‘Louie Louie’ singer, Jack Ely dead at 71

In tribute:


Jack Ely, best known for his 1963 rendition of the song "Louie Louie," in 2009. (Don Ryan/AP)

Jack Ely, best known for his 1963 rendition of the song “Louie Louie,” in 2009. (Don Ryan/AP)

From the Washington Post and Reuter’s

Jack Ely, the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of the Kingsmen, whose 1963 recording of “Louie Louie” became a defining song of the garage rock movement and whose unintelligible lyrics drew FBI scrutiny, died April 28 at his home in Redmond, Ore. He was 71.

His son Sean Ely confirmed the death.

“His religious beliefs didn’t incorporate medical stuff so we’re not really sure” about the cause of death, he said.

“Louie Louie” was a three-chord rock song written and recorded in the late 1950s by Richard Berry, and its story involved a sailor telling a bartender named Louie that he wants to sail back to Jamaica and the girl he loves.

With its infectious rhythm and facile chord changes, “Louie Louie” was the first song many aspiring teen bands learned. The band Rockin’ Robin Roberts and the Wailers recorded it in 1961.

But it was the Kingsmen’s version, recorded in 1963, that garnered huge attention, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard charts despite being banned from many radio stations. Mr. Ely’s garbled rendition of the lyrics were rumored to contain obscenities.

When an alarmed parent sent a letter to then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the FBI stepped in to investigate the lyrics. After a probe lasting 31 months, the law-enforcement agency concluded that it was “unable to interpret any of the wording in the record.”

Years later, Mr. Ely explained his unusual vocal phrasing. He said that his braces had been tightened the day before recording. In addition, he had to stand on tiptoe to reach a microphone that an engineer had suspended from the ceiling to give a more ambient sound.

Members of the Portland-based band reportedly hated the recording. However, their manager pushed them to release it on a small local label. Sales were slow until Boston disc jockey Arnie “Woo-Woo” Ginsberg featured it as “the worst record of the week.”

Apparently, his listeners — in great numbers — disagreed. The record sold hundreds of thousands of copies despite competition from a similar version cut soon afterward by Paul Revere and the Raiders.

The Kingsmen split up not long after their sole hit. Drummer Lynn Easton wanted to sing and pushed Mr. Ely out of the band. Easton and Mr. Ely began operating rival groups under the Kingsmen name. Eventually, a lawsuit by Easton, whose mother had trademarked the Kingsmen, forced Mr. Ely to rename his outfit the Courtmen.

The band went on to record other hit songs without him, including “Money (That’s What I Want)” and “The Jolly Green Giant.”

Mr. Ely later went on to train horses at a ranch in Oregon, his son said. In 2012, he released a Christian album called “Love Is All Around You Now.”

One Response

  1. So sad to hear. That was an era of good music.

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