Johnny Bee was among the best of the older subjects I interviewed for Detroit Rock City. Once he started telling stories, he didn’t seem to be able to stop, which is why he was included in quite a bit of the book. You can’t deny his greatness and his experience.
I decided to focus on the band Detroit because it represented Ryder’s last big chance to make it big. He made a great album and no one seemed to notice.
When I was interviewing Ray Goodman, who played with Mitch for a while, he mentioned he had some outtakes from the Detroit album sessions and we went into the control room of Goodman’s home studio. Sure enough, there were versions of songs with Johnny Bee singing, demos, and some covers I’d never heard, including a Sly and the Family Stone tune. I mentioned that it would be great to see that stuff released as a deluxe reissue double lp and connected Goodman up with Bob Ezrin, who produced the album. Maybe someone will have the good sense to organize that some day.
We played everywhere, anywhere, all the time. One summer, we played two sets on a Friday night in Detroit and we stayed up all night then headed to Carbondale, Illinois. Go to the hotel, a Howard Johnson’s. They put us in back where the pool is and no one can see us. After Carbondale, we drive to St. Louis, play, go to another Howard Johnson’s to finally sleep, then catch a 7 a.m. flight to go to Washington DC to play the May Day rally with the Beach Boys. There’s like 200,000 people there. We play and Steve Hunter wears his Army uniform. Not a great idea for the time. We play and leave, we’re going back to National Airport and the Army comes in and starts giving everyone shit, it got real violent. But we’re out of there. We got back to the airport and flew back to St. Louis and drove two more hours back to Carbondale, Illinois, and played two more sets without any sleep. We haven’t gone to bed yet since before the May Day show. Then we went back to the hotel with 15 girls and everybody got naked and was using the sauna and swimming. This was how we were living. We had real bikers hanging around us all the time, you know, bikers love Mitch. They all wanted to hear “Devil With a Blue Dress On.” We were also playing a lot of Hell’s Angels parties and all the outlaw clubs. We’d play and they’d all be fighting. It was like a crazy wedding party or something. We’d play for an hour and a half and we’d take a break and the whole place would break out in a riot. The guy in charge would go, “Play! Get up there and play! Maybe they’ll stop.” The Outlaws, the Vigilantes, all these biker gangs, they’d have us in to play their parties.
Steve Miller is an investigative reporter with over two decades of experience in daily newspaper, Web and magazine reporting and writing. Miller has done time as a court and cops beat reporter at the Dallas Morning News and as a national reporter for the Washington Times, and as a correspondent for national publications including People magazine, High Times, Boston Magazine, Miami New Times, Houston Press, The Daily Beast and U.S. News and World Report. In 2012, he was an Edgar award finalist for his book, Girl, Wanted: The Chase for Sarah Pender. He is a recipient of the digital investigative award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Miller was also the former vocalist in the Midwest punk rock outfit the Fix in 1980-81.
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