Jack Ely, the lead singer of the Kingsmen, has died. He was 71.
Best known for their song “Louie Louie,” The Kingsmen formed in Portland, Oregon in 1959. In 1963, the group released a hastily recorded version of Richard Berry’s 1957 track “Louie Louie” after seeing how crazy yet another cover of the track—this one by Washington-born singer Rockin’ Robin Roberts—drove crowds listening to a bar’s jukebox. Recorded for just $50 and in one take, The Kingsmen’s version of “Louie Louie” sounds like a rollicking live performance, especially considering Ely’s slurred lyrics. In an interview, Ely said that he was “yelling than singing” in an attempt to be heard over his bandmates’ instruments, and blames the fact that he also was wearing braces at the time for some of his vocal messiness. Those lyrics got the song banned by Indiana governor Matthew E. Welsh and investigated by the FBI, both of whom believed (incorrectly) that Ely was slipping indecent words into the track.
The Kingsmen officially disbanded shortly after the release of “Louie Louie” and Ely officially left the group. Some of the band’s members have since reunited and toured, but Ely never went back.
Though it never hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Louie Louie” has sold over one million copies. It’s also been named one of Rolling Stone’s “40 Songs That Changed The World” and one of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame’s “500 Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll.” The song also appears prominently in dozens of television shows and movies, including both American Graffiti and Animal House.