Mike Mitchell, co-founder of The Kingsmen and the guitarist who played on their hit number, Louie Louie, has died at 77.
Mitchell was the last original member still performing with the Portland, Oregon garage rock band. He died on his birthday (16 April), according to The Kingsmen’s website.
“We are deeply saddened by Mike’s passing,” the band said in a statement. “He was the kindest and most generous man on the planet
“Mike is irreplaceable and he will be greatly missed not only by us but the fans as well. Mike was a favourite for his kindness, comedic nature as well as his musicianship.”
Louie Louie, originally written by Richard Berry, evolved into a rock ’n’ roll staple thanks to the popularity of The Kingsmen’s cover. It was recorded in a single take, costing the band $50, and was produced by Ken Chase, a DJ at AM station 91 KISN, who also owned the juke joint at which The Kingsmen worked as house band.
Today, Louie Louie has been covered by myriad artists – from Led Zeppelin to the Smashing Pumpkins – but when The Kingsmen released their version of the tune in 1957, it was the subject of controversy.
The lead vocal parts, which singer Jack Ely performed in a characteristically sloppy way, were widely misinterpreted to contain obscene lyrics, spurring an FBI investigation into the tune. After being unable to determine what Ely was singing, the investigation was dropped.
Ironically, the FBI completely missed when drummer Lynn Easton – after missing a fill – audibly yelled “Fuck!” during the recording. You can hear it at 0:55, below.
Mitchell, who wrote the song’s iconic guitar solo, continued to perform the tune with the group and its evolving line-ups for six decades.