Tag Archives: Willy DeVille

Twenty Years Without Doc Pomus…

But not without his songs.

Timeless. Classic. Doc died twenty years ago today but his legacy is vibrant.

Still fresh now, and just the quality of the material can lift an average band onto a new level. Hell, just a cursory glance at Wikipedia lists “A Teenager in Love”; “Save The Last Dance For Me”; “Hushabye”; “This Magic Moment”; “Turn Me Loose”; “Sweets For My Sweet”; “Go Jimmy Go”; “Can’t Get Used to Losing You”; “Little Sister”; “Suspicion”; “Surrender”; “Viva Las Vegas”; “(Marie’s the Name of) His Latest Flame”…just a smattering of the hits he wrote with Mort Shuman, Phil Spector and others.

That would have sealed the deal right there. But later in his life he was collaborating with people like Dr. John and Willy DeVille, giving life to stories about people on the fringe – the loners, the night walkers, characters that would fill a film noir casting session.

I love tribute albums and Till The Night Is Gone is one of my favorites. Of course, when your songs are covered by Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Dion, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Solomon Burke, John Hiatt, Shawn Colvin, Aaron Neville, Lou Reed, The Band, B. B. King, Los Lobos and Rosanne Cash…it’s hard to make a bad album.

Doc lives on in my heart and mind. But mostly in my ears.



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Blast From The Past – The BoDeans

The BoDeans released Mr. Sad Clown this year, and for all I know it fell on deaf ears like most of their work. But the fact that they’re still out there plugging and making great music after thirty years is a welcome piece of news.

I remember seeing them play a local club just after the crest of an early hit, and I thought we must have just missed a fire drill. Surely a band who even got plaudits from Rolling Stone and MTV could draw a decent crowd, but this one was so tiny that my friends and I barely outnumbered the band. No matter – they played a great set. Great bands always do.

As you can tell from this thirteen year old review of Blend, they were getting the same underwhelming response then that they are now. I’m not pretending they’re the second coming, but they are a good band that is well worth delving into if you’re looking for music that is atmospheric, straightforward, rocking, laid back, lyrical and guttural.

Yep, those are contradictions. Life is contradictions. Enjoy.

They’re still here, ten years later, creating solid, soulful records that should be making AAA radio programmers do cartwheels. So why is it that their only glimpse of the “big time” has come from the use of their song “Closer To Free” as the anthem from the television show Party Of Five? And unlike The Rembrandts, they can’t even maximize their opportunity – after all, the show is on FOX, not NBC.

No matter – despite lackluster sales, club tours and sporadic praise, Sammy Llanas and Kurt Neumann have forged ahead, mining the vein they know best. Somehow two vocalists who individually would be unspectacular twist their voices into a well-oiled and irresistible harmony; Llanas’ rasp smoothed out by Neuman’s silk. Think Everly Brothers with a Jason And The Scorchers edge, or a Springsteen lead with a Little Steven who can hang with him all the way through.

Blend incorporates New Orleans rhythms and instrumentation to fill out its sound. “Heart Of A Miracle” could have been plucked off a Willy DeVille record (speaking of under-appreciated artists), and “Red Roses” is that slow dance with a lover on a second floor balcony. When they rock, like “Count On Me”, it’s more akin to the sound of the Long Ryders or Mellencamp than 1-4-5 rock (again thanks to brushes and toms for a backbeat instead of the Big Drum Sound). Other standouts include “Hurt By Love” and “Hey Pretty Girl”, a song that Springsteen would have killed to record for The River.

Someone must like them – they still have a record deal in an age where record execs are preaching corporate liposuction. And they’re still making very good music, despite the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a radio format ready to embrace them. Fans will be pleased to have another release that stays true to the course. Those new to the BoDeans will find yet another quality band toiling in the shadows. Looks like a win-win situation.

The BoDeans website

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Mixtape: I’ll Be You

 

Back when I had that kind of time, I participated in a monthly tape swap, and for a time I had to dub these puppies in real speed. When we finally got to the CD stage and I could burn a disc at 2x I thought I was in heaven. What used to be a serious committment – the group was usually 35-40 people, so imagine the time and money involved – now can be done dirt cheap and at lightning speed. (I still participate in one of these groups twelve years running, although we’re down to one or two trades a year.) 

