"Louie, Louie" by the Kingsmen, the undisputed garage-rock hit song of all time, was still charting nationwide that first week in February 1964 when the Beatles landed at Kennedy Airport. Although the Beatles were spearheading a major British Invasion of America's radio airwaves, the Kingsmen successfully held their own. Between 1963 and 1967, at least 11 of the Kingsmen's singles and 5 of their LPs made Billboard magazine's charts.
These discs were a non-stop series of some of the loudest, rawest, and funnest rockin' radio hits ever. The Kingsmen emerged from their Portland, Oregon garage in 1959, around the same time that the world was first being introduced to the developing Northwest Rock Sound. The Seattle/Tacoma based combos; the Waiters, the Frantics, Little Bill & the Bluenotes, and the Ventures each scored on the national charts with their debut releases. The Kingsmen originally formed as a 4-piece unit: Jack Ely, (vocals/guitars), Lynn Easton, (drums), Mike Mitchell, (guitar), Bob Nordby, (bass) They performed popular standards and their favorite raunchy Top-40 tunes at local supermarket grand openings and school sockhops.
In the fall of '62, the Kingsmen lured Don Gallucci, keyboards), away from another Portland band, Gentleman Jim & the Horsemen. Just prior to this, Ely acquired a copy of "Louie, Louie" by the Wallers, a cover of Richard Berry's 1956 underground R&B hit. This version featured the Waller's raving vocalist, Rockin' Robin Roberts, (with his patented "yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah's..."), and it raced up the charts in 1961 on KJR. Seattle's then-mighty rock 'n' roll radio station. That achievement and the disc's five digit sales figures offered simple statistical evidence of the Pacific Northwest region's undying fondness for the song. It also bolstered the local tradition for rockin' R&B combos to feature the song nightly at dances.
The Kingsmen adopted it and began employing the song as an extended showstopper finale. When a local disc jockey, Ken Chase, hired the Kingsmen to open his new teen club, The Chase, and noticed the young crowd's wild reaction to "Louie, Louie", he booked the band into a downtown Portland studio. "Louie, Louie" and an original instrumental number, "Haunted House", were cut quickly in March 1963 for thirty-eight legendary dollars.
When DJ's at station KISN in Portland began broadcasting this "Louie, Louie," Seattle record mogul Jerry Dennon took notice and signed the boys up, releasing their first single on his fledgling Jerden label. Such was the early '60's Northwest teendance scene, that many of the working combos shared a core of the same songs in their sets. So, it made perfect sense for a crosstown rival band, Paul Revere & the Raiders, to enter that very same studio, that very same week, in order to record their version of "Louie, Louie." These two bands battled it out on Portlands charts all through that summer.
The Kingsmen's chaotic version with it's manic lead guitar solo, insane cymbal crashes, generally slurred and unintelligable lyrics, as well as that famous faffed third verse, rose to about #20. The Raider's good, though comparatively tame, sax-based rendition went on to get them signed as the firci rock n' rot! group on Columbia Record's talent roster. Eastca meanwhile had been devising other schemes; he had secretly recistered himself as the legal owner of the Kingsmen's name and he nac aiso taken up the saxophone. Finally at a rehearsal in late August, he dropped his bombshell; he would now be taking over as their frontman/vocalist.
Needless to say, the guys were stunned. It was, however, a bloodless coup as both Ely and Nordby opted to quit and Gary Abbott, (drums), and Norm Sundholm, (bass), were recruited from local bands. Only weeks later, Easton was phoned by some college students in the deep south who were curious about the garbled lyrics within "Louie, Louie" and they wondered whether it was true that they could be deciphered if slowed down to 33 1/3 RPM.
The Kingsmen were initially humored by these outlandish rumors, but before long the news networks were filing reports from New Orleans, Florida, Michigan and elsewhere about an American public nearly hysterical over the possible dangers of this record. When ace Boston DJ, Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsburg of station WMEX, received word that the Governor of Illinois was preparing to ban it, he immediately set the tune into heavy rotation on his show. He apparently reasoned that it might not appear proper if the song were to be outlawed in another area before staid ol' Boston could have its chance.
The New York based R&B label, Wand Records, jumped in, reissued the disc, and 21,000 copies were sold that first week in Boston alone. As "Louie, Louie" began to saturate every radio market a frenzy began building, the rumor mills were working overtime, and ugly record burning incidents reportedly occurred. A congressional subcommittee took an interest, the FBI payed the band a visit, and both Ely and Berry ended up being summoned by the FCC to make statements regarding the song's lyrical content. "Louie, Louie" entered the Billboard charts in November '63, charted for 16 weeks (resting in the Nation's #1 position for two solid weeks), and would go on to sell probably 10 million copies worldwide.
