Willie Nile

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This article is about the musician. For his self-titled debut album, see Willie Nile (album).
Willie Nile
Willie Nile 2010.jpg
Nile performing in 2010
Background information
Birth name Robert Anthony Noonan
Born (1948-06-07) June 7, 1948 (age 68)
Buffalo, New York
Origin Buffalo, New York
Genres Folk, Alternative, Rock
Occupation(s) Singer-Songwriter
Instruments Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Organ, Harmonica
Years active 1976–present
Labels Arista, Columbia, Loud & Proud, 00:02:59 Records
Website WillieNile.com

Willie Nile (born Robert Anthony Noonan on June 7, 1948) is an American singer-songwriter. 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”.[1] His early career was interrupted by various problems, but he eventually returned to recording and performing in the US and Europe, establishing himself as a respected singer-songwriter.

Early life[edit]

Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, 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. He 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 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. He pursued that throughout the 1970s, becoming a regular in the Village folk and rock scenes and getting tabbed by some as the next big thing to come out of that long-thriving artistic community.

He began hanging out at clubs like CBGB, where he would see bands like Patti Smith, Television, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, the Ramones, the Talking Heads, and Blondie.


Early years[edit]

Establishing residency at a Greenwich Village club Kenny's Castaways on Bleecker St., Nile began drawing crowds, which in turn led to his first record deal. In a review in The New York Times, rock critic Robert Palmer wrote of Nile; "Every once in a while 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."[2]

Following a measure of critical acclaim,[3] he had conversations with representatives from several record companies; he was signed by Arista Records, and went into the studio with a band that included Jay Dee Daugherty from the Patti Smith Group. The measure of 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 albums, the self-titled 1980 debut and 1981's Golden Down, Nile was involved with protracted legal problems which, among other things, managed to derail his career for a number of years.

Comparison to Bob Dylan[edit]

Music journalist Lester Bangs criticized Willie Nile in a March 1980 interview for being a musician who copies the mannerisms of more established artists:

We seem to be seeing a million clones of Cheap Trick and now all these Elvis Costellos all over the map, it’s really funny, or a million new Bob Dylans . . . this guy Willie Nile, he has this black shirt buttoned up to the neck and the black leather jacket and the exact haircut and the same guitar and you know, what can you say?[4]


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. For reasons that are unclear, production on his album didn't start for two more years. It was another significant delay in the troubadour’s career. 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.[5] On June 11, 1991 Nile was the guest musician on the Late Night with David Letterman show. His 1992 EP release, Hard Times in America, became a favorite among some listeners in Europe.[citation needed]

Nile has recorded and performed with several 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 1998 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!.[6]

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.[citation needed]

21st Century[edit]

“Nile’s defining quality among his fans is his charismatic spirit. It’s a passion and enthusiasm that is infectious to his fans and earned Nile the admiration of fans and peers alike.”[7] From Shea to the clubs and concert halls of Europe, "his live performances are legendary." to his fans.[8]

In the fall of 2003, Nile was invited to share the stage at three concerts with the E Street Band, including the two final Giants Stadium shows.[9][10]

In 2006, Nile released Streets of New York, which some may consider to be his best work to date, due to its production and 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."[citation needed]

House Of A Thousand Guitars was released to positive reviews on April 14, 2009.

On November 22, 2009, Nile joined the E Street Band for the cover of Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher".[11]

In 2010 Nile released The Innocent Ones which introduced One Guitar, winner of the 2013 Independent Music Awards for Best Social Action Song.[12] L. Kent Wolgamontt of the Lincoln Journal Star named "The Innocent Ones" one of the best rock n roll records of 2011.[13]

The Buffalo News” said that their hometown troubadour's “Streets of New York”, “House of a Thousand Guitars” and “The Innocent Ones”; stand as “three of the finest recordings to ever straddle the worlds of “singer/songwriter” fare and good ol’street-tough rock ‘n’ roll”.[14]

On April 23, 2013 at a ceremony in Leeds, UK, Nile was named Legacy Ambassador for the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation. The Foundation declared: "Whether performing at home on the “Streets of New York,” or appearing in the many countries around the world that he regularly visits, Willie Nile’s brilliant live shows always express passionately and energetically the issues of the day, with meaningful and relevant lyrics that are both thought provoking and uplifting. Willie is one of the great American Troubadours, from the old school of acclaimed singer/songwriters. He is a wonderful artist who follows in the footsteps and traditions of legendary storytellers such as Jimmy Rogers, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan, but like Dylan, Willie went electric a long time ago and also acknowledges and has a real respect and love for the great original music and artists from the Rock n Roll era, especially Buddy Holly." [15]

June 25, 2013, Nile releases his eighth full-length studio album American Ride through Loud & Proud Records.[16] The decision to release American Ride through Loud & Proud Records was unexpected as Nile was originally planning on self-publishing through money raised on PledgeMusic.com. The decision to sign onto a record label occurred after he was approached by Tom Lipsky, president of Loud & Proud Records.[17]

On November 11, 2014 Nile released If I Was a River, a 10 track all piano album, composed by Nile with assistance from his long-time collaborator Frankie Lee. Nile performs on the same Steinway Grand piano that he'd played 34 years earlier on the evening of the death of John Lennon. This release marks a divergence from his usual electric rock and roll roots. “I wanted it to be intimate and reflective, and I wanted to keep it simple and let the songs speak for themselves,” Nile explains.[18]

