1963 "Louie Louie" line-up. L-R Don Gallucci, Jack Ely, Lynn Easton, Mike Mitchell, and Bob Nordby
|Origin||Portland, Oregon, United States|
|Labels||Jerden, Wand, Sundazed|
The Kingsmen are a 1960s beat/garage rock band from Portland, Oregon, United States. They are best known for their 1963 recording of Richard Berry's "Louie Louie", which held the No. 2 spot on the Billboard charts for six weeks. The single has become an enduring classic.
In 1959, Lynn Easton invited Jack Ely to play with him at a Portland Hotel gig, with Ely singing and playing guitar and Easton on the drum kit. The two teenagers grew up together, as their parents were close friends. Easton and Ely performed at yacht club parties, and soon added Mike Mitchell on guitar and Bob Nordby on bass to round out the band. They called themselves the Kingsmen, taking the name from a recently disbanded group. The Kingsmen began their collective career playing at fashion shows, Red Cross events, and supermarket promotions, generally avoiding rock songs on their setlist.
In 1962, while playing a gig at the Pypo Club in Seaside, Oregon, then managed by Al Dardis, the band noticed Rockin' Robin Roberts's version of "Louie Louie" being played on the jukebox for hours on end. The entire club would get up and dance. Ely convinced the Kingsmen to learn the song, which they played at dances to a great crowd response. Unknown to him, he changed the beat because he misheard it on a jukebox. Ken Chase, host of radio station KISN, formed his own club to capitalize on these dance crazes. Dubbed the "Chase", the Kingsmen became the club's house band and Ken Chase became the band's manager. On April 5, 1963, Chase booked the band an hour-long session at the local Northwestern Inc. studio for the following day. The band had just played a 90-minute "Louie Louie" marathon.
Despite the band's annoyance at having so little time to prepare, on April 6 at 10 am the Kingsmen walked into the three-microphone recording studio. In order to sound like a live performance, Ely was forced to lean back and sing to a microphone suspended from the ceiling. "It was more yelling than singing," Ely said, "'cause I was trying to be heard over all the instruments." In addition, he was wearing braces at the time of the performance, further compounding his infamously slurred words. Ely sang the beginning of the third verse several bars too early, but realized his mistake and waited for the rest of the band to catch up. In what was thought to be a warm-up, the song was recorded in its first and only take. The Kingsmen were not proud of the version, but their manager liked the rawness of their cover. The B-side was "Haunted Castle", composed by Ely and Don Gallucci, the new keyboardist. However, Lynn Easton was credited on both the Jerden and Wand releases. The entire session cost $50, and the band split the cost.
"Louie Louie" was kept from the top spot on the charts in late 1963 and early 1964 by the Singing Nun and Bobby Vinton, who monopolized the No. 1 slot for four weeks apiece. The Kingsmen single reached No. 1 on the Cashbox chart and No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Additionally in the UK it reached No. 26 on the Record Retailer chart. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
The band attracted nationwide attention when "Louie Louie" was banned by the governor of Indiana, Matthew E. Welsh, also attracting the attention of the FBI because of alleged indecent lyrics in their version of the song. The lyrics were, in fact, innocent, but Ely's baffling enunciation permitted teenage fans and concerned parents alike to imagine the most scandalous obscenities. All of this attention only made the song more popular. In April 1966 "Louie Louie" was reissued and once again hit the music charts, reaching No. 65 on the Cashbox chart and No. 97 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
In 1985, Ross Shafer, host and a writer-performer of the late-night comedy series Almost Live! on the Seattle TV station KING, spearheaded an effort to have "Louie Louie" replace "Washington, My Home" by Helen Davis as Washington's official state song. Picking up on this initially prankish effort, Whatcom County Councilman Craig Cole introduced Resolution No. 85-12 in the state legislature, citing the need for a "contemporary theme song that can be used to engender a sense of pride and community, and in the enhancement of tourism and economic development". His resolution also called for the creation of a new "Louie Louie County". While the House did not pass it, the Senate's Resolution 1985-37 declared April 12, 1985, "Louie Louie Day". A crowd of 4,000, estimated by press reports, convened at the state capitol that day for speeches, singalongs, and performances by the Wailers, the Kingsmen, and Paul Revere and the Raiders. Two days later, a Seattle event commemorated the occasion with the premiere performance of a new, Washington-centric version of the song written by composer Berry.
Over the years the Kingsmen's version of "Louie Louie" has been recognized by organizations and publications worldwide for its influence on the history of rock and roll. Rankings and recognition in major publications and surveys are shown in the table below.
