Saturday, August 08, 2009

MUSIC: Willy DeVille RIP

Another shining testament to the diverse brilliance and originality of the late '70's CBGB's scene has passed. Mink DeVille's Jack Nitzche produced Cabretta is a timeless masterpiece and one of the greatest debut albums in the history of rock. Cabretta’s pleasures are eternal, and thirty years on I still listen to it all the time. When it comes to this particular stylistic turf, I think Cabretta is a better album than Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run.

By sheer dumb and typical ‘70’s rock booking luck, the original Mink DeVille played the old American Theater in St. Louis in 1977. If I remember correctly I believe the headliner was the dreaded Mahogany Rush. Can’t say for sure as we didn’t stick around after Mink DeVille’s short, maybe not even a half hour set. And they were absolutely tremendous as they ripped through all of those classics from Cabretta like "Venus Of Avenue D," "Little Girl," "Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl," "Gunslinger," and show stopper, "She's So Tough."

Willy of course was such a riveting and brilliant singer, with an absolutely commanding stage presence. I had seen Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band in 1975, so that was my immediate easy comparison. But Mink DeVille’s version of that template had the aura of something far darker and grittier underneath its musical beauty, stemming from a world so completely alien to my then 21 year old white suburban ass sitting there in the Mid-West. I'm sure if you had met Clarence Clemons or Miami Steve back then they’d probably share a beer and let you hang, but it was easy to see that after a show these Mink DeVille guys were headed straight to neighborhoods I had no business ever setting foot in. They looked so elegantly cool and exotic, yet simultaneously prepared for any sort of trouble and rough business that came their way. More like a gang than a rock band. These were guys who probably carried guns and knives in their pockets along with their guitar picks. And drugs. Very hard drugs.

And in that brief and intense half hour onstage in front of an audience that didn’t give two shits about them, Mink DeVille blew away the dozen or so of us who knew Cabretta and were there just to see them. I’ll never forget how great they were. Those guys earned every illicit pleasure I hope they went out and found after their show that night.

Willy DeVille, you were so very much the real deal.


Nec said...

Great post, Steve on so many many levels. Most of all, I just want to thank you for reporting what these cats looked like to the eyes of a 21 y.o., suburbanite. Your musical literacy carried you through to seeing these guys for what they really were.

Anonymous said...

better than bruce!