by Eric Predoehl
(copyright 1996, 1999, all rights reserved)
that this is a SHORT HISTORY of the song. The documentary
continues to be produced, and significant individuals continually
add to the legend, making this particular article a mere footnote.)
Fact: With the exception
of Paul McCartney's "Yesterday," it's been covered
more times than any other pop song (over 1,000 versions and
Fact: KFJC, a college radio station in Los Altos
Hills, California, once played it for 63 hours straight without
repeating the same recording twice, receiving unprecedented
coverage in the Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Tonight,
Playboy magazine and various other international media sources.
Fact: It was the subject of obscenity investigations
by the FBI and the FCC, culminating in an airwave ban in the
state of Indiana.
It's been called everything from a musical joke, pure garbage,
the dumbest song ever written, to the quintessential pop single,
the first punk record and the missing link between fifties
rock n' roll and sixties hard rock. This is the SHORT history
of the song "LOUIE LOUIE."
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."
A graduate of 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, Curtiss Williams and Gaynel Hodge,
among others. Before he had ever written the song that many
would claim as the ultimate party song, Berry 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."
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 rhythm
and blues group 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 when
he felt the song had run its course. Yet somehow, instead
of fading into obscurity, "LOUIE LOUIE" was adopted
by countless American bar bands and became especially popular
in the Pacific Northwest region.
As the legend goes, up in Tacoma,
Washington, Rockin' Robin Roberts, a singer with the
Wailers, picked up on Richard Berry's catchy little
single, and decided to re-do this song in a whole new manner.
Playing around with the song, The Wailers added their own
variations, with Rockin' Robin Roberts belting out the words
like an inspired gospel melody and Rich Dangel adding
the legendary guitar solo, releasing the first rock 'n roll
(as opposed to rhythm & blues) version of the song. Released
on the band's own Etiquette Records, the song became a regional
hit in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Picked up for national distribution
by Liberty Records, the song failed to chart on across the
country, for reasons not completely known. Nonetheless, The
Wailers had a faithful following in the Pacific Northwest
area, inspiring The Sonics, The Ventures and
Jimi Hendrix, who wrote a song
about one of their regular stomping grounds, The Spanish Castle.
With all legends, there's more to the original story than
what's usually told. "LOUIE LOUIE" was a very popular
song in the Northwest, and was considered a regional anthem.
According to Kearney Barton, renowned audio engineer,
Bill & the Blue Notes were actually the first
Northwest band to record "LOUIE LOUIE," but didn't
get around to releasing the record until after the Wailers.
Dave Marsh, author of a book on LOUIE LOUIE, stated
that Ron Holden of the Playboys was the first
person to ever perform "LOUIE LOUIE" in the Pacific
Northwest. In my research, I discovered that the Frantics
and the Dave Lewis Combo played the song before any
of them. In the upcoming documentary, you'll be able to hear
some very interesting stories from the folks that were there.
Following the lead of their Northern musical neighbors, the
infectious melody drifted into the neighboring Northwest community
of Portland, Oregon. Two local bands, The
Kingsmen and Paul Revere & the Raiders, discovered
the strength of this song, and decided to record it themselves.
Recording the song within a week of each other in April 1963
at Bob Lindahl's recording studio, both bands emerged
with recordings that are considered, to this date, as the
two most popular prototypes of the song.
Depending on who you listen to, The Kingsmen recorded the
song as a demo for a job on a cruise liner, or were coerced
into a recording studio by a local disc jockey Ken Chase,
who thought he could produce a "monster hit." Either
way, the band originally thought the original recording was
pure garbage, and were equally disgusted when they discovered
they had to pay the $50 recording fee!!
As with many bands, this group of teenagers lost their original
line-up when lead singer Jack Ely left the group
to concentrate on attending college. When the song became
the run-away hit, accelerated by constant airplay in Boston,
of all places, Jack Ely tried to talk his old-time childhood
pal, Lynn Easton, the leader of the band, into letting
him rejoin the band. "Nothing doing," said Easton,
and Ely was never again a part of the Kingsmen. From this
point on, things became complicated, as Ely toured around
the country as Jack Ely and The Kingsmen, and the Kingsmen
performed on television shows , lip-synching to the voice
of their former singer. After multiple lawsuits, The Kingsmen
faced another battle when the state of Indiana banned radio
airplay of the song, and the F.B.I. conducted an extensive
investigation of the song, citing potentially obscene lyrics.
Harassed by government officials, The Kingsmen used the controversy
to their fullest advantage, as kids around America passed
around handwritten notes with what they thought were the supposedly
PAUL REVERE & THE RAIDERS
Emerging to the national audience at the same period as The
Kingsmen, from the same area, using the same recording studio,
& the Raiders had their own version of the song,
which was far more popular in their hometown of Portland,
and other areas such as San Francisco. This band was a trendsetter
in many ways. They were considered the first rock and roll
band to ever be signed to Columbia Records, the largest record
label in the world at the time. When Wand Scepter Records,
a smaller label, had such a major success with The Kingsmen's
version of "LOUIE LOUIE," it accelerated the promotional
drive for Paul Revere & The Raiders, as record company
executives realized they could have been the ones to have
the hit with the song. Long before glitter rock, theatre rock,
punk rock, or MTV, Paul Revere & the Raiders were THE
band to see, using their performances as a showcase for their
theatrical anarchy, wearing wild outfits, and enacting goofy
stunts, such as setting their hair on fire, among other things.
With Mark Lindsay
as the lead vocalist, became the first rock and roll band
to ever have their own television show, "Where The Action
Is," which lasted for two years on the ABC network.
AND THE STORY GOES ON.....
"The Meaning of LOUIE" doesn't end here. In this
documentary, you'll learn of the multiple political movements
connected to the song, a continuation of the histories of
the great musicians that built the song, the unusual personal
stories of popular entertainers whom you wouldn't expect to
be connected to the song, and other amazing tidbits about
the song that has a story like no other.....
Like I said, this
is the "short history," more of a teaser than anything
Stay tuned for the complete story!
The photograph of Richard Berry is copyright Richard Berry
family archives, the album cover art of The Wailers is copyright
The Wailers, the photograph of The Kingsmen is copyright Gino
Rossi & The Kingsmen, the photograph of Paul Revere &
the Raiders is copyright Paul Revere & the Raiders/ Columbia
Records, but otherwise.....
All images & words copyright 1999-2006 Eric Predoehl /
OCTALOUIE, LLC, except as noted. All rights reserved.