Remembering Willy DeVille
I’m currently revisiting some of my favorite Willy DeVille songs – which remind me of a TV shoot I did with him in New Orleans in 1992, on the event of the German release of his album “Backstreets of Desire” (for the magazine “Das! Das Abendstudio” on the Northern German TV channel NDR). He had moved to the French Quarter around 1990 and recorded the album in the Big Easy (just like 1990’s “Victory Mixture”).
On the night before the shoot, I visited him and his wife Lisa at their home in the Quarter. Instead of doing the usual interview about the album, he suggested that we shoot him doing a tour of his favorite spots in New Orleans.
The following day, we started filming at St. Roch Chapel where the cover photo of “Backstreets of Desire” was taken. For the cover photo, Willy had picked a church dedicated to Saint Roch, the patron saint „against cholera, epidemics, knee problems, plague, skin diseases; [and for] bachelors, diseased cattle, dogs, falsely accused people, invalids, surgeons, tile-makers; gravediggers, second-hand dealers, pilgrims“ (according to Wikipedia).
It has a shrine accessible through a small door on the right side of the altar, filled with marble thank-you tiles, plaster casts of feet, polio braces, eyeballs, plus big spiders and cockroach parts. On the album cover, you can see Willy sitting on the shrine’s floor, surrounded by the above offerings.
Next stop was a street market down at the south end of the French Quarter. Willy instructed us not to shoot the vendors because, according to him, many of them were camera-shy ex-prisoners (“ex” meaning: some of them escaped, instead of being released).
We then moved on to the Voodoo Museum. Willy insisted on entering the museum by himself first, in order to inquire whether it was okay to shoot there. Otherwise, he said, “bad things” could happen to us.
I did the main part of the album interview on the banks of the Mississippi River. Willy started to get tired and cranky at this point, which is why we only visited one final destination – a French Quarter Cajun restaurant serving a spicy soup in a hollowed-out bread loaf.
A little later, I met Willy again at the after-show party of a concert in Cologne (where I lived back then). Maybe due to the tour stress, he appeared to be much less relaxed than I got to know him in New Orleans – which is why I prefer to remember him as tour guide in one of my favorite U.S. cities (New Orleans).