(commentary & copyright
1996-2004 Eric Predoehl. All rights reserved.)
Even if this man never wrote "LOUIE LOUIE," he should
go down in history as one of the true pioneers in American
rhythm & blues, as one of the great songwriters, singers,
and "musical utility men." As a songwriter, he created
some great hits for The Kingsmen, Etta James,
Louis Prima, The Sonics, and many others. As
a singer, often singing bass and tenor in the same song, he
inspired many to emulate his style, including Barry White,
who performed an incredible version of "LOUIE LOUIE"
on his BEWARE album. He is listed as one of Frank
Zappa's inspirations on the ground-breaking FREAK
OUT debut album by the Mothers of Invention. He is
one of the great underdogs in the American music story. He
is Richard Berry, and he deserves your attention.
Richard Berry was born on April 11, 1935 in Extension,
Louisiana. When he was one year old, he was brought to Los
Angeles, where he lived most of his life. As a child, he had
an injury to his hips, and used crutches until the age of
six, when he had corrective surgery. His first musical venture
was the ukulele, which he learned at a summer camp for crippled
children. At Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, California,
Richard Berry was a respected member of the local doo-wop
music community that included Jesse Belvin, Cornel
Gunter, Young Jessie, Curtiss Williams and
Gaynel Hodge, among others. One of the first groups
he joined was harmony group known as the Flamingos.
Later, Richard joined a group that became known as the
Flairs, and was involved with a variety of different musical
projects, recording for Dolphin's of Hollywood (unintentionally-
but that's a story in itself), Modern Records,
Flair Records, and Flip Records. He provided
the uncredited lead vocal for the original recording of Leiber
and Stoller's "Riot In Cell Block #9" with the
Robins, which later evolved into the Coasters.
He also contributed the male counterpart voice for Etta
James' recording of "Roll With Me, Henry" (a
song with its own share of controversial innuendoes), which
was written as an answer to Hank Ballard's "Work
With Me, Annie."
The original "LOUIE LOUIE" was written in 1955 by
Richard Berry and released as a single in 1957 on Flip Records.
Recorded with the Pharaohs, Richard created a catchy,
somewhat calypso diddy that was originally intended as the
B-side for his recording of "You Are My Sunshine."
At the time that Richard Berry released "LOUIE LOUIE,"
he was ready to expand his musical horizons from his doo-wop
musical roots. As a founding member of the Flairs, he had
various degrees of success with his recordings on Modern Records.
When he was offered the opportunity to record on Flip Records,
he was trying out a new sound, playing with a local Latin
rhythm and blues band known as (Rick Rillera &) The
Rhythm Rockers. Inspired by certain Latin rhythms, Berry
wrote his creation on a napkin backstage between musical sets,
and waited a year before recording the song that would eventually
become the world's greatest party song.
Although Berry's version was a moderate success in the Los
Angeles area, he wound up selling the publishing rights before
the song had run its course to pay for his wedding to Dorothy
Adams. Yet somehow, instead of fading into obscurity,
"LOUIE LOUIE" was adopted by countless American
bar bands and became especially popular in the Pacific Northwest
Years later, he discovered he made a mistake by prematurely
selling the publishing rights for the song that would later
be adopted as "the universal party song." With the
help of an organization by the name of Artists Rights Enforcement,
Richard Berry was able to recover some of his publishing rights
in 1986. In 1992, "LOUIE LOUIE" was sold to Windswept
Pacific, a publishing company based in Beverly Hills,
and Richard Berry received a substantial payment.
In 1983, he traveled to KFJC, a college radio station
based in Los Altos Hills, California, where a marathon took
place to celebrate the massive impact of this song. Titled
"Maximum Louie Louie," this event marked the first
time Richard Berry had ever met any member of the Kingsmen,
as Jack Ely, the original vocalist, flew down from
Oregon for this special occasion. Heavily promoted by a very
ambitious all-volunteer staff, this event was covered by national
and international media, and lasted for 63 hours, with over
800 different versions of the song.
Prior to this particular event, Richard Berry received very
little acknowledgment for his musical legacy. Soon afterwards,
he was bombarded with requests for interviews, and performances
around the country. As Richard received recognition as an
internationally renown musician, financially successful after
many years of struggling in the music circuit, he continued
to live in his old neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles,
working within his community to make it a better place. He
continued to perform shows around the country, but had cut
back considerably after a heart aneurysm operation in December
For the first time in over thirty-five years, Richard Berry
got together with his old band-mates The Pharaohs for
a special benefit that also featured another one of his back-up
bands, The Dreamers. The event was a benefit performance
for the Doo Wop
Society of Southern California, and took place on
February 24, 1996 at the Petroleum Club in Long Beach.
This is a photograph of Richard
Berry & the Pharaohs, backstage at the Petroleum Club
on February 24, 1996. From the left, we have: Eugene Maye,
Richard Berry, Robert L. Harris, and Godoy
Colbert. (Photo by Eric Predoehl, all rights
Richard Berry left this world on January 23, 1997. He died
in his sleep at his home in Los Angeles.
This is still a work-in-progress,
and corrections, suggestions, and similar thoughts are greatly
appreciated. If you have some of
these records, and would like to find a new home for them,
by all means, send an email!
This material was assembled
by ERIC PREDOEHL with the help of articles within Goldmine,
Record Collector, and the supportive words of the man himself,
Mr. RICHARD BERRY. All rights reserved.
Eric Predoehl is currently producing a documentary on the
song LOUIE LOUIE, and the man who wrote, Mr. Richard Berry.