Mink DeVille @ The Savoy NYC 9.26.1981
The passion started long before this Saturday night and built quickly over a short period seeing him perform. Like a character stepping out of the West Side Story movie set. With more class. More mystery. More fire. With a group of friends and fellow musicians he cut himself a swath in the landscape of the New York City and international punk scene. At once fierce and foreboding yet romantically vulnerable in his well quaffed street style that became part of his image and magic. In his gold toothed, shark skin suited, narrow tie, purple shirt, ear-ringed, long hair magnificence, he made a place for himself and his band in the New York and international pantheon.
I had photographed Mink DeVille at least two times at the Fast lane. And you all KNOW how much I loved shooting at the Fast lane. With the stage just a foot or more above floor level the immediacy of the bands playing just inches from their fans helped energize any band that played there. You could literally “reach out and touch”. And I often did through the lens of my cameras. With Mink DeVille it was no different. Though I have to say, Willy KNEW when I was and often played to the camera. Or maybe not. Maybe it was just the showman that he was & no matter where I stood, I was going to get great photos. Plus seeing him so many times I kind of knew where to place myself to catch one of his sideward glances—like he was checking over his shoulder for Angels or a shadow in the darkness before stepping back to the mike to deliver the next line.
Willy was an oddity in the punk world. Mink DeVille was one of the original CBGB’s house bands. He and they had an edge. Yet his romanticism and West Side Story street style informed a different—New York—story. And that smile! That Willy half smile half smirk was part of that cool image. And cool he was.
A few months before I saw Willy and the boys at the Savoy, I saw them at local Long Island club: My Father’s Place in Roslyn Long Island (New York). I was still attending school at CW Post Center of Long Island University as a communications and film major at the time. When I saw Willy was playing “down the street” I HAD to go! Beyond wanting to see the band, I was also on a mission. In my time at Post I was doing a LOT of photography. Especially photographing bands live, and Mink DeVille was no exception. I had it in my mind that I was going to get back stage that night and show Willy my work. And I also said it was going to be a “non-working” night for me. I did not bring my cameras. What I did bring were prints of all the shows I had shot of Willy and band, especially the photos of the Fast Lane shows.
When the show was over and the crowd filed out I made my way to the dressing room door. I spoke to the bouncer at the door and explained who I was and that I’d like to show the band my photos. The bouncer spoke to Willy directly & Willy waved me in. I was scared as shit, and excited as hell. Willy said: “You have photos of the band? Let me see.” So I broke out the photos and gave them to Willy. He started flipping through them and literally started FLIPPING OUT! He was like a kid in a candy store with a fist full of dollars to share with his friends. He was running around the room, jumping over couches, to show people the photos and loving every moment. This was no show. He was so excited that he called his manager over and said: “Get this guy’s name and info. I want him at the Savoy show to take photos.” And that’s how it happened.
From that backstage meeting, and Willy’s child-like exuberance I got guest listed to one of the 2 shows that night. The Atlantic record label photographer was going to be there that night and that caused some issues. I almost didn’t get in. I told them WILLY personally asked for me to be there & that’s what got me in. I was able to stand stage left and shoot the show. I had to be careful not to be obtrusive to the front row attendees. So it was a dance to try to get photos and not be a pain in the ass for the fans who paid good money to be there. I had a blast! And the show … was through the roof amazing!
Willy, being a historian and connoisseur of recording artists past, had the a cappella group “The Persuasions” open up for him. I had seen The Persuasions a few times previously open for other bands over many years, but it was so appropriate for Willy to re-expose the world to their vocal wonders at such an auspicious show. Having limited film and funds, I only shot 2 rolls of color film that night and only one photo of The Persuasions (left) … all the rest are of Willy & band. Hope you enjoy.