Willy De Ville – Cadillac Walk
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There’s a strange lack of obituaries for Willy DeVille, who died on August 6, 2009 of cancer. How could the media miss the passing of such a remarkable singer and writer? De Ville created songs of incredible musical intelligence and flair. From the Latino posturing of “Spanish Stroll” to the swamp soul revival of the eighties, he had an unerring ear for a strong melody and lyric.
The band Mink DeVille came to people’s attention as the house band of CBGB’s in New York. Ben Edmonds put them in studio with Jack Nitzsche, who had worked with Phil Spector. As DeVille was a huge fan of classic songwriting, the two made an excellent team. The debut album “Cabretta” yielded a first hit with “Spanish Stroll”. Capitol Records thought they had invested in a punk band (for some reason – didn’t they actually see them live?), and so were nonplussed with the subsequent “Le Chat Bleu”. It featured songs written with Doc Pumos and strings from Edith Piaf arranger Jean-Claude Petit. This was a man connecting very disparate facets of music history. Although a hit in Europe, the album only received lukewarm attention in the US.
From Mink to Willy
The album was followed by “Coup de Grace” and “Where Angels Fear to Tread”, with Nitzsche. After “Sporting Life”, he appeared and recorded under his own name, Willy DeVille, as none of the original band members were still present. “Miracle” was recorded with Mark Knopfler, and was used in the film “The Princess Bride”.
DeVille then headed for New Orleans to record the tribute album “Victory Mixture”, another hit in Europe. It was followed by a string of albums that performed very well in continental Europe, but failed to dent the US. Of particular note was his mariachi version of “Hey Joe”.
I used to listen to Mink De Ville a lot, and was always struck by the sheer brilliance of the songwriting in tracks such as “Just To Walk That Little Girl Home”, “Love & Emotion”, “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl” and “Just Your Friends”. Although it is fair to say that he was not recognised enough (and frankly, sometimes made things hard for himself), these songs will surface again without a doubt.