Today, although a product of the New York punk scene, at heart Mink DeVille were a soul band with roots in R&B, the blues, and even Cajun music. The group was a showcase for frontman Willy DeVille (born William Boray in 1953), a native New Yorker who in 1971 traveled to London to form a band; unable to find compatible musicians, he worked as a solo performer before returning to the U.S. and settling in San Francisco, where he founded the first incarnation of Mink DeVille in 1974 with bassist Ruben Siguenza and drummer Tom "Manfred" Allen. After playing in Bay Area leather bars and lounges under a variety of names including Billy DeSade & the Marquis and the Lazy Eights, the trio read a music magazine feature spotlighting the Ramones; duly inspired, Mink DeVille relocated to New York, where they recruited guitarist Louie X. Erlanger. After debuting with three tracks on the Live at CBGB's compilation, the band entered the studio with legendary producer Jack Nitzsche and surfaced in 1977 with Cabretta .... N'Joy
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As a teenager, DeVille played with friends from Stamford in a blues band called Billy & the Kids, and later in another band called The Immaculate Conception. At age 17, he married Susan Berle, also known as Toots, and they had a son named Sean in 1970. DeVille struck out in 1971 for London in search of like-minded musicians ("obvious American with my Pompadour hair"), but was unsuccessful finding them; he returned to New York City after a two-year absence.
Said DeVille: "I decided to go to San Francisco; there was nothing really happening in New York. People were shooting speed. I mean, it was real Night of the Living Dead. So I bought a truck and headed out west. I traveled all around the country for a couple of years, looking for musicians who had heart, instead of playing 20-minute guitar solos, which is pure ego." By 1974 Willy DeVille (under the name Billy Borsay) was singing in a band with drummer Thomas R. "Manfred" Allen, Jr., bassist Rubén Sigüenza, guitarist Robert McKenzie (a.k.a. Fast Floyd), and Ritch Colbert on keyboards The band called themselves Billy de Sade and the Marquis, but changed the name to Mink DeVille the year after; at the same time lead singer Borsay adapted the name Willy DeVille. The same year, DeVille persuaded the band members to try their luck in New York City after spotting an ad in The Village Voice inviting bands to audition. Guitarist Fast Floyd and keyboard player Ritch Colbert stayed behind in San Francisco, and after arriving in New York, the band hired guitarist Louis X. Erlanger, whose blues sensibilities helped shape the Mink DeVille's sound.
During three years, from 1975 to 1977, Mink DeVille was one of the original house bands at CBGB, the New York nightclub where punk rock music was born in the mid-1970s. Their sound from this period is witnessed by Live at CBGB's, a 1976 compilation album of bands that played CBGB and for which the band contributed three songs.
In December 1976, Ben Edmonds, an A&R man for Capitol Records signed the band to a contract with Capitol Records after spotting them at CBGB. Edmonds paired Mink DeVille with producer Jack Nitzsche who had apprenticed under Phil Spector and helped shape the Wall of Sound production technique. Assisted by saxophonist Steve Douglas and a cappella singers the Immortals they recorded the band's debut album Cabretta in January 1976. Cabretta, a multifaceted album of soul, R&B, rock, and blues recordings, its lead single "Spanish Stroll" reached number 20 on the UK Singles Chart, the only Willy DeVille recording to ever hit the charts in the United Kingdom.
The band's follow-up album, Return to Magenta (1978), continued in the same vein as Cabretta, except that Willy DeVille and producers Nitzsche and Steve Douglas employed string arrangements on several songs. On this album Dr. John played keyboards and, once again, Douglas played saxophone. To promote the album, Mink DeVille toured the United States in 1978 with Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe.
In 1979, Willy DeVille took his band in a new direction and recorded an album in Paris called Le Chat Bleu. For the album, DeVille wrote several songs with Doc Pomus who had previously seen the band play in New York City. DeVille hired Jean Claude Petit to supervise string arrangements, and he dismissed the members of the band except for guitarist Louis X. Erlanger in favor of new musicians: Accordionist Kenny Margolis, Jerry Scheff (bass), Ron Tutt (drums) and, once again, Steve Douglas (saxophone), who also served as producer. Capitol Records was not happy with Le Chat Bleu, believing that unsophisticated American audiences were incapable of listening to songs with accordions and lavish string arrangements; consequently they initially released the album only in Europe, in 1980. However, the album sold impressively in America as an import and Capitol finally released it in the United States later the same year. Ironically, Rolling Stone yearly critic’s poll ranked Le Chat Bleu the fifth best album of 1980, and music historian Glenn A. Baker declared it the tenth best rock album of all time.
