Twenty-four years ago, there was a crazy LOUIE LOUIE marathon that attempted to break all world records. For six months, there was a serious effort by college radio station KFJC to track down every known version of the song. Bands were solicited. Every student that took a course in radio production at Foothill College was forced to record a version of LOUIE LOUIE. Hundreds of press releases were sent out. Richard Berry, the author of the song, was invited to this event, and it exceeded everybody’s expectations. There were some wonderful unplanned moments at this event, including the surprise visit by Jack Ely, original vocalist for the Kingsmen, marking the first meeting of the author with a member of the band that made the song very popular. Every local newspaper did a story on the event, the radio station lobby was flooded with TV news reporters, MTV mentioned it during J.J. Johnson’s MTV News report, and the Wall Street Journal printed a great article about it – on the front page!
It was at this event that that Richard Berry came to a realization that people still cared about his music, which came as a wonderful boost to his ego at a time when he was struggling to survive with the help of government welfare. With all the renewed interest in his career, he won’t have to do that lousy data entry training, and get back to focusing on what he did best- playing music.
A lot of great things happened as a result of that weekend. KFJC got a lot of attention both nationally and internationally as one of the leading eclectic pioneers pushing the frontiers of community radio. Richard Berry came home to Los Angeles as a celebrated musician recognized for inspiring millions of people with his music. He was invited to participate in all sorts of events, including a big concert at the Tacoma Dome in Washington, singing LOUIE LOUIE to thousands of people, surrounded by many Northwest musicians that embraced LOUIE LOUIE as a regional anthem. Within a few years, Richard was able to reach a settlement to regain partial ownership of his songs, and he was soon making more money in one year than he ever made in his entire life.
This marathon known as “Maximum: LOUIE LOUIE” was one of the biggest things to ever happen to the song. When it was over, 63 hours after it began, there were over 800 unique versions of LOUIE LOUIE.
Keeping track of this marathon, and documenting it for posterity was a major undertaking. Disc jockeys scribbled down information about the different versions in the aircheck log sheets, and two cassette decks were set up to record the entire event, alternating every 40 minutes to allow for a proper overlap on every 45 minute side of a 90 minute tape.
The circumstances were far from ideal. Disk jockeys often jotted down incomplete notations, big chunks of the marathon were accidentally unrecorded, and some of the handwriting on the aircheck logs was absolutely undecipherable! If you click on the graphic above, you can open a bigger image of the sample aircheck logs, which will give you an idea of what these log sheets looked like.
There were no DAT recorders invented yet, nor were any easy computer-media solutions with the DOS-based computers that existed at that point in time. We couldn’t even record multiple hours of high quality audio on VHS HiFi tape, because that particular variation of the VHS tape format wasn’t available yet.
For many years, Jeff “Stretch” Riedle, the man who came up with this event, protected his Maximum LOUIE LOUIE master air check tapes like a monk whose primary mission in life was the preservation of the precious scrolls from a bygone era. These were the only evidence that existed to prove this event actually existed, and he didn’t want such things to be destroyed by neglect.
For a long time, I’d been trying to work with Stretch to these tapes properly organized and duplicated for archival purposes. We tried to copy over some of the cassette tape masters to 6 hour VHS HiFi tapes, but it was an awkward attempt we were never able to complete. Of course, with limited resources, we couldn’t always do all the things we wanted to do, so the tapes sat untouched in his archives for many years.
One of the things I did do was input the data from the written logsheets into a database I created with Filemaker Pro. It took a considerable amount of time to decipher the scribbles, and type up the data. At one point, I asked Stretch to listen to all the tapes, and compare it with what I had typed up. He actually forced himself to listen to all 60+ hours of this marathon, and made specific notes about the order (or lack thereof), pointing out bands that were not mentioned on any logsheets. I don’t remember exactly how long this process took, but I’m thinking it was well over a year or two for us to process this information.
With the advent of digital technology, and the power of the internet, we were finally able to properly catalog all of the Maximum LOUIE LOUIE master tapes. About seven years ago, we started the task of digitizing all the tapes, bumping the cassette tapes to CD, breaking up the audio files into individual song tracks, using MP3 as our final archival format, which allowed us to input data into the ID3 fields.
We had some excellent help, thanks to our friends out in cyberspace. We would begin the task with Stretch transferring each 45 minute tape side into one continuous audio CD. From there, I would transfer the files into AIF or WAV files that could edited, and shared with whoever wanted to work with us on this project. Theo de Grood, the man who created the world’s very first webpage on LOUIE LOUIE, was our primary audio editor, who volunteered to help in the very time-consuming task of breaking these 45 minute audio recordings into individual song tracks. When Theo and I began to collaborate on this project in 2001, neither one of us had broadband access, so had to use regular mail to ship these files back and forth. As Theo lives in the Netherlands, I saw some really beautiful stamps from that side of the world that I would have otherwise missed. A few years later, Mike Hintze of Seattle, jumped onboard on the project, and shared the responsibilities of editing these big files. Every member of the team had copies of both the raw log sheets and print-outs of the Filemaker database.
