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Willy DeVille (August 25, 1950 – August 6, 2009) was an Americanmarker singer and songwriter. First with his band Mink DeVille (1974–1986) and later on his own, DeVille in his 35-year career created songs that are wholly original yet rooted in traditional American musical styles. DeVille worked with collaborators from across the spectrum of contemporary music, including Jack Nitzsche, Doc Pomus, Dr. John, Mark Knopfler, Allen Toussaint, and Eddie Bo. The typical DeVille song—if any of his songs can be called "typical"—is filled with romantic conviction and yearning. Latin rhythms, blues riffs, doo-wop, Cajun music, strains of French cabaret, and echoes of early-1960s uptown soul can be heard in DeVille's work.

Mink DeVille was a house band at CBGBmarker, the historic New York Citymarker nightclub where punk rock was born in the mid-1970s. DeVille helped redefine the Brill Building sound. In 1987 his song "Storybook Love" was nominated for an Academy Award. After his move to New Orleansmarker in 1988, he helped spark the roots revival of classic New Orleans R&B. His soulful lyrics and explorations in Latin rhythms and sounds helped define a new musical style sometimes called "Spanish-Americana". Jack Nitzsche said that DeVille was the best singer he had ever worked with.

Critic Robert Palmer wrote about him in 1980, "Mr. DeVille is a magnetic performer, but his macho stage presence camouflages an acute musical intelligence; his songs and arrangements are rich in ethnic rhythms and blues echoes, the most disparate stylistic references, yet they flow seamlessly and hang together solidly. He embodies (New York's) tangle of cultural contradictions while making music that's both idiomatic, in the broadest sense, and utterly original."

Doc Pomus, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker member with whom he penned several songs, wrote about him, "DeVille knows the truth of a city street and the courage in a ghetto love song. And the harsh reality in his voice and phrasing is yesterday, today, and tomorrow—timeless in the same way that loneliness, no money, and troubles find each other and never quit for a minute."

Critic Thom Juric about him, "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."

His sometime collaborator Mark Knopfler said of DeVille, "I've been an admirer of Willy's since hearing his stunning voice on the radio for the first time. He has an enormous range, with influences from all corners of the country, from Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker and New Orleans music to Latin, folk-rock, doo-wop, Ben E. King style soul and R&B—all part of the New York mix. The songs he writes are original, often romantic and always straight from the heart."

DeVille died of pancreatic cancer in the late hours of August 6, 2009 in a New York hospital. He was 58 years old.

Early life

Willy DeVille was born William Paul Borsey Jr. in Stamford, Connecticutmarker. The son of a carpenter, he grew up in the working-class Belltown district of Stamford. His maternal grandmother was a Pequot, and he was also of Basque and Irish descent. As he put it, "A little of this and a little of that; a real street dog." DeVille said about Stamford, "It was post-industrial. Everybody worked in factories, you know. Not me. I wouldn't have that. People from Stamford don't get too far. That's a place where you die." DeVille said about his youthful musical tastes, "I still remember listening to groups like the Drifters. It was like magic, there was drama, and it would hypnotise me."

DeVille quit high school and began frequenting New Yorkmarker's Lower East Sidemarker and West Villagemarker. "It seemed like I just hung out and hung out. I always wanted to play music but nobody really had it together then. They had psychedelic bands but that wasn't my thing." In this period, DeVille's interests ran to blues guitarists Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and especially John Hammond. "I think I owe a lot about my look, my image on stage, and my vocal riffs to John Hammond. A lot of my musical stance is from John," Deville said. He credited Hammond's 1965 album So Many Roads with "changing my life."

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 Londonmarker 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.

His next band, The Royal Pythons ("a gang that turned into a musical group"), was not a success either. Said DeVille:
I decided to go to San Franciscomarker; there was nothing really happening in New York.
Flower power was dead.
All the day-glo paint was peeling off the walls.
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.

Mink DeVille years

For a complete history of this band, see Mink DeVille.

In 1973, DeVille was living in a cold water flat in Oakland, Californiamarker and playing gigs in San Francisco in a band that would become Mink DeVille. "We were playing the leather bars down on Folsom Street," he recalled. "We were Billy de Sade and the Marquis then. We played the Barracks. After a while they would take their clothes off. This one guy—Jesus Satin he called himself—he'd dance on the pool table. It was nuts! Crazy!"

The band changed its name to Mink DeVille in 1974; William Borsay took the name Willy DeVille. In 1975, DeVille persuaded the band members to try their luck in New York Citymarker. "I conned the guys into believing that if we went back to New York I could get us work, because I knew the city and the ropes of how stuff worked, which was stretching it." In New York, they hired guitarist Louis X. Erlanger, whose blues sensibilities helped shape the band's sound.

