Tag Archives: Muscle Shoals

R.I.P. Jim Dickinson

"As a producer, it really is all about taste."

"As a producer, it really is all about taste."

Damnnot a good week for Memphis.

If you’re reading the title of this post and thinking “who’s that?“…let me help you out: The Rolling StonesBig Star. Aretha Franklin. Bob Dylan. Flamin’ Groovies. Ry Cooder. Green On Red. Muscle Shoals. The Replacements. Delaney And Bonnie. Alex Chilton. Jason and the Scorchers. Willy DeVille. Sun Studios. The North Mississippi All Stars. Ardent Studios. And so on…

Accolades will pour in from the four corners of the Earth, but I hope a Memphis restaurant simply whips up a new dish and names it after the man. Call it “Dining with Dickinson”, a/k/a greasy, gutbucket, generational gumbo.

He lived, breathed and died Memphis soul and everything he put his producer’s ear, his piano playing or his veteran gut instincts on had that indelible fingerprint as well. Despite failing health, he continued to nurture artists and music that needed and deserved that veteran nudge. He had triple-bypass surgery in June, and when a recent benefit was announced to help defray the medical bills, people like John Hiatt signed on in a heartbeat.

Forty plus years of influence that will live on long past you and I…no sweeping exits or offstage lines.

A nice feature from Pop Culture Press by my pal Kent Benjamin.

“Down In Mississippi”

Wikipedia and All Music Guide entries.

Memphis Commercial Appeal obituary.

Even the babies must learn somehow.

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R.I.P. Willy (Mink) DeVille

Reniassance Man

Reniassance Man

We lost another great one Friday morning, as pancreatic cancer claimed the life of Willy DeVille, just two weeks shy of his birthday. Earlier this year he was diagnosed with Hepatitis, and in June as doctors were preparing to treat him, it was discovered that he had cancer. Sadly, the reaper was swift and unforgiving…but wherever we land after we flee this mortal coil, know that they’re all doing the Spanish Stroll today.

Though never a huge star here in America, he was one of the most consistently engaging perormers and vocalists of the past three decades plus, and universally respected and admired by his fellow musicians and artists. I first encountered Willy with his band Mink DeVille, who ripped through the punk/New Wave era with a special streetwise intensity and worldly flavor that set them apart from their contemporaries. Poet, punk, pirate; impossible to pin down or predict.

Mink DeVille discography

He didn’t spit from the stage or dress in rags or flaunt the inability to play an instrument…in an almost inverse direction he dressed sharp, played tight and tackled a truckload of styles with his music. Folk, doo-wop, rock, Tex-Mex, Cajun, blues, soul, Latin, garage, r&b, punk…I’d be hard pressed to find a genre that wasn’t in there somewhere. Europe got it – they always do – but aside from having his song featured in The Princess Bride (and nominated for an Academy Award) it’s quite possible that most Americans have never heard of him, let alone heard him. A shameful omission, if so.

Producer Jack Nitszche immediately saw the talent and produced the first two albums with a hard, street-tough edge. “Venus of Avenue D”, “Gunslinger” and “Spanish Stroll” are thoroughly visual songs that breathe the soul of a gritty New York City street, and it was immediately obvious that Willy was a first rate interpreter. On two well chosen covers, he made “Little Girl” (classic Brill Building sound from Barry/Greenwich/Spector) and Moon Martin‘s “Cadillac Walk” his own. “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl” showed his ability to find the soul in sadness, and throughout his career he’d mine the lonely and longing area of the heart in majestic fashion.

He soon abandoned the street pimp image, and as his career progressed and matured his image morphed to New Orleans hipster and eventually his Native American roots. A twenty year heroin jag left him frail and anemic looking at times, yet whatever pain he was feeling (or hiding) never ceased to emerge in his songs. Early on, his collaborations with Doc Pomus made Le Chat Blue a mesmerizing soulful album, and Coup De Grace featured brilliant anthems of the heart like “Maybe Tomorrow” and his cover of Arthur Alexander‘s classic “You Better Move On”. Sportin’ Life utilized the magic of the Muscle Shoals studios and musicians to continue the trend including the Springsteenish “I Must Be Dreaming”.

Performing “I Must Be Dreaming” on Letterman.

In recent years he continued to record wonderful albums but they hardly made a ripple in the States. Backstreets of Desire and Crow Jane Alley are standouts, and his recent DVD releases (including a brilliant performance at Montreaux) were a welcome reminder of his tremendous talent. Ironically I had just ordered his newest album Pistola when the news of his passing crossed my desk. I’ll listen to it with a heavy heart when it arrives. Adios, mi amigo – muchas gracias por todo.

Acoustic version of “You Better Move On

Willy DeVille discography.

Wikipedia page with a good career overview.

Willy DeVille website

The Willy DeVille MySpace site.

A 2006 interview courtesy AllMusic.com

Discography, including recent DVDs.

Tributes to the man here and here and here.

Now entertaining the Man Upstairs.

Now entertaining the Man Upstairs.

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