By April 11 of 2007, approximately seven years after the digitization began, both Theo and Mike had completed the task of breaking up all of the 45 minute audio masters into individual MP3 tracks. In the past six months, I’ve been sorting through the files, doing my best to coordinate the various data fields. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of recordings that cannot be identified.
Today, in an effort to figure out exactly who did these recordings, I’m sharing the first batch of these unidentified LOUIE LOUIEs as MP3 files with the general public. These are archival recordings, and they shared for strictly educational purposes. If you can help me identify these tracks, I would be very grateful.
In fact, if you have any good stories surrounding these unknown recordings, even better. I’ll be happy to spotlight individual performers that participated in this rather marathon.
Here’s the First 15 of the Unknown LOUIE LOUIES:
LOUIE LOUIE #120 – Fairly standard musical arrangement, with unfortunately poorly recorded vocals. (2:41)
LOUIE LOUIE #211 – This is a very odd version inspired by the Twilight Zone TV show. (3:50)
LOUIE LOUIE #236 “Don’t You Want Me Louie?” – An odd experimental version of the song that uses a minimalist arrangement. (0:53)
LOUIE LOUIE #264 – A very short version of the song, sampled from another. Somebody should be able to spot this one, right? (0:15)
LOUIE LOUIE #307 – A quick, noisy version that reminded me of the Legendary Stardust Cowboy, but I don’t think that’s who recorded it. (0:36)
LOUIE LOUIE #312 – An inspired acappella version of the song with some primitive percussion. This is actually pretty good. (2:11)
LOUIE LOUIE #316 – Was this an industrial version recorded with a metallic spring? Rather odd sounds on this one. (1:20)
LOUIE LOUIE #317 – Here’s a version that sounds like it was recorded in a garage with really cheap equipment. You really have to crank up the audio on this one, as there was no attempt to boost the levels or do any type of sound enhancement on this track. I like the squeaky man’s voice, even if can barely hear it. (3:26)
LOUIE LOUIE #331 – Wow! A psychotic woman sings LOUIE LOUIE while someone makes crazy sounds with horns and some odd pieces of percussion. This is kinda fun! (3:14)
LOUIE LOUIE #334 – Another garage recording with some guy singing to a solid drumbeat and a barely audible guitar. If “amateur” means “for the love of,” then you’ve gotta love this one. (3:29)
LOUIE LOUIE #389 - Here’s one of my favorite unknown versions, which Theo also loves. It’s a moody bit of psychedelia that should be heard in the dark for maximum impact. Who are these guys? WOW! (2:43)
LOUIE LOUIE #390 – This is totally inspired by Alvin & the Chipmunks with sped-up voices. I guess I could slow this thing down so I could make out the voices better, but I love it the way it is. This is another unknown favorite! (1:03)
LOUIE LOUIE #401 – Another garage rock recording, probably fueled by a 12 pack of beer and some bong hits. I’m guessing there was lots of Pabst Blue Ribbon ingested by some college kids in the suburbs to create this one, but I could easily be wrong. Maybe it was Schlitz Malt Liquor or even Lucky Lager? If any of this recording sounds familiar, please fill in the details, OK? (2:27)
LOUIE LOUIE #444 – Some woman sings this song accompanied by a guitar or a ukulele, and a whole lot of attitude. I wonder if this might be my old friend Laura Yarow, who I haven’t seen in many years? Is this anyone you know? (2:34)
LOUIE LOUIE #445 – This is a very impressive, highly produced version by someone that was serious about recording music. I’m surprised nobody bothered to properly label it. This may be by a band named “Vermine,” but I’m not sure. Good stuff. (3:00) UPDATE: Dan L writes “The instrumental opening on Louie Louie 445 is by Simple Minds, called Somebody up there Likes You, from the album New Gold Dream.”
I will be uploading more unknown versions in an attempt to identify them. I may also share some of the more unusual versions, such as Neil Young‘s absolutely unidentifiable recording, which was done entirely on a touch tone phone.
If you’d like to see the latest version of the marathon logsheet, you can see the iTunes list I created from all of the individual song tracks, as well as isolated DJ banter. It is definitely a work-in-progress that is likely to change each month as we get more information. Click HERE to download the latest PDF.
Obviously, I need some feedback on these recordings. As I continue to get new information, I will be update this posting, and will continue to write about this project in the blog. You can add a comment (which is moderated at least once a week to filter out the various solicitations), or you can send me an email.