Mink DeVille became one of the original house bands at CBGBmarker, the New York nightclub where punk rock music was born in the mid 1970s. "We played (at CBGB) for three years... [D]uring that time we didn't get paid more than fifty bucks a night", DeVille said. The band appeared on Live at CBGB's (1976), a compilation album of bands that played CBGB.
There was the Ramones, Patti Smith, Television, the Talking Heads, and us.
We were the five big draws.
And then one night this blond-headed guy came in to CBGB, Ben Edmonds (an A&R man for Capitol Records, and previously an editor for Creem).
He was the guy who was responsible for being the visionary who saw that we were different than they were and that we could probably have a career playing music.
So we went into this cheap little studio and did four songs, which Edmonds gave to Jack Nitzsche.
I didn't even know who Nitzsche was.
Nitzsche did all the Phil Spector stuff that we grew up with and loved.
We just fell in love with each other.
We were buddies to the end.
He was like my crazy uncle.
I called him my mentor and my tormentor.

In December 1976, Ben Edmonds signed the band to a contract with Capitol Recordsmarker. Wrote Edmonds:
When Mink DeVille took the stage (at CBGB) and tore into "Let Me Dream if I Want To," followed by another scorcher called "She's So Tough," they had me.
These five guys... were obviously part of the new energy, but I also felt immediately reconnected to all the rock & roll I loved best: the bluesy early Stones, Van Morrison..., the subway scenarios of the The Velvet Underground, Dylan's folk-rock inflections, the heartbreak of Little Willie John, and a thousand scratchy old flea market 45s.
Plus they seemed to contain all the flavors of their New York neighborhood, from Spanish accents to reggae spice.

Working with Jack Nitzsche

In January 1977, Mink DeVille recorded its debut album, Cabretta, produced by Jack Nitzsche. Nitzsche, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker, would produce three albums for Mink DeVille. Nitzsche said about DeVille, "We hit it off right away. Willy pulled out his record collection, he started playing things, that was it. I thought, 'Holy shit! This guy's got taste!'" Nitzsche was a perfect fit for Willy DeVille, whose tastes ran to the Brill Building sound that Nitzsche and Phil Spector had pioneered in the early 1960s. Said DeVille, "You listen to that music and you hear those really high strings, and that percussion, and the castanets; that's all Jack's (Jack Nitzsche's) work. All that really cool stuff."

Cabretta, a spicy, multifaceted album of soul, R&B, rock, and blues recordings, was selected number 57 in the Village Voice's 1977 "Pop & Jazz Critics Poll"; a single from the album, “Spanish Stroll”, was a top-20 hit in the United Kingdommarker. The band's follow-up album, Return to Magenta (1978), continued in the same vein as Cabretta, but with a twist. "We went against strings on the first album—decided it should be outright, raw, and rude." On Return to Magenta, Willy DeVille and producers Nitzsche and Steve Douglas employed lavish string arrangements on several songs.

Le Chat Bleu

For Mink DeVille's next album, Le Chat Bleu (1980), Willy DeVille wrote several songs with Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker member Doc Pomus. Guitarist Louis X. Erlanger had become acquainted with Pomus while frequenting New York City's blues clubs and had urged Pomus to check out the group. Wrote Alex Halberstadt, Pomus's biographer:
One night Doc's pub crawl took him to The Bottom Line just a block east of Washington Square Parkmarker (in New York City).
He sat at his usual table and watched an empty spotlight.
Cigarette smoke wafted into the shaft of light from offstage while the sax player blew Earle Hagen's "Harlem Nocturne."
DeVille strode out of the wings and snatched the mike.
With his pedantically trimmed pencil mustache he looked like a cross between a bullfighter and a Puerto Rican pimp.
The tightest black suit clung to his thin frame; he wore a purple shirt, a narrow black tie and shoes with six-inch points.
A Pompadour jutted out above his forehead like the lacquered hull of a submarine.
The show was the most soulful Doc had seen in ages.
Onstage, Willy's band, Mink DeVille, had nothing in common with the New Wave CBGB bands that the press had lumped them with.
Unlike Television, the Ramones, or Blondie, at heart Mink DeVille was an R&B band, and Willy an old-fashioned soul singer.
He borrowed much of his phrasing from Ben E.
King and couldn't believe it when someone told him that Doc Pomus wanted to meet him after the show.
"You mean the guy who wrote 'Save the Last Dance for Me'?"
He was even more amazed when Doc asked whether he'd write with him.
"Look me up.
I'm in the book," Doc hollered before rolling away (in his wheelchair).
DeVille said about their first meeting, "Now here I am at 29, a writer, doing pretty good and I've just been asked if I want to write songs with a guy who helped lay the foundations for the music I fell in love with sitting at my mother's kitchen table when I was only seven years old. You've got to be kidding!"

