Friday, August 7, 2009

Willy DeVille: 1953-2009

AFP - PARIS — US singer songwriter Willy DeVille, who headed the 1970s New York punk group Mink DeVille before going solo and taking new directions, has died at the age of 55, his French tour organiser said Friday.

"Willy DeVille this night joined Edith Piaf, Jack Nitzsche and Johnny Thunders", said Caramba Spectacles, referring respectively to the French star who inspired him, to his producer, and to a fellow-70s punk guitarist.

His wife had announced in June that DeVille had pancreatic cancer.

DeVille in the late 70s played in New York's mythical CBGB club alongside the likes of Blondie or the Ramones with his first album Cabretta produced by Nitzsche, former arranger for Phil Spector...

On more than a few occassions, I have had people ask me who I believe to be the most underrated band of all-time. Without hesitation, I always tell them: Mink DeVille.

Maybe it's because my dad used to bring a lunch box full of cassette tapes camping with us every summer, and we'd usually wind up listening to this fantastic live show they recorded at the El Mocambo while sitting around the campgfire deep into the night. Maybe it was the songs about life in New York's lower east side that drew me in, or the way Willy could sprinkle his arrangements with a kind of Spanish-strolling American soulful bluesiness that I hadn't heard before or since. Whatever the reason, there was always something about that Loisaida sound of Willy Deville's voice that made me feel like Mink DeVille should have been the biggest band in the world.

To say that they fell short of the acclain they deserved is a ridiculous understatement.

Cabretta is easily one of my top-20 all-time favourite albums. Venus of Avenue D is the best song ever written about latin love in Alphabet City, and Can't Do Without It might be the most truthful song ever written about love, period.

And it's love that gets you so excited
And it's love that brings you home at night
And it's love... You can't do without it
It's love... love, what makes you treat me so bad?

1978's Return To Magenta is one of the 9 albums I have framed and hanging on the wall in my living room. And Miracle, DeVille's first solo effort, is one of those timeless records that I could literally listen to any day of the week (Could You Would You? and Heart and Soul will break your heart if you've never heard them before).

And there were few people who could cover a song and make it their own the way Willy DeVille could. The aforementioned Could You Would You is a thing of beauty (trumping Van Morrison?). His mariachi inspired version of Hey Joe is surreal (click HERE for fantastic video). And the version of Stand By Me from Montreux is sublime.

The life of Willy DeVille is one of countless sad-luck tales about an artist who never received the type of recognition that they rightfully deserved in their lifetime. Here's hoping he receives some of that long-overdue appreciation in his passing.

His is a voice that will be sorely missed.

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