Before the Righteous Brothers became the megastars they would become when “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” raced to the top of the charts in 1964, brother Bill Medley wrote a song for the duo called “Little Latin Lupe Lu.” It was released as the Righteous Brothers’ debut single in 1963. It was moderately successful, just edging into the Top 50 on the Pop chart. Stardom would have to wait another year for the Righteous Brothers.
The original version of “Little Latin Lupe Lu” was not the only version, or even the most successful. The latter designation would go to a band called Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels who released their cover of Medley’s song in 1966. Unlike the Righteous Brothers original or subsequent covers by the Chancellors (their 1964 version was a regional hit in Minneapolis and Chicago) or the Kingsmen (theirs reached #46 the same year), Ryder’s torrid take on the song was a bonafide hit, racing all the way to #16 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Ryder came out of Hamtramck, Michigan and formed his first band, the Tempests, while he was in high school. The Tempests gained some popularity in the Detroit clubs but it wasn’t long before Ryder was fronting another band, Billy Lee & the Rivieras (Ryder’s given name was William S. Levise, Jr.). Along the way, they came to the attention of Bob Crewe whose production and songwriting credits included a number of hits for Four Seasons. The first thing that Crewe did was to change the name of the band to Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels.
The original Detroit Wheels lineup included John Badanjek on drums, lead guitarist Jim McCarty, and bass player Earl Elliot. The Wheels breakout single with Ryder was “Jenny Take a Ride” which reached the Top 10 in 1965. The follow-up single was “Little Latin Lupe Lu” and it did nearly as well in 1966. But the best was yet to come as Ryder and his Wheels had a stone smash with “Devil With a Blue Dress” that same year. In 1967, “Sock It to Me, Baby” almost equaled the success of “Devil” reaching #6 on the Pop chart. All of the singles were originally released on Crewe’s DynoVoice label with Crewe producing.
In 1968, Ryder left the Wheels behind for a solo career. He had some success with his version of “What Now My Love,” reaching the Top 30, but that was the last single he placed in the Top 50. In the early ’70s, Ryder formed a band called Detroit that included Badjanek and guitarist Steve Hunter. Lou Reed liked Hunter’s playing on the Detroit version of his song “Rock & Roll” so much that he grabbed Hunter for his band. That said, the one album that Detroit released in 1971 barely crept into the Top 200.
Ryder developed throat problems and bowed out of the music business in the 1970s. He managed a comeback in 1983 with an album called Never Kick a Sleeping Dog which was produced by John Mellencamp. The album spawned a Top 100 single version of Prince’s “When You Were Mine.” Ryder’s most recent album, The Promise, was released in 2012. It was his first album in nearly 30 years.
McCarty and Badjanek reunited later to form a group called the Rockets, and McCarty had some hard rock success with the band Cactus. Meanwhile, the influence of Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels has proved incalculable, inspiring rockers like Mellencamp, Bob Seger, and Bruce Springsteen, whose “Detroit Medley” was a staple of his live set for years.
Mitch Ryder was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2017.