The roots of American music, including the blues, R&B, and Cajun music, gave Willy DeVille's (born William Borsey) late-'70s punk band, Mink DeVille, its unique flavor. A quarter of a century later, DeVille continued to blend musical traditions and postmodern intensity. A self-taught guitarist, DeVille found his early inspiration in the blues of John Hammond Jr., Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker. Determined to become a musician, he moved to London in 1971, hoping to latch on with a British band. Frustrated by his lack of success, he returned to the United States. Temporarily settling in San Francisco, he spent most of 1972 developing his stage persona in Bay Area clubs. Returning to New York, DeVille was in the right place at the right time. Forming a band, Dilly DeSade & the Marquis, later renamed Mink DeVille, with bassist Ruben Siguenza and drummer T.R. "Manfred" Allen Jr., he found his roots-oriented rock welcome in the city's burgeoning punk scene. When the independent Omfug label included three of their songs on the multi-artist compilation Live at CBGB's, recorded at the influential New York punk club, their punk connection was assured. With Atlantic acquiring national distribution rights to the album, Mink DeVille became one of the country's top punk bands.
Willy DeVille remained active following the breakup of Mink DeVille in the mid-'80s. His debut solo album, Miracle, was produced in 1987 by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, and included such guests as guitarist Chet Atkins. One tune, "Storybook Love," used in Knopfler's score for the film The Princess Bride, was nominated for an Academy Award. Residing in New Orleans after the early '90s, DeVille featured the city's leading musicians, including Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, and Eddie Bo, on his 1990 album, Victory Mixture. New Orleans-style rhythms remained essential on his 1996 albums Big Easy Fantasy and Loup Garou. Subsequent releases focused on DeVille's live shows. Released in 2001, Live combined performances from the Bottom Line in New York and the Olympia Club in Paris. Acoustic Trio in Berlin, released two years later, featured the accompaniment of Seth Farber (piano, background vocals), Boris Kinberg (percussion), Freddy Koella (guitar, mandolin, vocals), David Keyes (bass, background vocals), and YaDonna Wise (background vocals). In 2003 DeVille returned to New York, and during the following years he continued sporadic touring (predominately in Europe), and released the album Pistola in 2008. Willy DeVille died of pancreatic cancer in New York City in August 2009 at 58 years of age. ~ Craig Harris