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A Thank You To Willy DeVille

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It was on May 17 that I received the e-mail that broke my heart. Willy DeVille's wife Nina wrote to let me know that Willy had been diagnosed with Stage Four Pancreatic cancer. At the time she had asked me to keep it to myself, but as she's since gone public with the information at Willy's website I'm free to talk about it. We knew Willy was sick earlier in the year, but at the time the doctors thought it was Hepatitis C, and it was only when they were testing him, prior to beginning treatment, they discovered the cancer. It doesn't look like there's much they can do for him aside from ensuring his comfort, and Nina assures me that they have hospice people in making sure he's not feeling too much pain and that he's being well looked after.

I came to know Willy outside of his music first back in 2006 when I interviewed him (Part one and part two ) for the site just after the release of his first ever DVD Live In The Lowlands and his first studio recording in a number of years, Crow Jand Alley. It was an amazing experience as we talked for well over two hours about art, music, and life. If there was ever a performer who had every right to be bitter it is Willy, as his music career has been marked by record company stupidity and indifference. Capitol, his first label, didn't know what to do with his music – in fact they shelved Le Chat Blue, an album Rolling Stone called the fifth best of 1980, and music historian Glenn A Baker has called the tenth best rock album of all time, until sales of the French import version became so high they were embarrassed into releasing it.

Yet, in spite of a career where stuff like that was the norm, and a personal life marked by hardship and sadness (his second wife committed suicide and overcoming addictions) he still retained his passion and love for music and life. I had a great time with Willy, but I figured that was the end of that, and I would treasure the memories of that conversation for the rest of my life. However, in December of 2007 I received an e-mail from the German edition of Rolling Stone asking me if I was interested in updating the original interview for publication in their February 2008 edition. They were planning a special feature on Willy prior to a mini tour of Europe he was doing that spring to publicize his 2008 release Pistola. Instead of merely updating the interview I took the opportunity to get in touch with Willy again and do a whole new interview (part one and part two) which I then combined with the first, and wrote a couple of side bar articles, all of which ended up in the magazine. When combined with photos the special "Willy DeVille" section ended up being around fifteen pages long.

So Willy was responsible for my first paying writing gig, and it was a big one. He and Nina were really happy with what I had written, and we've been keeping in touch since then. In fact, Nina was able to direct some more work my way by recommending me for the job of writing the liner notes for a new DVD of Willy's, Live At Montreux in '94. Coincidentally, it was only shortly there after that I was offered the contract to write the book I have coming out this fall. I wrote Nina and told her that she and Willy were my good luck charms as the DVD liner notes had led to bigger and better wealth.

It was shortly after that we were writing a press announcement about Willy having to cancel his touring and recording plans for 2009 because of having to be treated for Hepatitis C. Unfortunately, all that's changed for the worse now, and when Nina contacted me in May it was to ask if I would write something for after he went, and I still will do that. However, I wanted to do something for him while he was still alive that would let him know what he's meant to people all over the world and how much his music has impacted those who've listened and appreciated what he offered.

Willy released sixteen albums either under his own name or under the Mink DeVille banner; there have also been fourteen compilation albums of his material released by various labels around the world; four DVDs of concerts that he performed; and at least three live albums that I know of, including the great Willy DeVille Acoustic Trio recording Live In Berlin, which featured some of the most soulful music you'll ever hear. His music has been used in three movies including Princess Bride (for which he garnered an Academy Award nomination for the song "Storybook Love"), Cruising, and Death Proof; and he's appeared on tribute albums for people as diverse as Edith Piaf and Johnny Thunders.

According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland Ohio, for a performer to be considered for induction it must have been at least twenty-five years since they released their first recording and they must have made a significant contribution to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll. Well as far as I can see Willy meets all those criteria as his first recording was released in 1977 and he's been producing some of the best, and most soulful, rock and roll ever since. His album of New Orleans music, Victory Mixture, alone should qualify him for the job it did in bringing the music of that city to a whole new audience in North America and Europe.

Yet for some reason, while his contemporaries from CBGBs, the Ramones, have been inducted, Willy DeVille has not. In an attempt to redress this inequity and in an effort to create a lasting memorial to his great talent, I've started a petition asking that Willy be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame. If you're interested in supporting this effort please sign the petition and ensure that this great singer and songwriter is not forgotten after he's gone.

While this hardly seems adequate when compared to how much enjoyment Willy has provided people over the years with his music it's at least a tangible way to show our appreciation. It's a start anyway, and perhaps, like many other artists before him, his reputation will continue to grow after he's no longer with us and more and more people will come to know, what I've known for years, just how special he is. It's only a pity that it will mean him being taken away from us for him to receive the appreciation he deserves. In a perfect world he'd still be with us and be able to show up for his own induction ceremony.

I know that I would trade all the signatures in the world for the chance to see him perform live, or even to hear his voice coming down through my telephone wire a year from now, but barring a miracle neither of those events are going to be happening. My heart is a lot heavier these days knowing Willy is not going to be with us for much longer, and while this effort won't keep him around, it's a start in saying thanks. I'm not ready to say good bye yet so thanks will have to do for now.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • Jadranko

    Never seen this story before and glad I finally found this site. Thanks a lot for this. Willy will certainly be remebered by his unique music full of soul and heart!

