Willy DeVille, was a singer, songwriter and the leader of the group Mink DeVille, whose adventurous forays into rhythm and blues, Cajun music and salsa made him one of the most original figures of the New York punk scene of the mid- 1970s. Early on Willy thought if he moved to San Francisco there was a better chance of getting a recording contract than in New York and L.A.. He changed his own surname to DeVille and they changed the band name to Mink DeVille. It didn’t take long to realize N. California wasn’t working.. playing in gay bath houses and leather clubs was not part of the plan.. Willy had convinced the other band members to move back to New York. DeVille soon became a regular at the world famous CBGB’s.. He lent his bluesy voice and eclectic musical tastes to become one of the club’s main draws. The band finally got signed by Capitol Records and everything seemed to turn around for the better.
A disciplined songwriter with a deep admiration for the Atlantic Records sound of the Drifters and Ben E. King, he drew from many sources, including Latin music, French ballads, New Orleans funk and Cajun accordion music. Mink DeVille’s music was built on R&B, blues and 60’s classic pop blended with streetwise attitudes and back alley romanticism, not unlike the sound heard in early Bruce Springsteen songs like “Rosalita” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and heard from Springsteen confreres Southside Johnny & The Asbury Juikes and Gary U.S. Bonds, with a twist of “hispano” from Spanish Harlem ,. Mink DeVille was a fluid band, and progressed like some of their more popular contemporaries had. 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 with its Righteous Brothers’ vibe enhanced by strings and a brooding Phil Spector “Be My Baby” dramatic, thumping drum pattern.
The fresh approach to R&B/Latin classicism and rock & roll got producer legend Jack Nitzsche interested in producing the band and he is credited as being a major influence on the development of the band’s sound. Hearing the band live in its early days had caught fans in Europe. In spite of critical acclaim and praise of DeVille’s writing talent, Mink DeVille didn’t make it big in the US, but caught quite an audience in Europe. Sadly, in 2009, Willy was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, which during the course of treatment had developed into pancreatic cancer. Willy DeVille died on August 6, 2009, just a few weeks shy of his birthday.He was 58 he died in NYC.Though Willy never got to see a great amount of success in his lifetime, his legacy lives on through the few that loved his music.