Carlo Wolff, in the Cleveland Jewish News, refers to Nile along with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen as bards and masters of melody and meaning.[19]

At a surprise appearance at the 2015 Light of Day Benefit in Asbury Park, NJ, Bruce Springsteen joined Nile on stage to perform Nile's One Guitar.[20][21]

On May 28, 2015, at the Best Buy Theatre in Times Square, New York City, Willie joined Bruce Springsteen, Joan Jett, Roger Daltrey and Billy Idol at the 11th annual MusiCares MAP Fund benefit concert to honor Pete Townshend for his commitment to helping other musicians with addictions.[23]

April 1 2016 Willie released "World War Willie "

Band members[edit]

Current members
  • Alex Alexander – drums, percussion
  • Matt Hogan – lead guitar
  • Johnny Pisano – electric and upright bass, backing vocals
Former members
  • Brad Albetta – electric & acoustic Bass
  • Clay Barnes - guitars
  • Jay Dee Daugherty – drums and percussion
  • Peter Hoffman – guitars
  • Rich Pagano – drums, percussion, background vocals
  • Fred Smith – bass
  • Andy York – lead guitar, background vocals


Studio albums[edit]

Live albums[edit]

  • 1997 - Live in Central Park - Archive Alive!
  • 2007 - Live at Turning Point
  • 2008 - Live From the Streets of New York
  • 2011 - Live Hard Times in the UK
  • 2015 - The Bottom Line Archive Live (1980 and 2000)

Extended plays[edit]


  • 2008 - Live From the Streets of New York

Other appearances[edit]

  • 1990 – Acoustic Christmas – We Wish You a Merry Christmas
  • 1991 – Stages: The Lost Album – Electric Guitar, various songs
  • 1995 – Troubadours of Folk, Vol. 5 -- Behind the Cathedral
  • 1998 – Largo – Medallion
  • 2007 - The Sandinista! Project - Police on My Back[24]
  • 2007 - The Dream Jam Band


Independent Music Awards 2013: "One Guitar" - Best Social Action Song[25]


  1. ^ MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide. Dave Okamoto, 1999, pg. 814-815.
  2. ^ Robert Palmer, "New York Times", July 29, 1978.
  3. ^ Busting out of Bleecker Street, Rolling Stone Magazine, August 21, 1980, page 20.
  4. ^ Cousin Creep website
  5. ^ “Richard Skelly, All Music Guide”.
  6. ^ Pinch Me! movie website
  7. ^ Mayer Danzig – Twangville January 10, 2007
  8. ^ Buffalo Music Hall of Fame Induction Notes
  9. ^ Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Tour 2003 Set List
  10. ^ Billboard Magazine October 6, 2003
  11. ^ Goldstein, Stan. "Bruce Springsteen plays the final show of his 2009 tour in Buffalo on Sunday night". NJ.com. Retrieved 16 December 2009. 
  12. ^ "12th Annual Independent Music Awards Winners Announced!" Independent Music Awards, 11 June 2013. Retrieved on 10 Nov. 2015.
  13. ^ Wolgamontt, L. Kent (26 December 2011). "Review: Willie Nile rocks on Innocent Ones". Lincoln Journal Star. Retrieved 10 November 2015. 
  14. ^ Miers, Jeff (March 4, 2011). "Songs of experience". The Buffalo News. Retrieved 2011-03-05. 
  15. ^ Willie Nile named legacy ambassador for the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation
  16. ^ Carey Baker’s Conqueroo
  17. ^ http://washingtonexaminer.com/willie-nile-takes-rock-on-an-american-ride/article/2531362
  18. ^ Harr, Dan (November 6, 2014). "Willie Nile to Release Album of Piano-Based songs Nov 11". Music News Nashville. Retrieved November 9, 2014. 
  19. ^ Wolff, Carlo (December 12, 2014). "Sounds for the season". Cleveland Jewish News. Retrieved December 13, 2014. 
  20. ^ Angermiller, Michele Amabile (January 18, 2015). "Watch Bruce Springsteen Perform at Light of Day 2015 Benefit in New Jersey". Billboard. Retrieved January 20, 2015. 
  21. ^ Volpe, Allie (January 19, 2015). "Bruce Springsteen Plays Surprise Concert in Asbury Park". philly.com. Retrieved January 21, 2015. 
  22. ^ Skelly, Richard (January 23, 2015). "Light of Day Memories". Asbury Park Press. Retrieved January 27, 2015. 
  23. ^ Ives, Brian (May 29, 2015). "Bruce Springsteen, Joan Jett, Roger Daltrey Pay Tribute to Pete Townshend at MusiCares Event". radio.com. Retrieved May 30, 2015. 
  24. ^ Clash, The; Joe Grushecky; Katrina Leskanich; Willie Nile; Ship & Pilot.; Soul Food (Musical group); Sunset Heroes (2004-09-21). The Sandinista! Project A Tribute to the Clash (Compact Disc). England: 00:02:59 Records. OCLC 178980813. 
  25. ^ "12th Annual Independent Music Awards Winners Announced!" Independent Music Awards, 11 June 2013. Retrieved on 4 Sept. 2013.

External links[edit]