‘Devil Woman’ on film

This post is one in a series marking the 30th anniversary of the release of “King King” in 1992. See more at #KingKingXXX

“Devil Woman” continues to be a harrowing high-water classic in The Red Devils’ story.

The tale of a man — caught between life and death? good and evil? — and a tempting “gypsy” is brought to hellish life by Lester Butler and comrades, all of whom received a writing credit for the song. Lester offers a signature harmonica riff, while guitarist Paul Size stings on a razor-sharp solo.

In a 2021 interview with NoFightin.com, Size mentions one hope for the song that did not come true.

“There’s a romance to (‘King King’), of this it, the energy … like it’s great background music to have on at a party or something. I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten picked up for any kind of soundtrack, anything. That’s where that would have been great, like ‘Devil Woman.’ ‘Cause I helped write that.”

There was a time that the movie soundtrack was king of the music industry. In the 1990s, the soundtrack was a critical part of a film’s artistic and commercial success.

Having a song in a hit movie (or a crappy movie with a killer soundtrack) guaranteed a captive audience of potential new fans: Teen girls in ’96 might have flocked to the “Romeo + Juliet” soundtrack for the Cardigans’ “Lovefool,” but now they had a Butthole Surfers song in their collections, too.

The soundtrack for “Pulp Fiction” (1994) is a peak example of an auteur curating his film with oldies, rarities, covers and new songs, all presented in a new context. In some cases, like with “Pulp Fiction,” listening to the soundtrack can feel like watching the movie.

Soundtrack albums made for great samplers, and allowed artists to release music in between official product. It was someplace to dump B-sides or unreleased songs, or experiment with covers or collaborations (maybe best demonstrated on the groundbreaking rap-rock soundtrack for the film “Judgment Night”).

If any song by The Red Devils could have been a hit on rock radio or on a film soundtrack, it was the haunted “Devil Woman.” The song, a trip through the swamp on a coal black night, hellhounds on your trail, is a cinematic junkie fable in its own right.

The Blasters’ success on film in the ’80s and ’90s provides template for how The Red Devils’ film career could have gone.

Opportunities

For many of us, our first introduction to The Blasters was as the house band in Walter Hill’s 1984 cult classic “Streets of Fire,” where they played “One Bad Stud” and “Blue Shadows.”

They also landed spots in 1985’s “To Live and Die in L.A.” (“Red Rose”) and in 1988’s “Bull Durham” (“So Long Baby, Goodbye”). (Baseball-themed movies have been good to roots rock bands: see X’s cover of “Wild Thing” for the comedy “Major League.”)

Even though Tito & Tarantula’s “After Dark” will forever be tied to that Salma Hayek scene, The Blasters’ mean and evil “Dark Night” was chosen as the opening and closing theme song for Robert Rodriguez’s 1996 vampire shoot-out flick “From Dusk Till Dawn.”

“Dark Night” and “Devil Woman” share a lot of the same DNA. Think of them as two wild-eyed cousins who borrow heavily from the same crazy old uncle: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through the Jungle.”

Catching a theme for these films? Pulp, cult, comedy and horror, with a twist of L.A. cool.

‘Sin City’

Nine years after “Dusk,” Rodriguez poured the hard-boiled comic book noir “Sin City” into theaters. That 2005 flick — oozing a sharp black-and-white cool — would have been a perfect place for “Devil Woman” to land.

In a roundabout way, it eventually did.

As part of the “Sin City” production, Rodriguez and star Bruce Willis — both musicians in their own rights — arranged live concerts to blow off steam, generate buzz and give to charity.

One of those shows was filmed and released as a DVD/blu-ray bonus featurette called “Sin City: Live In Concert.” In it, Bruce Willis and his band, The Accelerators (a group that has several ties to the Blasters/Red Devils/California roots and blues scene), perform a stellar rendition of “Devil Woman.”

You’ve probably seen this one on YouTube, as it is Willis at his bloozy best. His vocals are solid, and his harp-playing is outstanding:

Search “Devil Woman” on YouTube, and you are as likely to see this Willis version as you are the original from “King King.” In fact, there are covers and reaction videos that cite Bruce Willis as the original artist!

Fantasy soundtrack

So what movie might have been improved with a visit from the Devils?

We will never know for sure, but we can offer some educated speculation (barring any licensing or legal rights issues that would keep the band from appearing on a soundtrack or compilation on another label).

Soundtracks were at a high in the early to mid-’90s, so let’s pick a movie from 1994.

We are looking for something genre (horror, comedy, pulp, action), something L.A., something cool and/or goth, with a Tarantino or Rodriguez indie vibe … maybe with a pretty girl for whom “Devil Woman” could be a theme song — and ominous warning.

A couple of possible fits can be crossed off right from the beginning: “Pulp Fiction” and “The Crow” would have been likely candidates for the Devils, but their soundtracks were highly curated and would have taken a stroke of massive fortune for the boys to be included. (Maybe it is time to campaign for inclusion on the upcoming “Crow” reboot?)

Here are some other suspects from ‘94:

  • “On Deadly Ground” (though Steven Seagal might have wanted to sit in)
  • “Color of Night” (odd Bruce Willis erotic thriller)
  • “Exit to Eden” (sex farce comedy starring noted blues enthusiast Dan Aykroyd)
  • “Major League II” (see X, above)
  • “Natural Born Killers” (story by Tarantino, tour-de-force performances by Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson)
  • “Shallow Grave” (black comedy; don’t underestimate British awareness and love of The Red Devils)
  • “True Lies” (starting Jamie Lee Curtis and Planet Hollywood’s Arnold Schwarzenegger)
  • “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” (“I met a devil woman / in a dream the other night …”)

I would put my money on a wildcard pick that fits the criteria: “The Mask,” starring Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz, in her breakout role.

It’s a comedy, loosely based on a comic book, with a soundtrack that featured some of California’s finest bands of the 1990s, with a roots and jump flavor.

The Red Devils would not be out of place in the ‘90s on a soundtrack with Fishbone (“Spo-De-Odee”), Royal Crown Revue (“Hey, Pachuco”) and the Brian Setzer Orchestra (“Straight Up”).

And though it changes the scene tremendously, NoFightin.com presents this alternate Cameron Diaz scene as proof-of-concept:


#KingKingXXX

Though we can’t recapture that moment, we can share in our love for “King King” during its 30th year. NoFightin.com will be celebrating all year long with deep dives into the music, the influences and more.

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Published by J.J.

Drums and barbecue ribs. Blues music.

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