RIP: Willy De Ville

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.

4 comments to “RIP: Willy De Ville”
4 comments to “RIP: Willy De Ville”
  1. Thanks for noticing that the world lost a great artist and his own country missed the boat on memorializing him.

    Since the great Willy DeVille passed, I’ve read a number of things. Most of them upset me with a single reference to the “punk” band Mink DeVille. First of all, this was not a “punk” band. Secondly, there’s SO much more to Willy DeVille and it’s largely overlooked. This is a very good article because the author took the time to see who Willy was and what he gave us. Europe knows. The U.S. . . . not so much.

    I was so fortunate to see and meet this incomparable artist and his passing leaves a huge void in my musical life that will be there as long as I’m around.

    Willy DeVille . . . always in my heart!

  2. An incrediable artist! So many who’ve never heard of Willy DeVille whom I’ve spoken to…? Can’t believe it. What an amazing singer…so together, spontanious, the poor guy never gets a break under this roof. Just love love LOVE him….can’t get enough of him and all his unique karisma. America, it seems, never knew what they had….up there with the likes of Elvis, BIG-TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!! and what’s more, the Native American in his music and singing just shines out in one beautiful beam. His music and voice is just indescribably magnificant….no exaggeration! All what he gave/gives is just W O W ! XO

  3. Aren’t there any books, biographies written about his life, his music…I haven’t been able to track down anything. Willy deVille/Mink DeVille is certainly worth a helluva lot more attention worldwide. Is there a book? Is anyone writing or has anyone written a book? I’d love to know. Or do I try to do it myself all the way from Finland?

  4. I can only agree, Prish. Willy de Ville was one of the truly great songwriters. I’m not aware of any books about him, but I’m sure the rock mags must have done more comprehensive biographies when he died – there was no lack of material.

    Michael

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