Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Politics of Hysteria

I’m trying to avoid the subject of politics at the LOUIE REPORT blog, but it’s not easy. Not every LOUIE enthusiast shares my views on politics, and I’m trying to use this webpage as a tool to unify the LOUIE community, rather than alienate.

Nonetheless, if it weren’t for certain political actions that happened in the past, there probably wouldn’t be so much interest in the song.

Governor Matthew Welsh
In January 1964, Indiana Governor Matthew E. Welsh received a letter from an Indiana resident stating that LOUIE LOUIE by the Kingsmen was an obscene recording. After listening to the record, Governor Welsh contacted Reid Chapman, a Fort Wayne radio and TV personality and President of the Indiana Broadcasters Association, recommending that the song not be broadcast in Indiana. A page 3 article in the February 1st issue of Billboard magazine quoted Welsh that his ears “tingled.”

Soon afterwards, the F.B.I. launched a major investigation of the song, and kids all over America exchanged hand-written interpretations of the “real lyrics.” As documented in the F.B.I. investigations, both Attorney General Robert Kennedy and F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover both received letters from citizens concerned about the objectionable qualities of this little song. This was exactly the sort of thing that helped record sales for an obscure little recording from a band of teenagers from Portland, Oregon.

There can be no doubt that the actions of certain politicians helped record sales in a major way.

A few months ago, I was reminded of how history repeated itself when I interviewed Howie Klein. Howie has had a fascinating career. He started off booking major rock and roll bands while attending college, dug ditches at Timothy Leary‘s farm, ran away to faraway lands across the globe, stumbled into San Francisco, where he hosted a radio show on KSAN, created the first San Francisco punk rock label, printed photos at Harvey Milk‘s camera store, moved to Los Angeles, managed Sire Records, became president of Reprise Records, and then retired to focus on teaching, traveling, and blogging about hypocrisy with his website DownWithTyranny.

Ice-T
Anyways, one of Howie’s notable achievements was that he was the executive producer for Ice-T‘s heavy metal-rap fusion group, Body Count. Like LOUIE LOUIE, nobody seemed to be giving Body Count much attention until certain politicians decided to focus on a certain composition entitled “Cop Killer.” Using this song to fuel the flames of hysteria, politicians like Dan Quayle, Joe Lieberman, and others decried this song as a means of advocating violence. What these short-sighted politicians failed to see was the fact that Ice-T was merely reporting the feelings of many frustrated members of the black community of Los Angeles after the trial of the officers that had been caught beating Rodney King on videotape. Ice-T was not advocating violence anymore than Johnny Cash was when he wrote of “(shooting) a man in Reno, just to watch him die.” It was merely a matter of exercising some creative license. As far as I know, neither Ice-T or Johnny Cash have actually killed anybody.

Once again, to generate more record sales, it helps to have hysterical politicians attack your music. Coincidently, both Richard Berry and Ice-T were from the South Central district of Los Angeles. Speaking of creative license, anyone remember Richard’s uncredited vocals on the Robins‘ “Riot Cell Block #9” in 1954? History does indeed repeat itself in most unusual ways…

Howie Klein

I put up a few excerpts of Howie’s interview on YouTube. If you are offended by naughty words, please don’t bother clicking on the link, as Howie does use strong language.

Today, I was pleasantly surprised to read an article about Paula Kerger, the new president and CEO of PBS. Ms. Kerger is opening questioning the Federal Communications Commission’s inconsistent stance on what constitutes indecency. Right now, KCSM, a PBS affiliate based San Mateo, CA, is facing a $15,000 fine from the FCC for the broadcast of an episode of Martin Scorsese‘s “The Blues” that included some rather “blue” language. Because of just one complaint, the FCC has decided to fine this PBS affiliate.

Thanks to current pinheaded politicians in Washington D.C., the U.S. Congress has passed legislation that would increase fines for “bad” language getting on the air to $325,000 for each infraction.

Ironically, there has been no attempt by the FCC to fine the President for his recent off-camera remark about Syria and Hezbollah. Instead, the FCC has chosen to target a small PBS station that broadcast a show about music by created by Black Americans.