The Rolling Stone Critic's Poll named Le Chat Bleu the fifth best album of 1980; music historian Glenn A. Baker declared it the tenth best rock album of all time. Of the original members of Mink DeVille, only Willy and guitarist Louis X. Erlanger played on the album. It was recorded in Parismarker. Said DeVille: "I wanted to record the album in Paris... because I desperately wanted to use Jean-Claude Petit, whom I had contacted through Édith Piaf's songwriter Charles Dumont, for string arrangements... The band with me was a dream come true. I've got Phil Spector's horn player, Steve Douglas (who also served as producer), on tenor and baritone. Elvis Presley's rhythm section, Ron Tutt and Jerry Scheff, want to play with me. Wow! That's pretty cool! Songwriting with Doc Pomus. Not to mention Jean-Claude doing the strings. How can I go wrong?" Wrote Alex Halberstadt:
(Willy DeVille) created a record that sounded like nothing that had come before...
It was clear that Willy had realized his fantasy of a new, completely contemporary Brill Building record.
To the symphonic sweetness of the Drifters he added his own Gallic romance and, in his vocal, a measure of punk rock's Bowerymarker grit.
Doc (Pomus) was elated when he heard it.
Thinking they'd signed a New Wave band, Capitolmarker didn't know what to do with Willy's rock and roll chanson and shelved it for a year.
When it was finally released in 1980, Le Chat Bleu remixed by Joel Dorn, made nearly every critic's list of the year's best records.

Kenny Margolis, a longtime Willy DeVille sideman who played accordion and keyboards on Le Chat Bleu said, "Capitol in the U.S. did not know what to do with Le Chat Bleu because they perceived Willy as this punk rocker from CBGBsmarker and he came back from Paris with a very different kind of record. They didn’t understand the record, but they understood it in Europe. They released it immediately in Europe and everybody loved it." "It says something about the state of the American record business—something pathetic and depressing—that Willy DeVille's finest album fell on deaf ears at Capitol," wrote Kurt Loder of Rolling Stone. Capitol Records released the album only in Europe. Le Chat Bleu sold well in Europe and in the USA as an import. Capitol finally released it in the United States in 1981.

The Atlantic albums

"Willy had found a more appreciative reception at Atlantic Records, where head man Ahmet Ertegün signed him to a fat new recording deal and promised to personally shepherd his career...", reported Rolling Stone in 1980. "According to Willy—never one to let false modesty intrude on a good story—the Atlantic Records chairman said, 'You got the look, the performance, the writing, you know exactly what to do.'"

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. "Those boys went through the wars with me, the $50 a night bars, and I had to turn on them and lop their heads off and say, 'I love you man, but that's the way it’s gotta be.' I still feel guilty about it, but we were just a good bar band. That's all we were. We weren't ready to make great rock and roll records."

Wrote critic Robert Palmer in 1981:
Mr. DeVille's career never quite took off, despite the impressive breadth and depth of his talent.
He is recording a new album for Atlantic records, having departed from his previous recording commitment under less than amicable circumstances.
And on Friday night he was at the Savoy, where he demonstrated with an almost insolent ease that he is still ready for the recognition that should have been his several years ago.
He has the songs, he has the voice, and he has the band.
And he has expanded the scope of his music by adding elements of French cafe songs and Louisiana zydeco to the mixture of rock, blues, Latin and Brill Building soul that was already there.
Said DeVille:
I had band problems, manager problems, record company problems.
And yeah, I had drug problems.
Finally I got a new recording contract, with Atlantic, and a new manager.
I cleaned up my act.
I figured that since playing music with people I was friends with didn't seem to work out, I would hire some mercenaries, some cats who just wanted to play and get paid.
And those guys turned out to be more devoted to the music than any band I ever had.
They're professional, precise, but they're full of fire, too."

DeVille recorded two albums for Atlantic, 1981's Coup de Grâce (produced by Jack Nitzsche) and 1983’s Where Angels Fear to Tread. Both albums featured saxophonist Louis Cortelezzi and had a full-throated Jersey Shore sound that evoked Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny. Wrote Thom Jurek about Coup de Grâce, "The band's sound combined with Nitzsche’s timeless production style, which combined with that voice to create a purer rock and roll noise than even Bruce Springsteen's in 1981." Wrote Jurek about Where Angels Fear to Tread, "DeVille and his band were burning through the pages of rock and R&B history (there are a couple of doo wop and New Orleans-flavored cuts as well) with raw swagger and astonishing musicianship. Why they didn't catch and George Thorogood and Southside Johnny (briefly) did is a mystery that will be up to 1980s historians to figure out."

The albums DeVille recorded for Atlantic sold well in Europe but not in the United States. Explained Kenny Margolis, who played piano and accordion in DeVille's early 1980s bands, "I don’t think the American public had a chance to experience him because in America at that time you had MTV telling you what to like. Europe had not had MTV at that point and they were very open to different music." DeVille said about his years with Atlantic Records, "Ahmet Ertegün and I got along, but we never got anything done."

