Willy DeVille died Aug. 6 of pancreatic cancer. Not that many people made note of it. I certainly didn't know about it until my South Florida correspondent clued me in.
For those who don't know Willy DeVille or ever heard of his band, Mink DeVille, the house band at the New York club where punk music was born, CBGB, you might remember the theme song to that much-loved movie The Princess Bride called Storybook Love. DeVille wrote it and was nominated in 1987 for an Academy Award for that song. He performed it himself on that year's Oscar telecast. The song came from DeVille's first solo album, Miracle, which was produced by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. At the same time, Knopfler was working with director Rob Reiner on The Princess Bride and realized immediately the subject of Storybook Love was the same as the subject of the movie. Knopfler sent the song to Reiner, who loved it.
A year after Storybook Love, DeVille moved to New Orleans and helped invigorate that city's rhythm and blues revival.
Critic Robert Palmer had this to say about DeVille: "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."
Doc Pomus, who with one-time collaborator Mort Shuman, wrote such early rock 'n' roll classics as A Teenager in Love, Save the Last Dance for Me, This Magic Moment, and Viva Las Vegas, and later composed with DeVille, said "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."
DeVille was three weeks shy of 59 years old when he died.