By this time no members of the original Mink DeVille save Willy DeVille remained in the band, but DeVille continued recording and touring under the name Mink DeVille. He then recorded two albums for Atlantic Records, 1981's Coup de Grâce—on which Jack Nitzsche returned as producer—and 1983's Where Angels Fear to Tread. Both sold well in Europe but fared less well in the United States. Coup de Grâce was DeVille's last album ever to enter the Billboard 200, peaking at number 161. Mink DeVille's last album, Sportin' Life, was recorded for Polydor in 1985. For this album, DeVille penned two more songs with Doc Pomus. The album was recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, and DeVille and Duncan Cameron producing. The album was a hit in some European countries, entering the top 20 in Switzerland and Sweden. In 1986, DeVille filed for bankruptcy as part of what Billboard called "a major restructuring of his career". He fired his personal manager, Michael Barnett, and announced that he would "put Mink DeVille to bed" and start a solo career. Consequently, Mink DeVille played its last concert on February 20, 1986 in New York City.
Although Willy DeVille had been recording and touring for ten years under the name Mink DeVille, no members of his original band had recorded or toured with him since 1980's Le Chat Bleu. Beginning in 1987 with the album Miracle, DeVille began recording and touring under his own name. He told an interviewer, "Ten years with the band was enough for Mink DeVille; everyone was calling me 'Mink.' I thought it was about time to get the name straight." DeVille recorded Miracle in London with Mark Knopfler serving as his sideman and producer. He said, "It was Mark (Knopfler’s) wife Lourdes who came up with the idea (to record Miracle). She said to him that you don't sing like Willy and he doesn't play guitar like you, but you really like his stuff so why don't you do an album together?"
"Storybook Love", a song from Miracle and the theme song of the movie The Princess Bride, was nominated for an Academy Award in 1987; DeVille performed the song at that year's Academy Awards telecast. In 1988, DeVille relocated from New York to New Orleans, where he found a spiritual home. "I was stunned", he said in a 1993 interview. "I had the feeling that I was going back home. It was very strange... I live in the French Quarter, two streets away from Bourbon Street; at night, when I go to bed, I hear the boogie that comes from the streets, and in the morning, when I wake up, I hear the blues." In 1990, DeVille made Victory Mixture, a tribute album of classic New Orleans soul and R&B which he recorded with some of the songs' original composers. Victory Mixture was recorded for a small independent label, Orleans Records, which licensed it to Sky Ranch in France. "It sold over 100,000 units in Europe very quickly.
In 1992, DeVille recorded Backstreets of Desire, the first of four albums he would record in Los Angeles with producer John Philip Shenale. Although DeVille complained about having to record in Los Angeles, recording in that city put him in touch with many talented Latino musicians who helped shape his distinctive Spanish-Americana sound. On Backstreets he was joined by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Efrain Toro, Mariachi los Camperos, and Jimmy Zavala, as well as New Orleans musicians Dr. John and Zachary Richard and L.A. session musicians Jeff Baxter, Freebo, Jim Gilstrap, and Brian Ray. The album included a novel mariachi version of the Jimi Hendrix standard “Hey Joe” that was a hit in Europe, rising to number one in Spain and France.
In 1984, DeVille married his second wife, Lisa Leggett, who proved to be an astute business manager. On the strength of his success touring and selling albums in Europe, they bought a horse farm, Casa de Sueños, in Picayune, Mississippi and began living there as well as at their apartment and studio in the French Quarter of New Orleans. DeVille told an interviewer in 1996: "I finally got the plantation... I just bought this house and 11 acres (45,000 m2). It looks a little bit like Graceland... I got into horses since my wife is into them. We're raising Spanish and Portuguese bullfighting horses. The bloodline is 2000 years old. She's into breeding, but I just love riding. I've also got five dogs, four cats and a partridge in a pear tree."
DeVille did not have a recording contract with an American label in the mid-1990s. His next two albums, Willy DeVille Live (1993) and Big Easy Fantasy (1995), were recorded for Fnac Music, a French label. Willy DeVille Live was a number one record in Spain. In 1995, he returned to Los Angeles to record Loup Garou, again with producer John Philip Shenale. Musician said about the album: "Loup Garou is subtle in nuance but staggering in scope, it connects the dots between all of the artist's sacrosanct influences, often within the framework of a single song... All of it is on the money, performed from the heart..The cover of Loup Garou showed DeVille in turn of the 20th century New Orleans garb posing on a street corner in New Orleans' French Quarter. It included voodoo chants and a song subtitled "Vampire's Lullaby". The singer had completely immersed himself in New Orleans culture.