Sportin' Life

In 1985, DeVille recorded Sportin' Life for the Polydor label. As he had done on Le Chat Bleu, DeVille wrote some songs with the Rock n' Roll Hall of Famemarker member Doc Pomus. The album was recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studiomarker in Alabamamarker with DeVille and Duncan Cameron producing. The song “Italian Shoes” was a hit in Europe, but some critics thought the album was overproduced. Wrote Allmusic: "Its sound is steeped in mid-'80s studio gloss and compression that often overwhelms quality material." However, David Wild of Rolling Stone praised Sportin' Life, calling it "[t]he most modern, polished sound of (Willy DeVille's) career... Pushed to center stage, DeVille delivers, singing with more passion and more personality than ever before."

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.

"Storybook Love" collaboration with Mark Knopfler

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 Londonmarker with Mark Knopfler, the Dire Straits guitarist, 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.
Knopfler heard ("Storybook Love") and asked if I knew about this movie he was doing.
It was a Rob Reiner film about a princess and a prince.
The song was about the same subject matter as the film, so we submitted it to Reiner and he loved it.
About six or seven months later, I was half asleep when the phone rang.
It was the Academy of Arts and Sciences with the whole spiel.
I hung up on them!
They called back and Lisa (his wife) answered the phone.
She came in to tell me that I was nominated for "Storybook Love."
It's pretty wild.
It's not the Grammys — it's the Academy Awards, which is different for a musician.
Before I knew it, I was performing on the awards show with Little Richard.
It was the year of Dirty Dancing, and they won.

In New Orleans

In 1988, DeVille relocated from New Yorkmarker to New Orleansmarker, 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 Quartermarker, 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. The album was recorded without the use of overdubbing or sound editing with the goal of capturing the spirit of the original recordings.
I got all the original guys to come back in, like Earl King, Dr. John and Eddie Bo.
Allen Toussaint played side piano.
I brought in the rhythm section of The Meters on a couple of cuts.
We call it the 'little' record.
It's funny, because I was just trying to get them money, the writers of the songs, 'cause they all got ripped off in the 1950s and 1960s.
They were all fascinated, and Dr. John (who had played on DeVille's 1978 album Return to Magenta and who DeVille knew from his association with Doc Pomus) convinced them that they wouldn't get ripped off by this northern white boy.
That's when I crossed over to being a local here in New Orleans.
We were all pleased with it.
It's recorded the way it was originally done back then.
It's live with no overdubs anywhere, no digital, no editing.
We played the song several times and just picked the best take, the one that was the most natural.
It's on Fnac/Orleans Records.
I'm really proud of that one.
Victory Mixture was recorded for a small independent label, Orleans Records, which licensed it to Sky Ranch (Fnac Music) in France. "It sold over 100,000 units in Europe very quickly—our first gold disc," said Carlo Ditta, founder of Orleans Records and the producer of Victory Mixture.

In the summer of 1992, DeVille toured Europe with Dr John, Johnny Adams, Zachary Richard, and The Wild Magnolias as part of his "New Orleans Revue" tour."The travel, buses, and planes and the accommodations had to be some of the worst I've ever experienced... but the shows themselves were great. At the end of each show we'd throw Mardi Gras rows out to the audience, you know strands of purple and gold beads, and they'd never seen anything like it and they loved it."

Recording in L.A.

In 1992, DeVille recorded Backstreets of Desire, the first of four albums he would record in Los Angelesmarker with producer John Philip Shenale. "I say it every time I record in L.A. — that I'll never do it again, and I keep doing it... It's crazy. I just record and go to the hotel, and never go out, then back to the studio. I hate L.A. It's the worst. I think they eat their children there. I never saw any kids. It's a pity there aren't more studios in New Orleansmarker." 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. For Backstreets of Desire, 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. Allmusic said about the album:
Willy DeVille's Backstreets of Desire stands tall as his masterpiece as both a singer and a songwriter.
DeVille's considerable reputation in Parismarker buoyed him up to make this disc...
With guest spots by Dr. John, Zachary Richard, and David Hidalgo, DeVille creates a tapestry of roots rock and Crescent Citymarker second line, traces of '50s doo-wop, and elegant sweeping vistas of Spanish soul balladry, combined with lyrics full of busted-down heroes, hungry lovers, and wise men trying to get off the street.
The sound of the album balances Creole soul and pure rock pyrotechnics.
DeVille sounds like a man resurrected, digging as deep as the cavernous recesses of the human heart.

Backstreets of Desire included a novel mariachi version of the Jimi Hendrix standard “Hey Joe” that was a hit in Europe, rising to number one in Spainmarker and Francemarker. DeVille said about "Hey Joe": "The song originally comes from the Texas-Mexico border area ... [T]hey call it Texico. I tried, instead of doing something that sounded like Jimi Hendrix that would have been a cliché, I tried to take the song back to the way that it must originally have sounded, which would be with mariachis. It's classic, but it's classic with a little twist. A little different. I put a bit of pachuco Canal Street slang talking. I added a couple of verses of my own." Backstreets of Desire was released in the United States in 1994 on Rhino Record's Forward label.

