Mink DeVille – Spanish Stroll

8th November 2023 · 1970s, 1977, Music, Punk

One of the great singles from the punk period, Spanish Stroll has nothing much in common with the rest of the CBGBs crowd. But that’s where it came from. And it’s just a classic, with that lazily strummed guitar intro and the spoken word Spanish bit in the middle.

Mink DeVille, led by Willy DeVille (born Billy Borsay) who, with his gold tooth, pencil moustache, snakeskin jacket and cuban heels, looked like a Puerto Rican pimp from central casting, were more of a retro soul band.

To us in London in 1977 Willy seemed the epitome of New York cool. In fact he grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, first tried to form a band in London back in 1971, and eventually succeeded in San Francisco three years later.

They started as a trio with bass guitarist Ruben Siguenza and John Lee Hooker’s old drummer Tom ‘Manfred’ Allen, playing Bay Area leather bars and lounges under a variety of names including Billy DeSade & the Marquis and the Lazy Ace.

A year later they came up with the new name Mink DeVille and moved to New York, Willy acquiring a guitarist Louie X. Erlanger, a keyboard player, Bobby Leonards, and a heroin habit that lasted most of his life.

They got a gig as the house band at CBGBs. I first heard them on the Live At CBGBs compilation album, which placed them firmly at the epicentre of the new scene.

Armed with a record deal with Capitol, they went into the studio with legendary producer Jack Nitzsche and came out with Spanish Stroll, which crept into the Top 20 in the summer of ’77, and a debut album called Cabretta.

Two more albums followed – Return To Magenta and Le Chat Bleu – but the band fell apart as Willy struggled with addiction. Nonetheless, he earned an Oscar nomination for his solo song Storybook Love when it was featured in the film The Princess Bride – and even performed at the ceremony.

Bad luck followed him when he moved to New Orleans and bought a farm in the late 1990s, only for the tax authorities to take the farm, his wife to commit suicide and Willy suffered serious injuries when he drove his car into a truck.

Finally beating addiction, he released a comeback album, Pistola, in 2008, only to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died in August 2009 at the age of only 58.