|Rock & Roll Hall of Fame||Hall of Fame Singles||2018||None|
|Rock & Roll Hall of Fame||500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll||1995||None|
|National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences||Grammy Hall of Fame||1999||None|
|National Public Radio||The 300 Most Important American Records of the 20th Century||1999||None|
|The Wire Magazine||The 100 Most Important Records Ever Made||1992||None|
|Mojo Magazine||Ultimate Jukebox: The 100 Singles You Must Own||2003||#1|
|Paste Magazine||The 50 Best Garage Rock Songs of All Time||2014||# 3|
|Rolling Stone||40 Songs That Changed The World||2007||#5|
|All Time Top 1000 Albums, Colin Larkin||The All-Time Top 100 Singles||2000||#6|
|VH1||100 Greatest Songs of Rock and Roll||2007||#11|
|The Heart of Rock and Soul, Dave Marsh||The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made||1989||#11|
|Rolling Stone||The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years||1989||#18|
|VH1||100 Greatest Dance Songs||2000||#27|
|Mojo Magazine||100 Greatest Singles of All Time||1997||#51|
|Rolling Stone||The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time||2004||#54|
|NEA and RIAA||Songs of the Century||1999||#57|
|Mojo Magazine||Big Bangs: 100 Records That Changed The World||2007||#70|
|NME Magazine||The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time||2014||#157|
|WCBS-FM||Top 1001 Songs of the Century||2005||#184|
Before the success of "Louie Louie", the members of the Kingsmen took varied paths. Easton, whose mother had registered the name of the group and therefore owned it, declared that from this point on he intended to be the singer, forcing Ely to play the drums. This led Jack Ely and Bob Nordby to quit the group in 1963.
Don Gallucci was forced out because he wasn't old enough to tour and later formed Don and the Goodtimes, which morphed into the short-lived Touch. Later, Gallucci became a record producer with Elektra Records, with his most famous production being the Stooges' seminal second album Fun House. ("Louie Louie" was frequently performed at Stooges concerts; the song appears on their live album as well as an Iggy Pop solo record.)
The two remaining original Kingsmen, Lynn Easton and Mike Mitchell, were joined by Dick Peterson, Barry Curtis and Norm Sundholm to record and tour as the official band. This line-up stayed intact from late 1963 into 1966 and charted multiple singles and albums with Easton as the principal vocalist.
After Ely's departure and considerable chart success by the new line-up, the group learned that he was performing with another group as The Kingsmen. Following legal action, a settlement was reached and Easton, Mitchell, Peterson, Curtis and Sundholm established their rights to the "Kingsmen" name. Thus, Ely was forced to stop using the name, Easton was forced to stop lip syncing to Ely's vocals, and subsequent releases of "Louie Louie" were required to have the text "Lead vocal by Jack Ely" below the title. Unable to perform using the Kingsmen name, Ely continued with his groups the Squires and the Courtmen. He also received a gold record for "Louie Louie" as part of the settlement.
The Kingsmen's 1964 follow up to "Louie Louie" was a party version of "Money (That's What I Want)" which hit the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 16 and on Cashbox at No. 17. Then came "Little Latin Lupe Lu" peaking on Billboard at No. 46 and Cashbox at No. 49. After that it was "Death of An Angel" No. 33 on Cashbox and No. 42 on Billboard.
1965 saw the Kingsmen return to the Top 10 nationally with "The Jolly Green Giant" reaching No. 4 on Billboard and No. 8 on Cashbox. The follow-up song was "The Climb" No. 45 on Cashbox and No. 65 on Billboard. "Annie Fanny" was released next reaching No. 43 on Cashbox & No. 47 on Billboard. Next came "(You Got) The Gamma Goochee" No. 98 on Cashbox & No. 122 on Billboard. The group also appeared in the beach party movie How To Stuff A Wild Bikini singing "Give Her Lovin'". Their recording of the title song was also on the soundtrack album.
In 1966 the Kingsmen continued to hit the charts, with "Killer Joe" reaching No. 77 on Billboard & No. 81 on Cashbox. In 1967 they made the chart for the last time with "Bo Diddley Bach" reaching No. 128 on Billboard.
On November 9, 1998, the Kingsmen were awarded ownership of all their early recordings released on Wand Records from Gusto Records, including "Louie Louie". They had not been paid royalties on the songs since the 1960s.
Prior to this group's formation, another group called The Kingsmen operated in 1958 and was made up of members of Bill Haley & His Comets who were moonlighting from their regular work with Haley. This group scored a hit record (#35) on Billboard with the instrumental entitled "Week End", written by Rudy Pompilli, Franny Beecher, and Billy Williamson, backed with "Better Believe It" as the B side. They released a follow-up single on East West Records featuring "The Catwalk" backed with "Conga Rock". Although the Comets did the actual recordings, when the Kingsmen went on tour a different set of musicians performed instead of Haley's people. The band made at least one appearance on American Bandstand in 1958.
Various other groups have used the name "The Kingsmen", including a gospel vocal group formed in 1956 (also referred to as The Kingsmen Quartet) and bands that were later renamed as Flamin' Groovies, The Gants and The Statler Brothers. An a cappella group at Columbia University is traditionally known as the Kingsmen; one incarnation of that group became Sha Na Na. Also c. 1962-63, Bruza/Magnoli/Nofz/Tomczyk adopted the name in Southeast Michigan until disbanding in the late 1970s.
In late 1968 with the original group on a recording and touring hiatus, the Kingsmen's management team, believing they owned the rights to the name, worked with the Kasenetz-Katz production organization and studio musicians to release a single on the Earth label ("Feed Me"/"Just A 'B' Side"). A separate group was formed with new members (including lead singer Yank Barry) to tour on the East Coast until disbanding after a cease and desist order was filed by the original group.
U.S. singles and albums released from 1963 through 2003, plus major compilation releases.
Listed in chronological release order with peak chart position (Billboard Hot 100) noted.
Listed in chronological order with peak chart position (Billboard) noted.