Continued success in Europe

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 in Mississippimarker and began living there as well as at their apartment and studio in the French Quartermarker of New Orleansmarker. DeVille told an interviewer in 1996: "I finally got the plantation... I just bought this house and . It looks a little bit like Gracelandmarker... 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 Spainmarker." Big Easy Fantasy presents live recordings of Mink DeVille Band playing with New Orleansmarker legends Eddie Bo and The Wild Magnolias and remixes from the Victory Mixture sessions.

DeVille said, "I was pissed off and I didn't have a record deal for a few years. At the time I didn't want one. I was getting very gun-shy about labels. I was performing in Europe and I was doing great without one. When you get to that stage in your mind, they all start coming around. It's pretty strange the way that happens."

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..." Loup Garou featured a duet with Brenda Lee; DeVille said: "She didn't know who the hell I was. I just called her up, played the song for her, and she loved it. She had her business people check me out, and they reported that I was big in Europe and had been recording for twenty years. So I flew to Nashvillemarker [to record with her]... That's got to go down in my book as one of the most memorable experiences in my career."

The cover of Loup Garou showed DeVille in turn-of-the-century New Orleans garb posing on a street corner in New Orleans' French Quartermarker. It included voodoo chants and a song subtitled "Vampire's Lullaby." The singer had completely immersed himself in New Orleans culture. Percussionist Boris Kinberg, a longtime member of the Mink DeVille Band, said about the stages of Willy DeVille's career:
To my mind there were three main eras.
The first era was the Lower East Sidemarker, skinny tie, purple shirt, West Side Story, Puerto Rican Sharks gang vibe.
Then it transmuted into the Mississippi plantation-gambler riverboat rogue, the Rhett Butler thing where he had had custom-made suits, and really got into the period and the clothes and just totally immersed himself in New Orleans, not the present New Orleans, but the New Orleans of the 1880s and 1890s—the Absinthe-drinking, voodoo New Orleans.
He totally immersed himself in that.
Then he left New Orleans and moved to the Southwest and came back as the second coming of Black Elk.

Before moving to the Southwest in 2000, DeVille recorded Horse of a Different Color in Memphismarker. 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.

Epiphany in the Southwest

Willy DeVille performing in 2004.

By 2000, DeVille had cured his two-decades-long addiction to heroin. He relocated to Cerrillos Hills, New Mexicomarker, where he produced and played on an album, Blue Love Monkey, with Rick Nafey, a friend from his youth in Connecticut who had played in DeVille's first band, Billy & the Kids, as well as The Royal Pythons. In New Mexico, DeVille's wife Lisa committed suicide by hanging; DeVille discovered her body. He said:
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.
And I found them.
That's what that lyric in that song means ("she hurts me still since I cut her down" [from "Downside of Town" on Crow Jane Alley]).
I cut her down.
Next thing you know the police show up, I was in tears...
I was in love with another woman and we were going through some hard times, and I got in the car and I wanted to go off the cliff.
I was in the mountains in New Mexico...
They came right around the corner head on.
You know how big a Dodge Ram truck is?
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.

"I guess I was testing the waters to see if I would live through it", DeVille told another interviewer. "It was a foolish, foolish thing to do." For the next five years, DeVille walked with a cane and performed sitting on a barstool, until he had hip replacement surgery in 2006.

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. Listening to this disc only confirms that Willy DeVille is one of the greats who have been ignored for too long."

Return to New York

After living for 15 years in New Orleans and the Southwest, DeVille returned to New York Citymarker 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 Day, 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."

Personal life

Willy DeVille was married in the late 1970s to Susan Berle (February 19, 1950–August 12, 2004), who was known as Toots. Toots and Willy had known each other in high school and had a son, Sean, in 1970. Alex Halberstadt, Doc Pomus's biographer, wrote about Toots, "Half French and half Pima Indian, Toots favored a pair of nose rings, snow-white kabuki make-up and a Ronettes-style beehive the color of tar. She'd once put out a lit Marlboro in a woman's eye just for staring at Willy." The Guardian's Garth Cartwright wrote about Toots, "(DeVille's) combative approach with the media was made worse by his wife, Toots, who shadowed him and would threaten anyone she took against."

In 1984, DeVille married his second wife, Lisa Leggett, who he met in California.. She became his business manager. They lived in New Orleans and on a horse farm in Mississippimarker. After her suicide in 2001, he married Nina Lagerwall, his third wife, and returned to New York City, where he spent the rest of his life. 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.


About his legacy, DeVille told an interviewer, "I have a theory. I know that I'll sell much more records when I'm dead. It isn't very pleasant, but I have to get used to this idea."

