Willie Nile (born Robert Anthony Noonan on June 7, 1948) is an American singer-songwriter, and musician. In 1980 Nile released his self-titled debut album which according to one critic remains “one of the most thrilling post-Byrds folk-rock albums of all time”. His career was interrupted by legal problems with his record company, but he eventually returned to recording and performing in the US and Europe, establishing himself as a respected songwriter and live-wire rocker.
Born and raised in Buffalo, NY, Nile came from a musical family—his grandfather was a vaudeville pianist who played with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Eddie Cantor; his uncles played boogie-woogie. His listened to the music of Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and Fats Domino, brought home by his older brothers. Nile himself began playing piano at age eight and took classical music lessons until he was a teenager, when he taught himself his first rock & roll song. He soon began to compose short songs and continued the habit into his college years, when during the summers he made trips into New York City to frequent hootenanny clubs like Folk City and the Gaslight.
Nile studied philosophy at the University at Buffalo where he received a BA in 1971, before heading for Greenwich Village. After graduation, Nile took an apartment in the heart of Greenwich Village; however, during his first winter in New York, he contracted pneumonia, which put him out of commission for about a year. He continued writing songs while recuperating, determined to make a name for himself as a latter-day troubadour. That he did throughout the ’70s, becoming a fixture in the Village folk and rock scenes and getting tabbed as the next big thing to come out of that long-thriving artistic community.
He began hanging out at clubs like CBGB’s, where he would see bands like Patti Smith, Television, the Ramones and Talking Heads.
Establishing residency at the Village club Kenny’s Castaways on Bleecker St., Nile began drawing ever-growing crowds, which in turn led to his first record deal. In a glowing review in The New York Times, rock critic Robert Palmer wrote of Nile; "Every once in awhile the times seems to produce an artist who is at once an iconoclast and near-perfect expression of contemporary currents. He is one of the best singer-songwriters to emerge from the New York scene in a long time."
Following a flurry of critical acclaim, he found himself courted by representatives from close to a dozen record companies; he chose Arista Records, and went into the studio with a band that included Jay Dee Daugherty from the Patti Smith Group. More rave reviews compared the singer to Bob Dylan and Buddy Holly, and called him "a one-man Clash." The excitement surrounding his self-titled debut album, Willie Nile, prompted Pete Townshend to request Willie’s presence on the Who ‘s summer tour. Nile and his band were soon on the road with The Who, only a few months after Willie’s first experience playing with a band. After two acclaimed albums, the self-titled 1980 debut and 1981’s Golden Down, Nile fell prey to protracted legal problems which derailed his career for a number of years.
Although he continued to write, Nile did not perform live or record again until a 1987 performance in Oslo, Norway, with Eric Andersen. A videotape of Nile’s performance in Norway prompted a Columbia talent scout to sign him to the label in 1988, but production on his album didn’t start for two more years. Issued in 1991, His Columbia Records CD Places I Have Never Been contained the songs "Everybody Needs A Hammer" and "Heaven Help The Lonely." Places I Have Never Been featured appearances by backing musicians including Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III, Roger McGuinn, and members of the Hooters and the Roches. His 1992 EP release, Hard Times in America, became a favorite among some listeners in Europe.
Nile has recorded and performed with many musicians, including Ringo Starr, Tori Amos, Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, Ian Hunter, and Barenaked Ladies. A live Central Park concert album, Willie Nile-Archive Alive, was released on Archive Recordings, and Nile was one of the vocalists on the ensemble album Largo, along with Joan Osborne, Cyndi Lauper, Levon Helm, The Chieftains, Taj Mahal and Carole King. Another project found Nile writing and performing most of the songs for the soundtrack to the Kevin McLaughlin film Pinch Me!
In the fall of 2003, Nile was invited to share the stage at three concerts with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, including the two final Giants Stadium shows.
“Nile’s defining quality is his charismatic spirit. It’s a passion and enthusiasm that is infectious and earned Nile the admiration of fans and peers alike.” From Shea to the clubs and concert halls of Europe, "his live performances are legendary.
* 1980 – Willie Nile
* 1981 – Golden Down
* 1991 – Places I Have Never Been
* 1999 – Beautiful Wreck of the World
* 2006 – Streets of New York
* 2009 – House Of A Thousand Guitars
* 2010 – The Innocent Ones
* 1997 – Live in Central Park – Archive Alive!
* 2007 – Live at Turning Point
* 2008 – Live From the Streets of New York
Gathering together his resources over time, he put out his first self-released album, Beautiful Wreck of the World, in 1999. It was chosen as one of the Top Ten Albums of the Year by critics at Billboard Magazine, The Village Voice and Stereo Review. Lucinda Williams called "On the Road to Calvary," Nile’s song for Jeff Buckley, "One of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard." The album reached the finals of the Independent Music Awards for Best Rock Album of the Year.
In 2006, Nile released Streets of New York, which some consider to be his best work to date, due to quality production and clever songwriting. Former Time magazine music critic and Academy Award winning screenwriter Jay Cocks writes of Streets of New York, "The tunes he writes and plays with such blowtorch vibrancy get the myth and magic and danger and sadness and love in this town–of this town–truer, and righter, than anything I’ve heard since Dion. This record is a head-twister and heart-wrencher. It’s rock and roll at its best. It’s New York at its best. And there’s nothing better than that."
House Of A Thousand Guitars was released on April 14, 2009.
On September 30, 2009, at his show at Giants Stadium in E. Rutherford, NJ, Bruce Springsteen invited Nile on stage to play with the E Street Band.
In addition, on November 22, 2009 Bruce Springsteen again invited him onstage to play the second last song of Springsteen’s final concert of his tour, which was in Willie’s hometown of Buffalo at HSBC Arena. Nile joined Springsteen and the E Street Band for the cover of Jackie Wilson’s "Higher and Higher".
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