Mink DeVille Biography

Mink DeVille Biography on Monsters and Critics


"Mink DeVille" (1974–1985) was a rock band known for its association with early punk rock bands at New York's CBGB nightclub and for being a showcase for the music of Willy DeVille. The band recorded six albums in the years 1977 to 1985. Except for frontman Willy DeVille, the original members of the band played only on the first two albums ("Cabretta" and "Return to Magenta"). For the remaining albums and for tours, Willy DeVille assembled musicians to play under the name Mink DeVille. Since 1985, when Willy DeVille began recording and touring under his own name, his backup bands have sometimes been called 'The Mink DeVille Band,? an allusion to the earlier Mink DeVille.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriter Doc Pomus said about the band, 'Mink 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.?

Beginnings in San Francisco

Mink DeVille was formed in in 1974 when Willy DeVille (then called Billy Borsay) met drummer Thomas R. 'Manfred' Allen, Jr. and bassist Rubén Sigüenza in San Francisco. Said DeVille, 'I met Manfred at a party; he'd been playing with John Lee Hooker and a lot of blues people around San Francisco.... I met Rubén at a basement jam in San Francisco, and he liked everything I liked from The Drifters to, uh, Fritz Lang.' Willy DeVille occasionally sat in with the band Lazy Ace, which included Allen Jr. on drums and Ritch Colbert on piano. When Lazy Ace broke up, DeVille, Allen Jr., Colbert, Rubén Sigüenza, and guitarist Fast Floyd (later of Fast Floyd and the Famous Firebirds) formed a band called Billy DeSade & the Marquees.

In 1975, the band changed its name to Mink DeVille; lead singer Billy Borsay took the name Willy DeVille. Said DeVille, 'We were sitting around talking of names, and some of them were really rude, and I was saying, guys we can't do that. Then one of the guys said how about Mink DeVille? There can't be anything cooler than a fur-lined Cadillac can there?'

Looking at music magazines in City Lights Bookstore, DeVille noticed a small ad in the "The Village Voice" inviting bands to audition in New York City, his hometown. 'I convinced the guys that I could get them work, and we climbed in the van and drove back the other way. We auditioned along with hundreds of others, but they liked us and took us on. We played (at CBGB) for three years. During that time we didn't get paid more than fifty bucks a night.'

House Band at CBGB

From 1975 to 1977, Mink DeVille was a house band at CBGB. Guitarist Fast Floyd and keyboard player Ritch Colbert did not make the trip to New York. Fast Floyd was replaced by Louis X. Erlanger, who had played with John Lee Hooker and brought a deeper blues sensibility to the band, and Colbert was replaced by Bobby Leonards (formerly of Tiffany Shade).

In 1975, CBGB was the epicenter of punk rock and what would later be called New Wave, but Mink DeVille didn't necessarily fit in the scene. 'Onstage, Willy's band, Mink DeVille, had nothing in common with the New Wave CBGB bands that the press had lumped them with,? wrote Alex Halberstadt. 'Unlike Television, The Ramones, or Blondie, at heart Mink DeVille was an R&B band, and Willy an old-fashioned soul singer...? Wrote Mark Keresman, 'Mink DeVille's earthy, streamlined sound, rejecting the mainstream high-gloss that ruined much of 1970s rock, was accepted by the same folks who'd go to see Blondie, The Shirts, and Television.'

Wrote "Daily Telegraph" critic Neil McCormick:

DeVille and his band reached deep into blues and soul, the classic romantic pop of Ben E. King and The Drifters, with a side order of Spanish spices and New Orleans Zydeco swing. They favoured castanets over tom-toms, and accordion over distorted guitars, and Willy delivered his vocals with a sweet, tuneful flexibility that brought out the emotional resonance beneath his nasal sneer. What the wiry, dapper DeVille had that tied him to fellow CBGB resident bands like The Ramones, Television, Blondie and Talking Heads was an edge. He was drawing on some of the same musical areas that Bruce Springsteen's epic rock dipped into, but Willy was an entirely different creature, a macho dandy in a pompadour and pencil moustache, with the dangerous air of a New York gangfighter and an underbelly vulnerability that came out through the romanticism of his music. Springsteen sounded like he was your friend in desperate times. DeVille sounded like he couldn't quite decide whether to serenade you or pull a knife on you.

Said DeVille, 'We were doing Little Walter stuff, we were doing Elmore James stuff. The only stuff we were doing that people had heard was 'Please, Please, Please' by James Brown. We used to do an Apollo thing. We played CBGBs for three years, and all of the sudden word got out, and then came this word "Punk," which where I come from is a bad word. A punk is somebody who picks a fight with you and then never shows up.? In 2007, Willy DeVille said about the bands that played CBGBs, 'We were all labeled as part of this American punk thing but I really didn't see any of us having much in common.'