Thom Jurek wrote about him after his death, "Willy DeVille is America's loss even if America doesn’t know it yet. The reason is simple: Like the very best rock and roll writers and performers in our history, he’s one of the very few who got it right; he understood what made a three-minute song great, and why it mattered—because it mattered to him. He lived and died with the audience in his shows, and he gave them something to remember when they left the theater, because he meant every single word of every song as he performed it. Europeans like that. In this jingoistic age of American pride, perhaps we can revisit our own true love of rock and roll by discovering Willy DeVille for the first time—or, at the very least, remember him for what he really was: an American original. The mythos and pathos in his songs, his voice, and his performances were born in these streets and cities and then given to the world who appreciated him much more than we did."


For a complete discography of Willy DeVille recordings, see Willy DeVille discography.

With Mink DeVille:

As Willy DeVille:


  1. For example, the term "Spanish-Americana appears on DeVille's MySpace Music page (Retrieved 01-24-2008)
  2. Edmonds, Ben (2001) Liner notes to Cadillac Walk: The Mink DeVille Collection. Edmonds wrote, "During my last conversation with Nitzsche, only months before his death last year, the irascible old witch doctor couldn't stop taking about the new album he'd been plotting with Willy, and how DeVille was the best singer he had ever worked with."
  3. Palmer, Robert (September 18, 1980) "Pop: Willy DeVille Band", New York Times; p. C32.
  4. This quote comes from the back cover of Mink DeVille's 1978 album Return to Magenta.
  5. Jurek, Thom (August 10, 2009) "Willy DeVille, RIP: Remembering an American Original." The Allmusic Blog. (Retrieved 8-14-09)
  6. Marcus, Richard (August 7, 2009) "Willy DeVille: Rest In Peace" Leap In The Dark "Willy DeVille: Rest In Peace." Leap in the Dark (blogsite) (Retrieved 9-13-09.)
  7. Fusilli, Jim (August 7, 2009) "Willy DeVille Dies at 58." Wall Street Journal. (Retrieved 8-11-09)
  8. Editors (August 10, 2009) "Punk pioneer Willy DeVille dies." BBC News. (Retrieved 8-11-09.)
  9. Grimes, William (August 10, 2009) "Willy DeVille: Punk Rock Pioneer." The Miami Herald. (Retrieved 8-12-09)
  10. Editors (September 9, 2009) "Music Obituaries: Willy DeVille." The Daily Telegraph. (Retrieved 9-9-09.)
  11. Cohen, Elliot Stephen (August/September 2006). “Willy DeVille” Dirty Linen #125, p. 37
  12. Marcus, Richard (2006) “Interview: Willy DeVille” Leap in the Dark blogsite (Retrieved 01-29-2008)
  13. Cohen, Elliot Stephen (August/September 2006) “Willy DeVille.” Dirty Linen #125, p. 37
  14. See Rhodes, Dusty (1978) “Issue 13: Mink DeVille: Smooth Running Caddy: The Tale of the Mink”, Rock Around the World (Retrieved 01-29-2008) DeVille said, "I was always considered an asshole... I never fit in at school... I was always looked upon as the weird."
  15. Rhodes, Dusty (1978) “Issue 13: Mink DeVille: Smooth Running Caddy: The Tale of the Mink” Rock Around the World. (Retrieved 01-29-2008)
  16. DeVille said "I heard John Lee Hooker when I was twelve years old. When I heard that voice, I said, 'Man I gotta sound like that.' So I was 12 years old, with my face full of freckles... I went around saying 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah...' trying to sound like John Lee Hooker. I'm very happy that he has finally got the commercial success, because he has influenced so many people...", Editors (1994) “ Interview: Concierto Básico” Canal magazine. (Retrieved 03-09-2008)
  17. Marcus, Richard (2006) “Interview: Willy DeVille.” Leap in the Dark (blogsite) (Retrieved 1-29-08)
  18. Harris, Craig (2006) "Willy DeVille: Biography." Allmusic. (Retrieved 1-29-08)
  19. Billy Pinnell interview with DeVille on Australian radio on the 1994 Raven CD reissue of Miracle
  20. See Blue Love Monkey on MySpace, "About the Blue Love Monkey", which describes singer-songwriter Rick Nafey's collaborations with DeVille in Billy & the Kids ("a blues-rock group in the Rolling Stones-Kinks vein"), The Immaculate Conception ("a wildly eclectic collection of original material with influences ranging from The Holy Modal Rounders to George Jones and Tammy Wynette"), and the Royal Pythons ("performing original material as well as folk, country and blues numbers"). (Retrieved 10-9-09.)
