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R.I.P. Willy DeVille

Posted by Mr. Chadwick, August 7, 2009 07:50pm | Post a Comment
willy deville
The former frontman of Mink Deville passed away yesterday from recently found pancreatic cancer; he was 55. Making his initial splash with Mink Deville during the mid/late 70's in the early days of the CBGB's scene. The band, like many of their contemporaries, got lumped in with the then-fashionable punk scene.  For Mink Deville this was especially ridiculous, as their whole schtick was about as far from the Dead Boys as you could get.

Their first LP, produced by Jack Nitzsche and called Cabretta, is an important piece of the late 70's NY puzzle. To me, it gives the listener a real street level glimpse of the time period that few other records from the era can match. Kill City by Iggy & James Williamson and Lou Reed's infamous ranting on Take No Prisoners cover similar bar sleaze territory, but Cabretta tempers all that with soothing background singers, classic pop songwriting and great percussion arrangements. Willie also brought to the mix a true believer's approach to mythmaking and storytelling that keeps songs such as "Venumink devilles of Ave. D" from falling into camp territory. I've spent many a drunken evening listening to him spin his street tough yarns on both Cabretta and its follow up, Return To Magenta, but I never acquired a taste for his more polished 80's & 90's work. "Spanish Stroll," featured on Cabretta, was a top 20 UK hit and his song "Miracles," featured in the Rob Reiner film the Princess Bride, was nominated for an Academy Award. Willy even performed it at the awards ceremony.  His live performances were legendary, pleading on his knees and pouring his soul into heartbreaking ballads.

Although his stateside career never broke big, in Europe his career was quite healthy-- even if his decades of heroin abuse weren't. With a reputation second only to Johnny Thunders, Willy indeed lived the life he sang about. Drugs, suicides and broken marriages paved over much of his intense life. In fact, he was the person that had to identify Johnny Thunders' body in New Orleans, as he was the only person in town who knew him. There's some excellent interviews regarding Johnny's death in the Thunders documentary Born To Lose. It seems that life had, in recent years, picked up for Mr. DeVille. But, upon preparations for Hep C treatments, a nasty bit of pancreatic cancer was found and it only took a couple of months to take him out...


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Willy Deville (1), Mink Deville (1), Cbgb (4), New York (47), Heroin (5), Princess Bride (2), Jack Nitzsche (1), Top Of The Pops (1)