Willy DeVille  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Willy DeVille (August 27, 1953 - August 7, 2009) was an American singer and songwriter. First with his band Mink DeVille (1974–1985) 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, Eddie Bo, Brenda Lee, Los Camperos de Nati Cano, and David Hidalgo. 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 CBGB, the historic New York nightclub where punk rock was born in in the mid-1970s. DeVille helped redefine the Brill Building sound, and after his move to New Orleans in 1988, helped spark the roots revival of classic New Orleans R&B. His soulful lyrics and explorations in Latin rhythms and sounds have helped define a new musical style sometimes called "Spanish-Americana." Jack Nitzsche said that DeVille was the best singer he had ever worked with. He is more popular in Europe than in his native United States.

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 Fame 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 Mark Keresman wrote about Willy DeVille, "In some respects, DeVille is the rock & roll counterpart to Sinatra—both can rock, both stared down personal demons, both are capable of rousing memories sweet and sad, and both can navigate the mean streets with panache before winding up on Lonely Avenue at daybreak."

DeVille died of pancreatic cancer during the night of August 6 to August 7, 2009 in a New York hospital.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Willy DeVille" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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