  21. Ryan, Tom (2003) "In Memory of Willy Deville — A Re-broadcast of Our 2003 Interview." "Shaddup and Listen" on American Hit Radio. (48:32). "How long have you been married now?" "Since I was seventeen." "Is this the same wife?" "No, this is my third." (Retrieved 10-9-09.)
  22. FaceCulture Interview (June 7, 2006) Willy DeVille: Willy about funerals, songwriting, second sight, his grandmother (Retrieved 04-06-2008)
  23. Rhodes, Dusti (1978) “Issue 13: Mink DeVille: Smooth Running Caddy: The Tale of the Mink” Rock Around the World (Retrieved 01-29-2008)
  24. Klein, Howard (October, 1977) "Mink De Ville: Slick Fur Fury." Creem. Vol. 9 No. 5; p. 28.
  25. Marcus, Richard (2006) “Interview: Willy DeVille” Leap in the Dark (blogsite) (Retrieved 01-29-2008) DeVille had only sour memories of CBGB. He did not play any benefit concerts or recordings for the nightclub. He told Music Street Journal: "The whole band only got $50 dollars a night, even to the end. That's why I never went back there. I've never walked through those doors other than to have maybe a beer once. I was down in New Orleans and I came up here, kind of going down Memory Lane so to speak. I ended up on Bowery down there and I thought, 'Let's see what's going on here.' I walked in (to CBGB) and I saw Hilly (Hilly Kristal) standing there. I had a big straw hat on, silk suit. He bought me a beer and it got around to 'Would you like to come back?' I said, 'No Hilly and you know wny? Because you never treated me right. You never were fair to me.'" (Olma, Greg (2006) "Interview with Willy DeVille" Music Street Journal) He told Leap in the Dark: "They keep asking me to come and play there (at CGBG) for 'old times' sake' and you know that's not for me. That's for people who want to go there and say they saw me there, or Lou Reed in sunglasses or some such stuff." (See Marcus, Richard (2006) “Interview: Willy DeVille.” Leap in the Dark (blogsite))
  26. See interviews on Live in the Lowlands (DVD) (2006; Eagle Rock)
  27. See Edmonds, Ben (2001) Liner notes to Cadillac Walk: The Mink DeVille Collection.
  28. McDonough, Jimmy (2005) "Jack Nitzsche 1937-2000" Jack Nitzsche's Magical Musical Word. (Retrieved 03-28-2008)
  29. Christgau, Robert (1977) “The 1977 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll” Robert Christgau website (Retrieved 02-01-2008)
  30. Ankeny, Jason (2005) “Mink DeVille” website (Retrieved 02-01-2008)
  31. Rhodes, Dusti (1978) “Issue 13: Mink DeVille: Smooth Running Caddy: The Tale of the Mink.” Rock Around the World. (Retrieved 01-29-2008)
  32. Halberstadt, Alex (2007) Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus. New York: De Capo Press; p. 213
  33. See the "as told to Lawrence Albus" notes on the 2003 Raven CD reissue of Le Chat Blue
  34. Rolling Stone magazine. 1980 - Critics, Rolling Stone End off Year Critics & Readers Polls (Retrieved 03-14-2008)
  35. Baker, Glenn A. (1987) "Individual Critics Top 10s", The World Critics Lists ~ 1987. (Retrieved 03-14-2008)
  36. See the "as told to Lawrence Albus" notes on the 2003 Raven CD reissue of Le Chat Blue
  37. Halberstadt, Alex (2007) Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus. New York: De Capo Press. pp. 214-215.
  38. See interviews on Live in the Lowlands (DVD) (2006; Eagle Rock).
  39. Loder, Kurt (December 11, 1980) "Willy DeVille's best: Le Chat Bleu." Rolling Stone; no. 332, p 55-56.
  40. Sears, Rufus (October 30, 1980) "Willy's back—and knocking 'em dead: Mink DeVille spurred on by success of 'Le Chat Bleu'", Rolling Stone, pp. 20-22
  41. Cohen, Elliot Stephen (August/September 2006). “Willy DeVille”, Dirty Linen #125, p. 38
  42. Palmer, Robert (April 20, 1981) "Willie DeVille and Band" New York Times
  43. Palmer, Robert (September 25, 1981) "Pop Jazz; Willy DeVille and the Mink in Weekend at the Savoy", New York Times
  44. Jurek, Thom (2006) “Review: Coup de Grace.” Allmusic. (Retrieved 02-01-2008)
  45. Jurek, Thom (2007) "Review: Where Angels Fear to Tread", Allmusic. (Retrieved 02-01-2008)
  46. Eagle Rock Entertainment (2007) "DeVille, Willy", Web site of Eagle Rock Entertainment. (Retrieved 03-08-2008.)
  47. Jurek, Thom (2007) “Review: Sportin' Life” AllMusic (Retrieved 03-16-2008.)
  48. Wild, David (March 27, 1986) "Sportin' Life: Mink DeVille", Rolling Stone, pp. 114-15.