Hypocrisy and hysteria are alive and well, unfortunately.

John Lennon

Lastly on the subject of rock ‘n’ roll and politics, I just found out about a new documentary about one of my heroes. The U.S. vs. John Lennon looks like it will be a great movie. I can’t wait to see this!

Coming soon…. the NEW Comets DVD!

Marshall Lytle of the Comets

I recently completed one of the coolest video jobs I’ve had the privilege to work on. I just produced and directed a music concert DVD of the one of the true pioneers in the world of rock ‘n’ roll- Bill Haley’s Original Comets.

Even though Bill Haley died in 1981, his original bandmates are still carrying on, putting on a highly charged show, outstaging other musicians half their age. The concert for this upcoming DVD took place in San Francisco in 2004, featuring bandmembers Marshall Lytle, Joey Ambrose, Johnny Grande, Dick Richards, and Franny Beecher. With the exception of Franny, who joined the Comets in 1955, this was THE band that recorded “Rock Around the Clock” in 1954.

Over the years, the original members left Bill Haley, who hired an assortment of other musicians to become “The Comets.” By 1963, none of the original Comets were still in Bill Haley’s band. Marshall, Lytle, and Dick formed a new band known as “The Jodimars.” In 1958, some of the band members released a single under the unlikely group name of “The Kingsmen (??)” with song entitled “Week End” on the East-West label. Of course, this band had nothing to do with the other Kingsmen from Portland, Oregon, who would have a monster hit of their own five years later, thanks to a very catchy song written by Richard Berry.

As I mentioned in a previous posting, original keyboardist Johnny Grande recently died in June, making this upcoming DVD one of the very few releases to feature him in a prominent role.

Still rocking strong, the Comets are now peforming regularly at Dick Clark’s new American Bandstand theater in Branson, Missouri, along with Paul Revere and the Raiders, and Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers. If you haven’t seen this amazing band live, I would highly recommend a trek to Branson. Paul Revere also puts on highly entertaining show well worth seeing… but you probably knew that, right?

There aren’t too bands around that can legitimately claim they were the “originators of rock ‘n’ roll.” Certainly, no serious music historian can deny the impact of Joe Liggins & the Honeydrippers, Lonnie Johnson, Big Boy Crudup, Louis Jordan, Ike Turner, Big Joe Turner, Little Richard, and even that latecomer, Elvis Presley, who certainly opened some dooors to awaken many folks that would have otherwise ignored the calling of rhythm and blues music.

“Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets was the very first rock and roll record purchased by John Lennon. For a lot of people, this song was their very first exposure to rock music..

My friends Jim Dawson and Steve Propes wrote an excellent book on this very subject of the first rock record, entitled simply “What Was the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record?” I’ve been told this book is out of print, and I hope it gets reprinted, as I consider it a mandatory reference for anyone doing any serious research on rock and roll history. As it turns out, Jim Dawson also put out on a book devoted strictly to the Comets’ most succcessful song. Rock Around the Clock: The Record that Started the Rock Revolution! is another book well worth owning. I’m not even going to mention Jim’s other wall-trembling, paint-peeling book.

I don’t have any specific information on how to order the upcoming DVD, but you can check in at the Original Comets webpage, or at Marshall Lytle‘s own “Crazy Man Crazy” blog for updated information about this, and other official Comets merchandise.

Email Nonsense to LouieLouie.net

As the number one source on the internet for all things “LOUIE LOUIE” (according to Google, Yahoo, various other search engines), I do tend to become the “net” for all sorts of emails with a variety of different LOUIE stories, some of which are even accurate.

