Straddling Lines

Part of the fun and most of the drawback in writing about music is finding comps. Tracing the roots and the blending of styles is a great game, but it tends to rob the artists of their own identities. The more traditional the music the harder it is to escape the trap in print. The J. Geils Band, George Thorogood, ZZ Top – I mean, they were all really popular but not critically respected. Mink DeVille was another, not as successful but they could have been. The big critics hardly wrote about them. Christgau dismissed them with faint praise as genre-mongers, Greil Marcus never heard of them (or the Dolls or the Heartbreakers either, he probably hated Humble Pie and The Stooges too). I don’t think Lester Bangs said anything. Only Robert Palmer ever gave them their due: “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.”

Something very few if any critics ever say: these guys rock. It’s the crucial datum scrupulously avoided.

Mink DeVille was one of the few real rocknroll bands in the early CB’s/Max’s scene. They opened for The Heartbreakers many times and always knocked us out.

As Palmer noted, they straddled genre lines. This song has John Lee Hooker and rockabilly and Aftermath but is a thing of its own. It’s not even their best song but I’ll hear it out every time.


7 thoughts on “Straddling Lines

  1. This isn’t a song Willy wrote, but he didn’t care. The song was the thing, no matter whose song, and this is a great one.

    Thanks Gene, I loved Willy and Toots, we were very good personal friends for a while. And this is a killer tight band, and anyone who didn’t deliver was expunged.

    Willy lived next door to Johnny in New Orleans when Johnny died. He hated most of the CBGB music, but loved Captain Beefheart and the Heartbreakers. Not an actual band, but think about what it might have sounded like.

    Rael, did you ever meet them? You were a little young for an introduction, I suspect.

    • No I never met them but remember hearing about Willie and Toots a lot. I listened to the first record in the Nut Club and must’ve liked it because I bought Le Chat Bleu on my own. Recently found Live In Paris and it brought it all back. I didn’t like the disrespect Costello showed the band in his book.

      • The hatred and disrespect was immediate and mutual between Mink Deville and the Attractions. After those early years being an asshole, Costello realized that his greatest talent was as a collaborator, which is why he now has an unbelievable collection of absolutely great duets in his discography. But that wasn’t going to work any better with Willy than it would with Delaney and Bonnie.

        I just listened to Cabretta while making dinner. It is astoundingly good. More later.

  2. I never knew about the friction. Gee, that’s too bad. Once again we see the Artist’s Feet of Clay. Speaking of feet of clay, I am at this moment digging some Marvin Gaye. Enjoy:

  3. I so regret missing Willy and the band when they came around in the late 70’s. I surely bought their first two records, and dug em both. Love Mix Up Shook Up Girl, and especially Venus from Avenue D. thanks Peter and Gene for dragging the band out and giving them props.

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