With his mariachi-flavoured take on ‘Hey! Joe’ high in European charts across late 1992 and early 1993 and his “Backstreets Of Desire” album (now available on Ace) shifting over 300,000 copies, Willy DeVille found himself, after many years of struggle, a genuine star across the Continent. Success brought larger audiences and more extensive tours, something DeVille had long strived for. A tall, striking-looking man who dressed like a 19th Century riverboat gambler with a pencil moustache, long, swept back black hair and extravagantly tailored suits, shirts, shoes and ties, Deville commanded the stage, singing with a rare candour and expressiveness. As he was now playing to new audiences who were largely unaware of his Mink DeVille recordings, his French label FNAC decided to service the new fans with a live hits album.
Philippe Rault, the French producer who had overseen “Backstreets” (and produced ‘Hey! Joe’), took control. He decided on the Bottom Line in New York, so to pay tribute to the city in which DeVille had honed his craft, and the Olympia in Paris, the city that made him a star. With the success of DeVille’s New Orleans recordings (see Ace’s “Willy DeVille In New Orleans” CD), Eddie Bo and three of the Wild Magnolias (Chief “Bo” Dollis, Chief “Monk” Boudreaux and Norwood “Gitchie” Johnson) were invited to join proceedings.
The songs performed range across DeVille’s recording career with only ‘Hey! Joe’ and ‘Bamboo Road’ being from “Backstreets”. His interpretations of ‘Spanish Stroll’ and ‘Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl’ match (and possibly even better) those cut with Jack Nitzsche on Mink DeVille’s debut album “Cabretta”. Freddy Koella, the gifted French guitarist who joined DeVille in New Orleans in 1990 and would stay with him until 2002 (upon which he joined Bob Dylan’s band), led a large ensemble with the Valentines providing backing vocals and the Brass Attack Horns adding a suitably greasy top.
“Live” – subtitled “Greatest Hits ’76-’93” – was released on CD and double vinyl late-1993 to strong sales, especially in France, Spain (where ‘Demasiado Corazon’ was a hit and “Live” topped the album chart), Switzerland, Germany and Holland. In France “Live” received the prestigious Prix de l’Académie Charles-Cros. “Live” was not released in any Anglo-territories – this reissue on Big Beat rescues the album from oblivion (FNAC collapsed in 1994) and finally makes it available to DeVille fans in the English-speaking world. DeVille dedicated “Live” to Steve Douglas, the majestic saxophonist who played on and produced Mink DeVille’s “Return To Magenta” and “Le Chat Bleu” and died in 1993.
Ace’s reissue of “Live” comes with extensive notes featuring interviews with all the surviving principals involved, illustrated with previously unseen photos and memorabilia. The album presents an artist at the height of his powers. Any fan of late-20th Century American music will find much to enjoy here.
By Garth Cartwright