Jack Ely, singer of The Kingsmen, best known for their cover of Richard Berry’s 1957 song “Louie Louie” died on Monday, in his home in Oregon, of an unspecified illness.
Ely’s son Sean confirmed his father’s death on Wednesday, but like the rest of the world, he, too, was unsure exactly what ultimately brought about the “Louie Louie” singer’s death, “because of his religious beliefs, we’re not even sure what [the illness] was.”
“Louie Louie” was first recorded in 1957 by Richard Berry, a Los Angeles musician with doo-wop roots – who originally wrote the song with a calypso feel – but “Louie Louie” didn’t make it into the mainstream until 1963 when Ely and The Kingsmen recorded it, in their home city of Portland, in a small 10-by-10 room, with a microphone suspended from the ceiling.
That suspended microphone is what Jack Ely always attributed to the unintelligible lyrics of The Kingsmen’s version of “Louie Louie,” says Sean Ely, because he had to shout up at it.
“Right of his mouth, my father would say: ‘We were initially just going to record the song as an instrumental and at the last minute I decided I’d sing it. It’s all of this is in a 10-by-10 room with one microphone. I’m standing on my tippy toes yelling into the microphone: Louie Louie! Louie Louie! We gotta go!”
But it wasn’t just radio listeners and drunken frat boys who had trouble understanding the incoherent, mumbled words of “Louie Louie,” the fact that it quickly became one of the most misunderstood songs of all time had the FBI conducting an investigation on the song, to see if it was obscene. After some presumably very scientific testing on the song, which included slowing it down, the FBI concluded — in a 455-page investigative report — that “Louie Louie” was “unintelligible at any speed.”
Shortly after The Kingsman recorded “Louie Louie,” and before it became a hit, singer Jack Ely had a falling out with the rest of the band, ultimately leaving the group. He started a new band, The Courtmen, who recorded a song called “Louie Louie 66,” but the song never charted, and eventually they disbanded.
After returning home from Vietnam in 1968, having found his fame waning, Ely decided to settle down in Central Oregon, where he trained horses for many years. According to his son, Ely was quite content with his legacy as a one-hit wonder.
“He wanted to try on different occasions to pursue other endeavours in the music industry, but I think when it was all done and said he was pretty happy that he did Louie Louie.”
The “Louie Louie” singer was 71-years-old at the time of his death.
[Image Credit: The Guardian]