Before moving to the Southwest in 2000, DeVille recorded Horse of a Different Color in Memphis. The 1999 album, produced by Jim Dickinson, includes a chain-gang song, a cover of Fred McDowell's "Going over the Hill," and a cover of Andre Williams's "Bacon Fat". Allmusic said about the album, "Simply put, no one has this range or depth in interpreting not only styles, but also the poetics of virtually any set of lyrics. DeVille makes everything he sings believable. 'Horse of a Different Color' is the most consistent and brilliant recording of Willy DeVille's long career." Horse of a Different Color was the first Willy DeVille album since 1987's Miracle to be released simultaneously in Europe and the United States. His previous five albums had been released first in Europe and picked up later, if they were picked up at all, by American record labels.
By 2000, DeVille had cured his two-decades-long addiction to heroin. He relocated to Cerrillos Hills, New Mexico, where he produced and played on an album, Blue Love Monkey, with Rick Nafey, a friend from his youth in Connecticut In New Mexico, DeVille's wife Lisa committed suicide by hanging; DeVille discovered her body. "I got in a car accident because I got crazy. I think I was somewhat taunting death because somebody who I loved very much died.I broke my arm in three places and my knee went into the dash board... It was bone to bone... I was on crutches and on a cane for about three years and I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. I was fucked up. I was ready for the scrapheap."
DeVille's stay in the Southwest awakened his interest in his Native American heritage. On the cover of his next album, 2002's Acoustic Trio Live in Berlin, recorded to celebrate his 25 years' of performing, DeVille wore long hair. He began wearing Native American clothing and jewelry on stage. In 2004, DeVille returned to Los Angeles to record Crow Jane Alley, his third album with producer John Philip Shenale. The album continued his explorations of his Spanish-Americana sound and featured many prominent Los Angeles Latino musicians. On the cover, DeVille wore a Native American headdress and breastplate. Richard Marcus said of the album, "Crow Jane Alley is the work of an artist who after thirty plus years in the business still has the ability to surprise and delight his listeners.
After living for 15 years in New Orleans and the Southwest, DeVille returned to New York City in 2003, where he took up residence with Nina Lagerwall, his third wife. He continued touring Europe, usually playing music festivals in the summer. On Mardi Gras of 2008, Pistola, DeVille's sixteenth album, was released. Independent Music said about the album: "(Willy DeVille) has never been more artistically potent than on Pistola, confronting the demons of his past with an impressive lyrical honesty and unexpectedly diverse musical imagination."
In February 2009, DeVille was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, and in May of that year doctors discovered pancreatic cancer in DeVille in the course of his Hepatitis C treatment. He died in New York City in the late hours of August 6, 2009, three weeks shy of his 59th birthday.
"His catalog is more diverse than virtually any other modern performer. The genre span of the songs he's written is staggering. From early rock and rhythm and blues styles, to Delta-styled blues, from Cajun music to New Orleans second line, from Latin-tinged folk to punky salseros, to elegant orchestral ballads—few people could write a love song like DeVille. He was the embodiment of rock and roll's romance, its theater, its style, its drama, camp, and danger."
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Cabretta was produced by Jack Nitzsche, who would help shape Mink DeVille's sound and collaborate with lead singer and composer Willy DeVille for many years to come. Joining the band on saxophone was Steve Douglas, who, like Nitzsche, is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and who would also play on many Mink DeVille albums. Like all truly great rock and roll, the songs mix fantasy and longing... "Venus of Avenue D" and "Spanish Stroll" find their romance in the street, and both walk that line between lust and longing, in the feeling of getting turned on by somebody. Willy DeVille’s character is tough as nails on the outside, but the hard surface doesn’t run deep enough to cover the heart that he wears on his sleeve.
The album gets its name from a type of leather jacket (a cabretta leather jacket was worn by Ben Edmonds, the Capitol Records A&R man who signed Mink DeVille in 1976). Willy DeVille said the Cabretta leather was like his band's music, tough but tender. Energetic, no-holds-barred, smoking rock with R&B roots.
