Sunday, August 09, 2009

DEVILLE FLIES THE COOP - Aug 27, 53 - Aug 6, 09

William Borsay, who most knew as Mink Deville and then as Willy DeVille, died of pancreatic cancer.
Mink Deville (man and band) first gained notoriety at CBGB's in the late 70's, but it wasn't your ordinary punk outfit. He was older than some of the other punks, having already disbanded two groups and discarded the stage-name Billy DeSade. His music showed the influences of John Lee Hooker and John Hammond, things not evident with The Dead Boys or Richard Hell. Willy grew up listening to the Brill Building sounds on AM-radio, including the old Leiber-Stoller, Mann-Weill and Pomus-Shuman tunes. No surprise that he later wrote songs with Doc Pomus himself.
Pomus enthused, "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." But it was three albums into DeVille's career before Pomus and DeVille worked successfully together on songs for the "Le Chat Bleu" album.
It was producer and Phil Spector-crony Jack Nitzsche who helmed the first Mink DeVille release in 1977, and helped send the single "Spanish Stroll" into the Top 20 in various markets around the world.
Like the Brill Building greats, white composers who created songs for black and Latino acts that seemed very authentic, DeVille explored all kinds of ethnic stylings, moving from doo-wop to punk to Latino to Cajun and R&B. No surprise then, that with nothing for critics and fans to pin down as typical DeVille, he generally existed on the other side of fame. He had a cult following in America, but was actually better appreciated in Europe. In fact, "Le Chat Bleu," rated in the Top 5 of the year by Rolling Stone, was initially released only in Europe, and it took a year before it won a Stateside pressing. No wonder DeVille broke with his label (Capitol) after that and signed with another (Atlantic, not that they could do much for him on his two album-contract). Some said it was DeVille's stylings, some said he just didn't suit MTV...whatever, he kept going.
Mink Devlle issued six albums between 1977-1985, and re-named Willy DeVille in 1987, he issued ten more, his last two being the ethnic "Crow Jane Alley" (reflecting his Native American heritage) and last year's "Pistola."
Willy was still active until fairly recently, when his diagnosed Hepatitis C problem was compounded by the discovery of pancreatic cancer. Hep C was not an unexpected problem for a man addicted to heroin for well over a decade, but the complication of cancer was lethal, and this form, very, very quick and deadly. The news was broken via his website on June 15th: "Keep Willy In Your Thoughts. It is with a broken heart that I have to tell you that while the doctors examined Willy to prepare him for the Hep C treatment, they discovered that he has pancreatic cancer."
Le Chat Bleu, 11 songs with bonus track, an interview with Deville and Pomus

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