Here’s an email that definitely doesn’t fall in that category:

Hi, allow me to introduce myself.My name is Joe M***, I attended East Los Angeles Junior College in 1959 and met a couple of guys in the student lounge who were trying to work with a guy sitting at a piano. It sounded like they were trying to write a song, but the pianist wasn’t helping them very much. I wandered over and asked what they were doing and offered my help with the music part of it ( I play piano). One of the African American’s asked what did I have in mind and I showed him by putting together the melody that day and subsequent sittings. The person to whom I was talking had a gold cap on one of his front teeth that had a star carved out of it so that the white of his teeth showed through. The only name I knew him by was STAR, but later on, learned his name was Richard Berry. Imagine my surprise, after joining the military service, driving down the road and hearing your redition of the song that I helped write.
No I am not looking for money or anything like that. What I am looking for, if it is possible, is recognition. I have told that story a few times to some of my friends. They get that look on their face that says “SURE YOU DID”. I know I did if no one believes me. Even if you don’t believe me, that’s O.K..
Keep up the good work bringing that old time rock and roll to the new generation. They need something besides that rap crap they listen to.
Respectfully.
Joe M***

An entertaining email, but here’s my response:

Joe M*** may think he helped Richard Berry write LOUIE LOUIE, but he is kidding himself if he truly believes this. Here’s why:

1) Richard Berry wrote the song in 1955 at the Harmony Park Ballroom in Anaheim, and it was released as a single in 1957. If this “historic moment” happened in 1959, then it was two years after the record was released. Check the old Billboard magazines and you’ll see that April 1957 was the month when this song was officially released as the B-side of “You Are My Sunshine.”

2) I have never seen Richard Berry with any “star-carved” teeth, fillings, caps or dentures. Not once during the times I saw him in person, and never in any photographs. Maybe it was another guy named Richard Berry? Certainly not the composer of LOUIE LOUIE.

3) Richard Berry certainly didn’t any help composing songs. He was one of the hottest session players in the Southern California rhythm and blues circles, and he wrote many songs besides LOUIE LOUIE that were recorded by all sorts of musicians, including Etta James, Louis Prima, Sammy Davis Jr, Arthur Lee Maye, and a whole bunch of other people. He certainly wouldn’t need to hang around colleges, getting help from strangers, that’s for sure!

When I finally finish this film of mine, you’ll hear the real story, direct from the folks that made history.

In the meantime, I welcome comments and emails to LouieLouie.net.

’nuff said!

ERIC PREDOEHL
producer, director of upcoming documentary
“The Meaning of Louie”

Remembering Syd Barrett

Syd Barrett, musical genius

This week, we lost Syd Barrett, founder of the band Pink Floyd. Early news reports mentioned that his death was due to cancer, while others mention diabetes as a leading cause. All I know for certain is that Syd checked out a long time ago, retreating from the public eye to deal with his own personal problems.

I was a big fan of Syd Barrett’s work, as both a member of Pink Floyd and as a solo member. There was a period in my life where I practically wore out my “Nice Pair” compilation that repackaged the first two Pink Floyd albums “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” and “A Saucerful Of Secrets.” I absolutely loved that stuff!

Last year, Pink Floyd got a lot of attention for their reunion at the Live 8 event. I always hoped there would also be a Syd Barrett reunion. As Brian Wilson, Roky Erickson, and Daniel Johnston demonstrated that mental health issues need not cripple one’s musical talents, I wished that Syd would somehow gather his strength to make music once again. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.

In the liner notes by Brian Hogg for the Syd Barrett 3-CD box set “Crazy Diamond,” there was one particular mention about Pink Floyd shows at the Roundhouse that caught my eye:

A subsequent review in “IT,” termed the quartet a “psychedelic pop group” and described their “scary feedback sounds and slide projections (which) produced outer space/prehistoric textures on the skin.” Other accounts noted that the power blew out during “Interstellar Overdrive,” which suggested that by this stage the Floyd were bending original songs to a set once-renowned for freaked-out readings of “LOUIE LOUIE” and “Road Runner.”

I don’t know if any such recordings actually exist, or they were merely stoned recollections of events that were not properly recorded for posterity. Nonetheless, I continue to search for the elusive recordings of early Pink Floyd performing LOUIE LOUIE.

If you have any such recordings, please send me an email.

Iggy Pop on French TV

It’s always a pleasure to find a version of LOUIE LOUIE by Iggy Pop. Here’s a version from French TV, courtesy of YouTube.com. I have no idea what date this aired, what channel, but I’m guessing it occurred sometime around the American Caesar album.

enjoy!