  49. Wilner, Rich (March 1, 1986) "DeVille Files for Bankruptcy." Billboard; Vol. 98, No. 9. Page 77.
  50. See the Billy Pinnell interview with DeVille on Australian radio on the 1994 Raven CD reissue of Miracle.
  51. Marcus, Richard (2006) “Interview: Willy DeVille” Leap in the Dark (blogsite) (Retrieved 03-06-2008.)
  52. Rene, Sheila (1996) “Interview with Willy DeVille”, Willy DeVille Fan Page (Retrieved 01-30-2008)
  53. Laura Rangel (1993) Interviews: King Creole, Willy DeVille: Spanish Stroll (Retrieved 01-29-2008)
  54. Sinclair, John (August 24–September 5, 1998) “Orleans Records Story.” On the Road with John Sinclair. (Retrieved 03-06-2008)
  55. Marcus, Richard (2006) “Interview: Willy DeVille”, Leap in the Dark (blogsite) (Retrieved 03-06-2008)
  56. DeVille recorded these albums in Los Angeles with John Philip Shenale as producer: Backstreets of Desire (1992), Loup Garou (1995), Crow Jane Alley (2004), and Pistola (2008).
  57. Jurek, Thom (2007) “Review: Backstreets of Desire” Allmusic. (Retrieved 02-02-2008)
  58. See Rene, Sheila (1996) “Interview with Willy DeVille” Willy DeVille fan page. (Retrieved 02-02-2008)
  59. Editors (1994) “ Interview: Concierto Básico.” Canal magazine. (Retrieved 03-09-2008)
  60. Trynka, Paul (2007) Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed. New York: Broadway Books. p. 346. A footnote in this book reveals wife Lisa's maiden name.
  61. Cartwright, Garth (August 11, 2009) "Willy DeVille: Singer and songwriter whose creativity and influence outgrew the New York punk scene." The Guardian. (Retrieved 8-26-09.)
  62. Editors (September 1996) “Review of Loup Garou”, Musician magazine, p. 90
  63. René, Sheila (1996) “Interview with Willy DeVille” Willy DeVille fan page (Retrieved 03-09-2008)
  64. See interviews on Live in the Lowlands (DVD) (2006; Eagle Rock).
  65. Jurek, Thom (2007) “Review: Horse of a Different Color” Allmusic. (Retrieved 03-09-2008)
  66. DeVille's addiction to heroin began in the mid-1970s and lasted until the mid-1990s. In a 1996 interview, he said, "I've been addicted to morphine and if you managed to evade that you would be envied. I've been addicted for twenty years, okay? I took enough to kill the whole of Paris." (Editors [October 14, 1996] “La Laiterie” Interview on Route 66, French RDL Radio. [Retrieved on 03-09-2008]) He said in a 2006 interview, "If I told you I was totally clean now, I don't think you’d believe me, but I can get out a cake and cut the candles because I've been clean now for almost 10 years, except for when I had to go back on morphine right after the car accident just to be able to walk." (Cohen, Elliot Stephen [August/September 2006]. “Willy DeVille” Dirty Linen #125, p. 39)
  67. Blue Love Monkey CD Baby. (Retrieved 04-20-2009)
  68. FaceCulture Interview (June 7, 2006) Willy DeVille: Willy DeVille about his metal hip, his car accident, going crazy and sacred stuff!. (Retrieved 04-29-2009)
  69. Cohen, Elliot Stephen (August/September 2006) “Willy DeVille”. Dirty Linen #125 p. 39
  70. Cohen, op cit supra.
  71. Marcus, Richard (June 24, 2006) “CD Review: Crow Jane Alley Willy DeVille” Leap in the Dark (blogsite) (Retrieved 03-25-2008)
  72. Grimes, William (August 10, 2009) "Willy DeVille: Punk Rock Pioneer." The Miami Herald. (Retrieved 8-12-09.)
  73. Gill, Andy (January 24, 2008) "Willy DeVille: Pistola" The Independent (Retrieved 02-04-2008)
  74. For more information about Toots, see Herwig, Jana (August 7, 2009) "What ever happened to Toots DeVille? (Did Heroin kill her?") digiom (blogsite). Retrieved 8-17-2009.)
  75. Halberstadt, Alex (2007) Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus, New York: De Capo Press. p. 214. DeVille said about Toots in 1996, "I haven't seen her in over ten years. I ran off on her, I guess. She was fascinating, all right. She loved to fight and pull knives out. She used to get me into a lot of trouble." “Interview with Willy DeVille” Willy DeVille Fan Page (Retrieved 01-30-2008))
  76. News, Willy DeVille: Official Website. (Retrieved 4-22-2009)
  77. Rangel, Laura (January 1991) Interviews: King Creole. Willy DeVille: Spanish Stroll (Retrieved on 1-29-08)
  78. Jurek, Thom (August 10, 2009) "Willy DeVille, RIP: Remembering an American Original", The Allmusic Blog. (Retrieved 08-14-2009)

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