  • Peter

    Growing up as a young kid in Australia and hearing “Mixed up,shook up girl” and the emotion that Willie’s voice conveyed and continues to ignite emotion in me now, is something that i treasure every time i listen his music.A truly underrated artist who has passed, but who will never be forgotten. R.I.P Willy.

  • laurie

    i just found out today. i’ve been crying and listening to willy all day. his music has got me though the hardest times of my life and i will miss him terribly. i feel like i’ve lost an old friend. in my opinion he is be greatest artist of the 20th century. rip willy, you are loved.

  • jim

    since 1977 willies music has touched me more then anyone else he will be missed I HOPE the rock and roll hallof fame has a place for him he was so under rated i”ve seen him several times in N.Y.C

  • JJ

    I’m hoping this is a nasty rumor. Don’t go Willy.

  • marci Weber

    Willy, Willy, Willy…..i first started that chant when i was lucky enough to be one of the folks at his booking agency that saw what you saw…..he was fine, fine..as soulful as otis and sang his heart out and gave it all…. he was a troubled soul with many demons, but as the great artists before him, he found a way to channel his pain through his art…..omg….he was the best, bruce springsteen and jon bon jovi and bono were his early fans….and they all found him to be inspirational….. he was a should have been to the end….he should have been all of the things he wished for… i am so sad that i will never see him again, but I will dig up that bad quality video from the Savoy performance and cherish it forever. i am sorry for Nina who stood by him in some of the most difficult days of his life…after New Orleans and on and on. I am sad for his son, who I am hoping was with him in the last days, I will miss him and count my blessings that i was touched by greatness

  • yeah, i can’t talk either. willy was a friend from the french quarter. i’m just reading everything online right now

  • What a shocking loss. I, too, am gobsmacked today and am taking solace in his words and music – as I always have done. It’s just going to be a little lonelier from now on.RIP Willy Mink Deville.

  • Nancy

    Very nice article, and it is so, so sad. I just love still to this day listening to the old stuff, the Mink DeVille days, and in the things he has done since, he has shown such talent and diversity in his music. I would hope that the powers that be will recognize this. I wish I could tell him myself how much I will miss him. 🙁

  • sam hubbell

    It’s the summer of 1979 in a sweltering Chicago record store. I’m looking for a Led Zepplin album and pull “Return To Magenta” mistakenly placed there in the “Z” bin. Completley puzzled by who this pencil thin mustached, pompadour wearing gentleman is. I impulse buy it and change my life forever. The voice had such emaculate soul and swagger it awoke an untapped emotional part of my young heart I previously couldn’t understand. Thank you Willy Deville for a lifetime of being there to walk us thru the fine art of romance, weather the pitfalls of human tragedy, and teach all of us to how to love, respect and embrace the angelic qualities of a woman. My thoughts and prayers are with him. Thank You Richard for championing this most honorable man.

  • lindajean

    richard, it is with great joy and sadness that i found this article, i’m a great fan and friend of willy’s as a matter of fact 28 years ago today i had my first daughter and as i nursed her in the hospital wnew-fm was playing “little girl” it became my song for both my daughters the last time willy played at bb kings we went backstage and i introduced him to my daughter and told him the story, he proceeded to sing a doc pomus song that he thought was better! i’ve been talking with nina also and brought over some old video’s that i had tranferred to dvd for willy to enjoy, one of which is “from the olympia to the bottom line”. i have many stories, meeting willy was like meeting sinatra for me i love him and his music and i agree he deserves to have some props while he is here to enjoy them.

  • Ilise

    I have been a fan of Willy Deville since 1975. I have seen him in concert many times over the years. He is an amazing artist & truly understated. I will miss him terribly & he & his music were a big influence on my life.

  • Mick Leonard

    I grew up with Willy in his real hometown (Stamford.CT) and listened to and played music with him since we were in our teens. We had lost touch in recent years but I followed his career
    and was always pleased to hear his latest work and puzzled by the fact that he is not much more famous.I am very sad to hear of his illness and he and his family are in my prayers. He is and always will be a great voice and a unique talent…

  • SpanishStroll

    Thanks Richard, as always, for helping to bring Willy’s music to the attention of the general public. I’ve been updating his Wikipedia pages for the past couple of years, and lately I’ve been posting audio samples of his music on Wikipedia. Anybody with a sophisticated ear for American roots music can understand what an extraordinary and creative genius Willy DeVille is.

  • Annelore

    Very good article. It shows everything of a great music man. I have seen him live 6 times in Austria and Germany, he was so great and I have 3 white roses, like a treasure. Thank you Willy! Your concerts were highlights in my life!!! I will pray that I can see you again to listen to your great music! Please fight again cancer!

  • JC Mosquito

    I only ever heard one album of his -Loup Garou – but it was very good, and always wondered why he wasn’t more popular. A pretty good talent for sure.

  • A truly lovely piece. A fan since the early days, I’m saddened to hear of his ill health.

    Thank you, Richard.