The Kingsmen embarked in late December on a whirlwind three week tour for the William Morris Agency. Soon after returning home, Abbott was replaced by Dick Peterson and Barry Curtis joined because Gallucci was stuck in high school and wasn't free to tour. By the spring of '64, various concert promoters were urging Ely to form his own Kingsmen because Easton's crew was experiencing a bit of trouble on the road; people had begun to question whether Easton's was the same voice as the hit record. Jack Ely and his Kingsmen began booking shows but eventually the two groups would end up facing off in court.
A settlement was reached: Ely would desist from making further bookings as the Kingsmen, but any future pressings of 'Louie Louie" would have to credit Ely as the vocalist, and Easton was bar rec from lip-syncing to Ely's original vocal on TV appearances. In March 1964, the Kingsmen's second single, a cover of Barret: Strong's 1960Top-40 smash "Money" was released, and it charted foil weeks. The Kingsmen began four years of endless concerts, roac tours, dances, and appearances on all the teen set TV shows: Shindig. Hullaballoo, Shlvaree, Shebang, Where The Action Is, and others.
They also performed the title track and the tough "Give Her Lovin'" in what was perhaps the zaniest of Annette's surf in' flicks, How To Stuff A Wild Bikini. In January '65, the Kingsmen's fifth single, "The Jolly Greer Giant," a novelty tune based on a well-known frozen vegetable company's popular animated trademark character, created yet another mild controversy. "The Jolly Green Giant," boosted by all the attending publicity, charted for 12 weeks, peaked at the Nation's #4 spot, and became the Kingsmen's second best seller.
The disc's flipside, "Long Green," became a regional standard that was covered by numerous Northwest bands and, in fact, Jimmy "Sugar Shack" Gilmer & The Fireballs created a minor national hit version of it in 1969. Don & The Gopdtimes, Gallucci's newly formed band, burst out in '65 with a scorching original, "Little Sally Tease," a song that the Kingsmen promptly covered with a fullblown studio effort. "Little Latin Lupe Lu" ('64), "Death Of An Angel" ('64), one of their contributions to the dance-craze-of-the-week fad, "The Climb" ('65), and other hits kept the Kingsmen charting regularly through November 1967.
The Kingsmen experienced further personnel changes, brought in new producers, and booked recording sessions in Hollywood. By this time, the era's psychedelic influences began to shade some of their recordings: "I Guess I Was Only Dreaming," "Just Before The Break Of Day." These final Wand label releases were, perhaps, just a little too experimental and did not meet with the same massive commercial success that the Kingsmen's previous teen R&B outings had. The Kingsmen finally abdicated their throne in 1968 and went into a self-imposed musical exile.
Meanwhile, "Louie, Louie," the song that couldn't be stopped, made a remarkable re-entry onto the Billboard charts for a couple of weeks in mid-1966 and Jack Ely & The Courtmen, now signed to a major label, released spirited rewrites such as "Louie, Louie '66," and "Love That Louie." The phenomenal impact of the Kingsmen's classic cut remains undiminished and its legend grows. In the 1978 movie Animal House, the late John Belushi gave a memorable performance leading a debauched frathouse party in a hilarious slurred sing-a-long with the Kingsmen's record. Then in 1979, the English Mod group, The Who, also paid tribute by including the Kingsmen's "Louie, Louie" in the soundtrack to their film Quadrophenia.
1. Louie, Louie (Richard Berry) - 2:42
2. Money (That's What I Want) (Janie Bradford, Berry Gordy Jr.) - 2:16
3. Little Latin Lupe Lu (Bill Medley) - 2:21
4. Death of an Angel (Daniel Woods, Dori Woods) - 2:30
5. The Jolly Green Giant (Lynn Easton, Don "Sugarcane" Harris, Dewey Terry) - 1:56
6. The Climb (Lynn Easton) - 2:25
7. Annie Fanny (Lynn Easton) - 2:01
8. Give Her Lovin' (Lynn Easton) - 1:44
9. Long Green (Lynn Easton) - 2:30
10.That's Cool, That's Trash (Steve Barri, P.F. Sloan) - 2:15
11.Genevieve (Huey "Piano" Smith) - 2:36
12.Killer Joe (Bob Elgin, Bill Medley, Bert Russell) - 2:15
13.Little Sally Tease (Jim Valley) - 2:55
14.Trouble (Joe Levine, Arthur Resnick) - 2:21
*Jack Ely - Vocals, Guitars
*Lynn Easton - Drums
*Mike Mitchell - Guitar
*Bob Nordby - Bass
*Don Gallucci - Keyboards
*Gary Abbott - Drums
*Norm Sundholm - Bass
*Dick Peterson - Drums
*Barry Curtis - Keyboards
1962-67 The Kingsmen - Louie Louie The Best Of (2008 Repertoire release)
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