Willy (Mink) DeVille – August 25, 1950 – August 6, 2009
Guest Post by Julie of Greener By Designs
It seems fitting that I write this on August 22th because not only is this my mother’s birthday, but it is also Willy DeVille’s birthday. Today he would have been 59. Instead on August 6, 2009 he succumbed to Pancreatic Cancer. Coming hot on the heels of Michael Jackson’s death I can say with no reservations that this one affected me much more. In 1978 I was fortunate to see him play live in Buffalo, N.Y. Mink DeVille played on the same bill with Elvis Costello & the Attractions and Nick Lowe & Rockpile. The night was magical all of the bands were amazing, however the brooding, dark, leader of the band Mink DeVille pulled you in and pushed you away at the same time.
He made you want to hear more and challenged you to define what it was he was actually doing with the music. Although Mink DeVille was signed as a “Punk” band in the 70’s Willy’s range was so much fuller, he spent the bulk of his career exploring the nether reaches of music, yet always with a soulful rock ‘n roll flair.
Willy bounced from city to city and record label to record label over the years while battling his heroin addiction. Somehow through it all he put out one wonderful record after another. “Cabretta” produced by Jack Nitzche and released in 1977 was a what brought him to Buffalo in 1978, “Spanish Stroll” was the European pick off that album, and the cover of Moon Martin’s song “Cadillac Walk” it a true gem.
Although Willy had many great albums, “Le Chat Bleu” – with his first wife (and my cat’s namesake) Toots on the cover was an album that could be considered almost perfect, there isn’t a bad song in the bunch. Willy was able to co-write with one of his mentors, Doc Pomus on that album and you can feel the Drifters come through. He later released “Backstreets of Desire” with an absolutely amazing version of “Hey Joe”. If you have never heard it, you MUST listen to it.
Although Willy DeVille started out with the Ramones, Patti Smith, Television, Blondie, and the Talking Heads at CBGBs – he never achieved the notoriety that they did, he did however outlast them all in creativity. Constantly producing and always reaching a new pinnacle in each genre that he explored. The only thing that keeps me from weeping over his death is the fact that he left us such a huge catalog of wonderful music.