RIP: Mike Mitchell of the Kingsmen

Yesterday, we lost Mike Mitchell of the Kingsmen.

Mike Mitchell was a founding member of the Kingsmen. Mike grew up in a musical family, and learned how to play guitar from his father, who was a country western musician.

Mike’s career in music began with a collaboration with Lynn Easton, a schoolmate from David Douglas High School in Portland, Oregon. Lynn invited Mike to join him in a musical group he started with his childhood friend Jack Ely, who attended Washington High School in another district of Portland. When the three of them decided they needed a bass player, they enlisted Bob Nordby, another musician from David Douglas High School. When they needed a name for this group, they used the name of Mike’s after-shave lotion = Kings Men!

in the course of time, the Kingsmen became a very popular teenage music group in Portland during the early 1960s, somehow lining up sponsorship deals from a variety of different vendors including Ken-L Ration Dog Food and the Hood River food company.

One of their more rewarding alliances was becoming the house band for The Chase nightclub, a teenage dance venue run by KISN DJ Ken Chase (aka Mike Korgan). Prior to this engagement, the Kingsmen brought in a dynamic young keyboard player named Don Gallucci (four years younger than the rest of the band), and they discovered a really catchy new song sung by someone named Rockin’ Robin Roberts, whose 45 was getting some serious attention at a jukebox in a place called the Pypo Club in Seaside, Oregon. With an energetic nudge from the Pypo Club, and an inspired musical rearrangement of this song by their new keyboardist, the Kingsmen discovered and embraced this catchy little number called “Louie Louie.”

As the house band of The Chase nightclub, it seemed like a good idea for the Kingsmen to record a record, as it would generate a bigger crowd as they could be marketed as “recording artists.” The Kingsmen thought this new song would be a great one to record. Head honcho Ken Chase also loved the song, but he didn’t think the band was ready yet. After what seemed like quite a few months of performances of that song at The Chase, Ken decided the band was ready, and scheduled a recording session with the Kingsmen at a local recording studio. Ken Chase’s actions were not fully appreciated that day. He got into a heated argument with Robert Lindahl, the recording studio owner/chief engineer about how he wanted the performance to sound, and even the Kingsmen thought it was a terrible recording.

Unbeknownst to everyone, the recording of LOUIE LOUIE by the Kingsmen somehow took off on a life of it’s own. Ken Chase arranged for this recording to be represented and released by Jerry Dennon, who operated a small record label known as Jerden in Seattle, Washington. Through a series of unexpected flukes, this recording became an unlikely hit as it broke the record charts as one of the “world’s worst records,” as discovered by Boston Dj Arnie Ginsburg, which in turn, inspired the governor of Indiana to try to repress the broadcast of this recording, which in turn led to a two year investigation by the F.B.I. over some deeply controversial and absolutely undecipherable lyrics.

LOUIE LOUIE was the unlikely hit record that caught everybody off guard. Prior to the runaway success, both Jack Ely and Bob Nordby left the band, as they were frustrated by the direction of the band, which they didn’t think had much of a future. After a month of touring with this now very popular band, Don Gallucci dropped out of the band as his parents demanded that he quit the band so he could complete his high school education. By the end of 1963, Mike Mitchell and Lynn Easton were the only original band members still in the band. The new version of Kingsmen was signed to the Wand Sceptor record label, and represented by William Morris, the top talent agency in the USA. They released 9 albums and had 26 charted singles*.

Sometime in 1967, Lynn Easton left the Kingsmen, leaving Mike as the last original member of the Kingsmen. Eventually, the Kingsmen stopping playing altogether, reuniting a few times in the 1970s with Mike joined by Dick Peterson and Barry Curtis, who became members of the Kingsmen in late 1963. After the runaway success of the “Animal House” feature film, which inspired renewed interest of LOUIE LOUIE and toga party celebrations in 1978, the Kingsmen became a full fledged band once again.

In the course of time, the Kingsmen and LOUIE LOUIE have received a wealth of accolades – The Rock Hall of Fame – Hall of Fame Singles, a “lifetime Achievement award” from the Grammys, the “40 Songs That Changed The World” + “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” from Rolling Stone magazine, and a ton of other awards (with an exhaustive list shared on Wikipedia)

In 2005, the Kingsmen changed once again. The Kingsmen had been playing together for 27 continuous years since their 1978 reunion. The three core members – Mike, Dick and Barry, had been performing as the Kingsmen for multiple decades longer than the initial four year run of the original Kingsmen group that was formed in 1959. At that point in time, Barry Curtis decided to retire from the Kingsmen, and Mike’s brother Dennis Mitchell stepped in to join the band, as the Kingsmen continued to perform for another fifteen years.

I was fortunate to see Mike and the Kingsmen at the Animal House 40 anniversary event that took place in August 2018 in Cottage Grove, Oregon. They sounded fantastic!

Yesterday – April 16th, 2021 was Mike’s 77th birthday, and the day that he died of a heart attack.

He is survived by his two children Samantha and Max.

Our thoughts go out to the family and friends of our dear associate Mike Mitchell.

– E.P. of

Here’s couple of extra things to celebrate Mike’s legacy..

This track is one of the few times where Mike sang lead on a Kingsmen record.

Here’s a photo of three original Kingsmen – reuniting at a Buck Munger party for Billy Gibbons.

Here’s a video clip of the band THE CRY, featuring Mike as a special guest.

* = referenced from Kingsmen press release.

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