.
“I put my family first,” he said. “Even though I enjoy what I do for a living, it isn’t the most important thing to me.”
It was how he was raised and what he saw. Ryder’s father was a performer, too. Ryder said he maybe could have been a star.
“One night my father came home from work,” he said. “My mother had a bunch of his fan mail on the floor with her. A couple of us kids were around, and she was holding a match over the letters.”
Ryder said his mother told his father that he had to make up his mind about whether he wanted to raise this family he’d started and pay the bills or go out and try to be a star.
He gave up music — or at least his dreams of stardom.
Ryder said, “He sort of lived vicariously through me after I got my celebrity.”
Ryder is doing the same with his own kids. Two of his children are into music, and he’s watching them, seeing them try to put together their own careers.
“They haven’t got to where I was,” he said. “But it’s something to work toward.”
It may take a while. Ryder is frequently mentioned as a musical inspiration for blue collar rockers like Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp.
The singer shrugged it off and said he takes those kind of pronouncements with a grain of salt.
“I don’t want to get the big head,” Ryder said. “It’s nice to get those comments, but I don’t use them to push forward my career. I think it’s an honor when someone like Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp goes out on a limb for me, but I can’t put a lot of value with it.”
Instead, he’d rather people just come out to hear him.
His family is important, but Ryder loves what he does. He likes being in front of a crowd and still feels like he has something creative and entertaining to offer.
“It’s not work,” he said. “I don’t have a job. It’s just fun.”
Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5195 or follow @LostHwys on Twitter.