I used to make the cassette art by hand; sometimes a drawing and other times a cut-and-paste job, then type and shrink the set list to fit on the inside flap and print them off on colored paper…cut them along the outline…fold and insert into the J-Card slot on every one. Like I said, I had that kind of time. If I find the original art for this one I’ll upload it someday, but I remember it was a variation on a Powerpoint silhouette image of a man holding a mirror. 

I love tribute records, so this mixtape (from March 1997) was a tribute to tributes. It’s a great set and these covers are well worth seeking out. Now I have to find the actual tape, because just reading these names has me jazzed. 

And I still miss Material Issue.

  

you be me for awhile and….I’LL BE YOU

SIDE ONE
Dance Dance Dance Manitoba’s Wild Kingdom (Handsome Dick and a couple of Dictators) pay homage to Brian Wilson
Pictures Of Lily The ‘oo, done with great passion by that great sideman Ian McLagan and the Bump Band
She’s Got Everything The Droogs, Aussies yet, service Mr.Davies’ classic well. Can’t believe there aren’t more great Kinks covers.
Time Has Come Today Willy (Mink) DeVille from last years fab “Loup Garou” record. This Chambers Brothers song still rules!
Pictures Of Matchstick Men Status Quo song covered by the pre-Cracker Lowery in the late, great Camper Van Beethoven. Respectful yet cool!
Charlot Choogle Would have picked a better T-Rex cover if I could have but Sky Blue nailed the Bolanisms better than anyone else did.
Sweet Hitchhiker The fabulous DM3 (wow, I’ve already been to Australia twice in seven songs!) absolutely rip this one up! Go Don!
Mr. Spaceman Miracle Legion from another spotty tribute disc. For all you who remember the Byrds as electric Dylan, try this instead.
I Can’t Let Go Still the best tribute disc ever made, eggBert’s “Sing Hollies In Reverse” featured wall to wall greatness like this Continental Drifters cut.
My Minds Eye Ah, the Small Faces. Northern Uproar did yeoman service on last year’s tribute. A must-have for all true pop fans!
S-L-U-T The Woods, America’s Rockpile, nail this Todd tune. I will not rest until the name Jack Cornell is known far and wide.
Handyman True Story: Frank thought they were cutting “Candyman” for a Sammy Davis tribute. Nah…he loves Otis Blackwell too!
Sweets For My Sweet Doc Pomus gets the Brian Wilson post-sandbox/Landry treatment. And Mike Love is an asshole.
Love Is All Around Christine Ohlman is recording again! If you remember Big Sound Records or Dusty Springfield, Trogg out with this!
And Your Bird Can Sing Weller and company grew tired of “The Jam is just aping The Who” rumors. So they aped the Beatles instead.
SIDE TWO
I’m Not In Love Chrissie and the Pretenders snapped out two covers for movies/TV – this 10cc track and “Angel In The Morning”
Town Without Pity Gene Pitney covered by Steppenwolf’s John Kay on heroin. Naah..it’s the wonderful Thin White Rope from “Spoor”
Daydream Believer The Monkees tribute is way cool, including this John Stewart song ably harmonized by Man Size Job? Who? Me neither.
Run To Me If there were any doubts that Material Issue could do it all, this will silence them. Haunting BeeGeeutiful song. RIP Jim.
Hard Luck Woman The Kiss tribute is pretty funny, and I gotta admit that when I realized this was THE Garth Brooks I almost had a seizure.
It’s The Little Things And you thought Sonny Bono couldn’t write hooks. He did work with Spector, y’know, so bow down for The Skeletons.
Listen To Her Heart Tom Petty as seen through the eyes of Truck Stop Love, produced at Ardent by some guy named Jody Stephens.
Don’t Want To Say Goodbye Last year the Raspberries tribute came out, chock full of great versions, few better than this homage by The Flashcubes.
Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, … Wow that’s a long title! Believe it or not, this is The Records from a free EP that came with the first run of their LP.
Build Me Up Buttercup David Johansen, post-Dolls and pre-Buster P. David always kicked ass live and paid props to great 60’s soul music.
When Something Is Wrong With My Baby Wow – Sam and Dave voiced by the immortal Herman Brood, who truly is a rock and roll junkie. Live track.
Back Of A Car When you hear this song now you wonder how Big Star wasn’t huge then. This is The Loud Family – same comment.
Earn Enough For Us Freedy Johnston does XTC (who appeared on their own tribute record in disguise!). Love the pedal steel!
No Matter What Closing the set with a song by “the next Beatles” (Badfinger) done by “the next Beatles” (The Knack). Oasis my ass.

As always, play loud, play often.

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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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