Died: April 16, 2021.
MIKE Mitchell, who died at the age of 77, was a guitarist whose solo from The Kingsmen’s version of Richard Berry’s song, Louie Louie, helped define a sound that helped bring rock and roll out. school hops to become infinitely more raw territory.
The song was recorded by the teenage group in a three-track studio, where, according to Mitchell in a 1999 interview with John Broughton on Casey Radio, Melbourne, Australia, the one-take wonder of the Kingsmen of Louie Louie and two other songs took an hour all inclusive, costing a cool $ 36 to make.
The result saw Berry’s three-chord build take on new life as a bratty piece of almost incoherent bubblegum trash that has become an inspiration to every garage band in town. Despite the mess of the recording, it was released as a single in 1963 and eventually spent several weeks at number two on the US charts.
The Kingsmen’s record gained notoriety after the FBI began a lengthy investigation into the alleged obscenities hidden in the barely decipherable lyrics of the song behind singer Jack Ely’s messy screams. An account in 2015 noted that Ely was wearing braces, the microphone was suspended several feet above him, and his group mates, gathered in a circle around him, were playing loudly.
When the record was banned in one state and taken off the airwaves in others, such a reactionary move made Louie Louie an essential buy for every rebellious little town without a cause.
Unable to make sense of all that was chanted, like the squarer, more exasperated parents, the FBI reluctantly said Louie Louie was “ unintelligible at any speed. ” said FBI agents, years after the incident.
Regardless of the mythology surrounding the lyrics, it was Mitchell’s guitar break that gave the recording its edge. The extremes of his frenzied fretwork even almost caused the song to collapse on itself, as Ely mis-timed his signal and came soon after Mitchell’s wig before getting back on track. Combined, this made it one of rock and roll’s defining moments.
For a group named after Mitchell’s brand of aftershave, this was quite an achievement.
Mike Mitchell grew up in Portland, Oregon, in a musical family with his brother Dennis and sister Viva. He learned the basics of the guitar from his father, who played country and western.
Mitchell would carry this influence in his rare lead vocals on a version of Henry Strzelecki’s song, Long Tall Texan. Mitchell practiced every day and later passed his skills on to his younger brother.
“He was an incredible player,” Dennis Mitchell told The Oregonian. “He had long fingers. The lead role he played on Louie Louie was ahead of its time for complexity. I was twelve years younger than him and I played guitar too. When he got off the road after a tour, he would come home and spend time with me teaching me how to lick. He was a kind and gentle soul.
Mitchell attended David Douglas High School in Portland, where he met Lynn Easton, who in 1960 invited him to join his new group, which he had formed with Ely, a student at Washington High School. The trio enlisted bassist Bob Nordby and became The Kingsmen under the influence of Mitchell’s scent prop.
Writing with keyboardist Don Gallucci, The Kingsmen practiced in the Mitchell family basement, energetically playing the circuit and becoming a local teenage sensation.
They became a house band at The Chase, a teenage dance club run by Ken Chase, who became their manager. When they heard the Rockin ‘Robin Roberts version of Louie Louie on another club’s jukebox, they decided to incorporate the song into their set. Gallucci’s bold new arrangement made him his own.
By the time they released Louie Louie, the band had split up, with Ely and Nordby leaving after Easton’s mother, who recorded the band’s name, said her son was to be their lead singer.
Gallucci dropped out to finish high school. He will go on to produce Fun House (1970), the second Stooges album, directed by Iggy Pop, which will make his own version of Louie Louie, inspired by the Kingsmen.
Eastman and Mitchell built a new line up for the group, releasing several albums before Eastman left in 1967. This left Mitchell as the only original member of the group. He retained this status for 62 years which saw him perform with many incarnations of the band.
Meanwhile, Louie Louie found favor with other beat groups, both from The Kingsmen’s own generation and those that followed.
Estimates suggest that the song has been covered in around 1,000 different versions. These include renditions of The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, and other pre-punk travelers such as Pop. A generation of new wave garage bands took inspiration from Louie Louie and other obscurities.
The song was given a new lease of life after John Belushi and Co. sang it in the frat-boy comedy film, National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978). There is even an International Louie Louie Day, which takes place on April 11 every year.
A heart bypass operation thirty years ago hasn’t stopped Mitchell from playing, and even lately, while sick in bed, he kept his guitar handy. The riff he created over half a century ago has never been out of reach.
He is survived by his children, Samantha and Max, his brother Dennis and his sister, Viva Redding.