Americana is often described as a mix of many different strands of American music. Rock, of all sorts, country, blues, folk and gospel all blended together. Willy DeVille, whether under his own name, or earlier as Mink DeVille, added influences from further South, Cajun, New Orleans R&B and Mariachi all appeared in his sound at one time or another.
Mink DeVille started their career as a house band at the legendary birthplace of US New Wave and Punk, CBGBs in New York. They are only remembered here for their 1977 hit ‘Spanish Stroll’, which sits uncomfortably on the New Wave compilations it usually crops up on, but fits very well on a playlist with contemporaries Springsteen, Petty and Van Morrison. The ‘Cabretta’ album that it comes from is a great lost classic in itself. Produced by Jack Nitzsche it also features a cracking version of Moon Martin’s ‘Cadillac Walk’. The best way to sample Mink DeVille is the compilation of the first three albums ‘Cadillac Walk: The Mink DeVille Collection’. After that the band was Willy DeVille in all but name and, while nothing he did was ever truly disappointing, the last three “Mink” albums are the records you can safely leave until last.
By 1985 DeVille was trading under his own name and released ‘Miracle’ a collaboration with Mark Knopfler, also influenced by DeVille’s move to New Orleans. The Spanish influence shows itself clearly on the title song and ‘Storybook Love’, although the eighties production from Knopfler and his distinctive guitar sound dominate songs like ‘Southern Politician’ a bit too much to call it a classic. DeVille was without a record contract for some years and relied on continued popularity in Europe to keep going; French label FNAC released ‘Backstreets of Desire‘ in 1992 a far more roots album, including a great Mariachi version of ‘Hey Joe’ that was a hit all over Europe.
He hit his stride with ‘Loop Garou’ and ‘Horse of Different Colour’ both albums where his Spanish meets Springsteen style is at its best. For 2004’s ‘Crow Jane Alley’ DeVille had begun investigating his Native American heritage and was moving to a more acoustic sound. Live he had a much tougher sound than on record and the ‘Live At Rockpalast’ box set features DVDs and CDs from 1995 and 2008 and makes an interesting contrast in styles, using many of the same songs.
Willy DeVille recorded and toured right up until his death from Cancer in early 2009. Thom Jurek’s obituary at AllMusic sums him up well. “Willy DeVille is America’s loss even if America doesn’t know it yet. The genre span of the songs he’s written is staggering. From early rock and rhythm & 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 & roll’s romance, its theater, its style, its drama, camp, and danger.”