However, Mink DeVille had in common with the CBGB bands an aversion to the hippy aesthetic (what Willy DeVille called 'electric this and strawberry that?); moreover, the band brought an eclectic New York sensibility to its music that the other bands didn't have and that New York City rock fans recognized and appreciated. Critic Robert Palmer wrote, '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.'

In 1976, three Mink DeVille songs appeared on "Live at CBGB'S", a compilation album of bands that played CBGB (for the recording sessions, drummer Thomas R. 'Manfred? Allen, Jr. was credited as Manfred Jones). In December 1976, Ben Edmonds signed the band to a contract with Capitol Records. Wrote Edmonds:

When Mink DeVille took the stage (at CBGB) and tore into 'Let Me Dream if I Want To' followed by another scorcher called 'She's So Tough,' they had me. These five guys...were obviously part of the new energy, but I also felt immediately reconnected to all the rock & roll I loved best: the bluesy early Stones, Van Morrison..., the subway scenarios of the The Velvet Underground, Dylan's folk-rock inflections, the heartbreak of Little Willie John, and a thousand scratchy old flea market 45s. Plus they seemed to contain all the flavors of their New York neighborhood, from Spanish accents to reggae spice.

The Capitol Years

Early Mink DeVille albums — "Cabretta, Return to Magenta, Le Chat Bleu", and "Coup de Grâce" — were produced by Jack Nitzsche or Steve Douglas, both members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who had apprenticed under Phil Spector and helped shape the Wall of Sound production technique. These producers were a natural fit for Mink DeVille, whose members' tastes ran to the Ronettes, the Crystals and other 1960s-era New York bands with their rich textured sound. Said Willy DeVille, 'You listen to that music and you hear those really high strings, and that percussion, and the castanets; that's all Jack's (Jack Nitzsche's) work. All that really cool stuff.?

Wrote Ben Edmonds, who paired Nitzsche with Mink DeVille:

It has always been assumed that our pairing was based on his (Nitzsche's) Spector accomplishments, but to me that was secondary. In the beginning I saw Mink DeVille as a hard-edged rock and roll band, and I wanted the Nitzsche who'd produced 'Memo from Turner' (off the "Performance" soundtrack) and the great first "Crazy Horse" album... 'How did you ever get Jack Nitzsche?' Elliott Murphy later asked me incredulously. 'I tried to get him for years.' The sad truth is that it took one phone call, and even that was sheer luck—or maybe divine providence. I mentioned my mission while chatting with friend and Del Shannon manager Dan Bourgoise, who responded 'Jack? I can put you in touch with him.' Two days later the elusive producer was sitting in my office. I put on a live recording and after the first song, the band's version of Otis Redding's 'These Arms of Mine,' Nitzsche motioned for me to stop the tape. 'When do we start?' he said. They had him. And that was the whole of it, plain and simple. I didn't get Jack Nitzsche. The voice of Willy DeVille did.

"Cabretta" (called "Mink DeVille" in the U.S.), the band's debut album released in 1977, was a spicy, multifaceted album of soul, R&B, rock, and blues recordings. For the album, Steve Douglas played saxophone, and the Immortals, a cappella singers whom Willy DeVille discovered at a reggae concert at Max's Kansas City, sang background vocals. For the song 'Spanish Stroll,? bassist Rubén Sigüenza spoke words in Spanish during the break ("Hey Rosita! Donde vas con mi carro Rosita? Tu sabes que te quiero, pero ti me quitas todo"), adding even more Latin flavor to the album. 'Spanish Stroll? was a top-20 hit in the U.K. Cabretta was selected number 57 in the "Village Voice's" 1977 'Pop & Jazz Critics Poll.'

In 1978, the band released "Return to Magenta." Also produced by Jack Nitzsche, the album continued in the same vein as "Cabretta", only it included strings. Dr. John played keyboards and, once again, Steve Douglas played sax. Mink DeVille toured the United States in 1978 with Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe.

"Le Chat Bleu"

In 1979, Willy DeVille took his band in a new direction and recorded an entirely original record in Paris called "Le Chat Bleu." The Rolling Stone Critic's Poll ranked "Le Chat Bleu" the fifth best album of 1980, and music historian Glenn A. Baker declared it the tenth best rock album of all time. '(Willy DeVille) created a record that sounded like nothing that had come before...,? wrote Alex Halberstadt. 'It was clear that Willy had realized his fantasy of a new, completely contemporary Brill Building record. To the symphonic sweetness of the Drifters he added his own Gallic romance and, in his vocal, a measure of punk rock's Bowery grit.?