Mink DeVille - Cabretta (flac 211mb)
01 Venus Of Avenue D 4:57
02 Little Girl 4:19
03 One Way Street 2:50
04 Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl 3:44
05 Gunslinger 2:09
06 Can't Do Without It 3:15
07 Cadillac Walk 3:14
08 Spanish Stroll 3:38
09 She's So Tough 2:30
10 Party Girls 4:30
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The follow-up to Mink DeVille's critically praised debut arrived just a year afterward and pretty much covers the same shadowy back alleys as its predecessor. At this early stage, Willy DeVille was still rocking out on Moon Martin's "Rolene," his own R&B chugger "Soul Twist," the Bo Diddley driven "Steady Drivin' Man" and the too brief set closer "Confidence to Kill," the latter ripping off as much greasy punk attitude as anything in his catalog, all in less than two minutes. But it's the soaring ballads and retro doo wop infused urban slow dance gems that make this sleeper a keeper. It takes nerve to open an album with the ominous heartbeat of "Guardian Angel" with its Righteous Brothers vibe enhanced by strings and a brooding Phil Spector "Be My Baby" dramatic, thumping drum pattern. Yet it perfectly foreshadows and adjusts the lights for Willy and the boys' N.Y.C./New Jersey street savvy pop/rock. Producer Jack Nitzsche, returning from the first album, was the perfect foil for the band, keeping the sound lean, mean, raw when necessary, and colored in shades of well, magenta. The legendary Doc Pomus, a guy who knew how important it was to match a good tune with a great singer, writes short but sweet liner notes that anticipate his co-writing contributions to the following album, 1980's Le Chat Bleu. Frontman DeVille is a natural singer as adept at grinding out the rockers as delving into the emotionally burning slow songs such as "I Broke That Promise" that would ultimately define his persona. He's clearly a man out of time, more comfortable with the '50s than the decades after, but never self-consciously retro. The album's only Nitzsche co-write is "Just Your Friends." It's a churning, charming inner city lament with a cascading melody that makes it a lost gem; one of those hidden tracks that never makes it on a greatest-hits collection but helps define this set. The ten tunes are over in 32 minutes but there isn't a wasted note or tossed off track, which makes Return to Magenta (the title is oddly absent from the cover) a somewhat difficult to find yet essential addition to any Willy DeVille collection.
Mink DeVille - Return To Magenta (flac 191mb)
01 Guardian Angel 3:19
02 Soul Twist 2:32
03 "A" Train Lad 3:29
04 Rolene 3:51
05 Desperate Days 2:49
06 Just Your Friends 4:11
07 Steady Drivin' Man 3:40
08 Easy Slider 3:53
09 I Broke That Promise 3:03
10 Confidence To Kill 1:53
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After the critical acclaim of their self-titled debut and Return to Magenta in 1977 and 1978, respectively, Willy DeVille and his band took another look at the sassy, street-tough rock & roll they'd dished up and took the first step toward the swinging Spanish soul the band's subsequent albums would strive for and the crooning R&B heartbreaker DeVille himself would become as a solo artist. Le Chat Bleu is angel-headed hipster rock. The Doc Pomus influence on the opening track, "This Must Be the Night," with its cascading harmonies and 1950s girl group melodies, is a doo wop fantasy for the punk age. That influence was more than that as Pomus and Willy DeVille co-wrote three songs together for this stellar effort. Far more reverent than the Ramones and nowhere near Robert Gordon's stilted revivalism, Mink DeVille could sing and play rock & roll sweetly and razor sharp, kind of like a lollipop on the edge of a dagger. The first of the DeVille/Pomus soul ballads is included here. "That World Outside," with producer Steve Douglas' lilting tenor saxophone that twists itself around each line and breezes through the chorus, is pure Pomus, with DeVille carrying a vocal he'd never attempted before. This was the beginning of something for the band, and the end of something else. Piss and vinegar were not enough to fuel the band's muse any longer -- it also took polish, sensitivity, and a deep commitment to subtlety and drama, and this ballad contains them in spades. The other two, "You Just Keep Holdin' On" and "Just to Walk That Little Girl Home," burn as brightly. Of the rockers, "Savoir Faire" and "Lipstick Traces" contain the wooly garage stomp of the earlier records and keep their switchblade honesty and punky edge. Contrary to popular belief, this album is not the sound of a band losing its innocence as much as it is the sound of a rock & roll band finding its identity.
Mink Deville - Le Chat Bleu (flac 440mb)
01 This Must Be The Night 2:40
02 Savoir Faire 3:08
03 That World Outside 2:59
04 Slow Drain 3:28
05 You Just Keep Holding On 2:47
06 Lipstick Traces 2:49
07 Just To Walk That Little Girl Home 3:52
08 Turn You Every Way But Loose 3:35
09 Bad Boy 2:47
10 Heaven Stood Still 2:52
11 Turn You Every Way But Loose 3:39
12 Savoir Faire 3:05
13 Slow Drain 5:03
14 This Must Be The Night 2:59
15 Bad Boy 3:28
16 Lipstick Traces 4:33
17 Just To Walk That Little Girl Home 4:46
18 Heaven Stood Still 3:40
19 Save The Last Dance For Me 4:44
20 Interview 6;01
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