Joy Ryder is an original, a bohemian, an outsider, a sonic interpreter who bends songs through a unique prism. A checkered professional life, including USO gigs, top 40 shows, jazz dates in strip clubs, and underground theater have forged a unique sound, not often heard in the mainstream . Ryder calls herself a blues singer, but her catalog of identities is as thick as Casanova's black book: punk rocker, guerilla theater performer, cabaret chanteuse, political activist, nightclub promoter and hard-working single mom.
Ryder (nee Denise Whelan) was born in Brooklyn , to Terry McTigue and Phil Whelan. “Mom was a model at Gimbels and Dad was a member of the 50s group The Five Encores, a swing quintet that featured a honking sax and a driving beat in catchy songs like "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer."
When life at home became strained, Denise kicked around the East Village, participating in street theater with the Up Against the Wall M-therf-ckers, mentored by members of the Living Theater. When people started dying in Alphabet City, Denise took a job with a film company making surf movies, and moved to Hawaii. The company fell apart, but Denise lived on Sunset Beach, and started studying at the University of Hawaii, singing with bands on the weekend for money. Hawaiian pronunciation sounded too much like Dennis, so Denise used her middle name Joy, and in a nod to Malcolm X, used a number instead of her patralinial handle. Music became more and more important to her singing with groups like Los Mantecas and Next. After graduation, Joy went back to NY, to the Lee Strasberg Institute, to learn how to overcome stagefright.
In New York, Joy met a guitar player at an audition who also had a catchy stage name, Avis Davis. The pair eventually married after starting a band which toured on the international underground rock circuit . After marriage, Joy changed her name to the more silly Joy Ryder. A favorite at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB’s, their best-known song was "No More Nukes": "Do you wanna have an army? No! We wanna have a party!" Davis and Ryder were part of MUSE, Musicians United for Safe Energy, performing for a quarter of a million people at Battery Park City in 1979 with Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and others. They also were on tour in the US for Rock Against Racism, to fight the neo-nazi movement that was surfacing at the time.
The couple separated, and Joy went to live in Berlin, where she continued playing live, while acting playing in films, plays and recording for RCA, Polydor, CBS and Mercury Records. Ryder lived a bi-continental life until setting down for good in New York City , when she met a DJ and early rap producer Disco Den, and had a son with him. This relationship also broke up after a few years.
Tired of the high life, Joy took a break from the secular world, and sang with the All Angel’s Gospel singers, performing at prisons, churches, homeless shelters, weddings and funerals. Joy eventually returned to singing in clubs and doing theater. She worked in Harlem and the Village, and was featured in Roz Nixon’s play, Nothing But the Blues. Eventually, Joy was going full steam, booking acts at the Rhythm Club, and producing a TV show of the same name. and briefly was the house band in the short-lived resurrection of Max’s Kansas City.
After 9-11, Ryder found herself haunted by the story of fallen firefighter John Heffernan, who played with a CBGB’s band called The Bullys. The result was a new song, "Johnny Was a Fireman": "He was young and he was pretty/A rock n roll son of New York City."
Among her current projects is a gospel musical about homeless people, a TV pilot about her adventures running the Rhythm Club, and an original cabaret act about an “over the hill” singer, the "Vanilla Queen of Soul."
Two years ago Joy survived a brain aneurysm. She has since recovered, but the experience has been engraved on her mind like the scars left from 50 staples in her head. In addition to a collection of poems from the post op world,(entitled Staplehead), Ryder has released a CD of material recorded before and after her illness, called DeFraGMenTatioN. Ryder currently lives with her 16-year-old son Jesse, a student at the School of the Future in Manhattan. Jesse plays bass and drums and is a member of a band called Twit.
Living in NY has it’s perks. One gets to work with some of the best musicians on the planet. Joy’s band, The NY Rhythm All Stars, are people who have played with some of the best bands in blues, rock and r&b.