DeVille wrote three songs for the album with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame songwriter Doc Pomus. He hired Jean Claude Petit to supervise string arrangements, and he dismissed the members of the band except for guitarist Louis X. Erlanger in favor of new musicians, including accordionist Kenny Margolis and members of Elvis Presley's rhythm section, bassist Jerry Scheff and drummer Ron Tutt. Steve Douglas produced the album and played saxophone.

Capitol Records believed that American audiences would not warm to a record featuring accordions and strings. Said percussionist Boris Kinberg, 'Capitol in the U.S. didn't know what to do with it because they perceived Willy as this punk rocker from CBGBs and he came back from Paris with a very different kind of record. They didn't understand the record, but they understood it in Europe. They released it immediately in Europe and everybody loved it.'

Capitol released "Le Chat Bleu" in Europe in 1980, and after it sold impressively in America as an import, finally released it in the United States in 1981.

The Atlantic Years

By 1981, no members of the original Mink DeVille save Willy DeVille remained in the band, but DeVille continued recording and touring under the Mink DeVille moniker. 'I had band problems, manager problems, record company problems,' DeVille told the "New York Times." 'And yeah, I had drug problems. Finally I got a new recording contract, with Atlantic, and a new manager. I cleaned up my act. I figured that since playing music with people I was friends with didn't seem to work out, I would hire some mercenaries, some cats who just wanted to play and get paid. And those guys turned out to be more devoted to the music than any band I ever had. They're professional, precise, but they're full of fire, too.'

DeVille recorded two albums for Atlantic, 1981's "Coup de Grâce" (produced by Jack Nitzsche) and 1983's "Where Angels Fear to Tread." Both albums featured saxophonist Louis Cortelezzi and had a full-throated Jersey Shore sound that evoked Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny. Wrote critic Thom Jurek about these albums:(Both) are truly solid albums—despite lukewarm reviews at the time—showcasing much of Willy's theatrical personality and his own desire to provide for the elements of fantasy in rock music that the early rockers and doo-woppers did in the 1950s and 1960s (and that Piaf and Brel did in France). Rootsy, hook-laden rock, iconic balladry, and the theater of aural experience were all contained in songs that offered the illusion that one could still find acted out under a streetlamp-lit stage, in front of a trashcan bonfire, narrated by one costumed in the decadent attire of a Euro-trash lothario-cum-stiletto-carrying 1950s gang banger... They captivate a listener in the same way a great period film would—they tell an epic story in a few minutes and capture all of its life and death drama.

Mink DeVille's last record, "Sportin' Life," was recorded for Polydor in 1985. For this record, DeVille penned two more songs with Doc Pomus ('Something Beautiful Dying' and 'When You Walk My Way'). The record was recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Willy DeVille would record his next album, "Miracle," under his own name, not under the name of his old band Mink DeVille. David Wild of "Rolling Stone" praised "Sportin' Life," calling it 'the most modern, polished sound of (Willy DeVille's) career.' He added, 'Pushed to center stage, DeVille delivers, singing with more passion and more personality than ever before.' After "Sportin' Life", DeVille dropped the 'Mink' moniker and began recording under his own name.

?The Mink DeVille Band?

On playbills and on live albums such as "Willy DeVille Live" (1993) and "Acoustic Trio Live in Berlin" (2003), Willy DeVille's backup band was sometimes called 'The Mink DeVille Band,? an allusion to the earlier Mink DeVille. Some musicians who backed up Willy DeVille in The Mink DeVille Band played and toured with him for decades. Bass player Bob Curiano, for example, backed up Willy DeVille in his 1981 and 2007 European tours. As well, musicians who played in The Mink DeVille Band sometimes played on Mink DeVille and Willy DeVille albums. These members of different Mink DeVille Bands played with Willy DeVille for ten years or more:

"Guitar:" Ricky Borgia, Freddy Koëlla (also plays violin and mandolin)

"Bass:" Bob Curiano, David Keyes

"Percussion:" Boris Kinberg

"Drums:" Shawn Murray

"Piano, accordion:" Seth Farber, Kenny Margolis

"Saxophone:" Louis Cortelezzi, Mario Cruz

"Background vocals:" Billy Valentine, John Valentine, Dorene Wise, Yadonna Wise


1977: "Cabretta" (in Europe); "Mink Deville" (in the U.S.) (Capitol)

1978: "Return to Magenta" (Capitol)

1980: "Le Chat Bleu" (Capitol)

1981: "Coup de Grâce" (Atlantic)

1983: "Where Angels Fear to Tread" (Atlantic)

1985: "Sportin' Life" (Polydor)

External links

(The Official Willy DeVille Website)

(Cover and Artwork)

(Rock Around the World Interview by Dusti Rhodes)

(Trouser Press: Willy DeVille)


This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article about Mink DeVille.