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Members include Gary Abbott (group member, 1962-63), drums, vocals, saxophone; Barry Curtis (joined group, 1963), vocals; Lynn Easton (left group, 1967), drums; Jack Ely (left group, 1963), lead vocals, guitar; Don Gallucci (group member, 1962-63), piano; Todd McPherson (joined group, 1992), guitar; Mike Mitchell, lead guitar; Bob Nordby (left group, 1963), bass; Dick Peterson (joined group, 1963), bass; Steve Peterson (joined group, 1988), drums; Norm Sundholm (group member, 1963-67), bass; others. Addresses: Fan club--The Kingsmen Fan Club, P.O. Box 941, Peoria, AZ 85380. Website--Kingsmen Official Website: http://www.louielouie.org.
Rising to prominence during the early 1960s, the Kingsmen found success with their hit single "Louie Louie," which continued as their trademark song throughout their career. The group experienced many personnel changes over the years, but their performances and recordings reigned as quintessential party music for more than three decades. From the release of their debut, Kingsmen in Person, and into the early twenty-first century, the Kingsmen have sold a total of 20 million records.
The Kingsmen formed in 1959 in Portland, Oregon, when the original group members--Lynn Easton on drums, Jack Ely on lead vocals and guitar, Don Gallucci on piano, Mike Mitchell on lead guitar, and Bob Nordby on bass--were just teenagers. Their initial performances took place primarily at school parties, dances, and fashion shows. Their live performances in the Portland area quickly grew in frequency and audience size, and soon they were one of the most popular bands in the area. Early Kingsmen performances featured several cover songs. At the time, many Northwest bands played the Wailers' 1961 version of Richard Berry's "Louie Louie," and the Kingsmen were no exception. Singer/guitarist Jack Ely took it upon himself to teach the song to the rest of the group, only it wasn't exactly the way Berry wrote it or the Wailers had recorded it. They altered the basic rhythm, giving it their own style. Later, it would set the standard for how the song was played.
Reigned with "Louie Louie"
In 1963, the Kingsmen decided to try to become the entertainment on a cruise ship bound for Australia. In order to apply for the job, they had to submit a demo tape. They booked a session at Northwest Recorders in Portland for $36, and they recorded "Louie Louie" and an original instrumental song called "Haunted Castle." Although the cruise line did not give them the job, the group played the tape for some friends at KISN, a Portland radio station. As a result, they were able to get their version of "Louie Louie" on local radio.
At the same time they recorded their demo tape, another Northwest band called Paul Revere and the Raiders had also recorded a version of "Louie Louie." The battle over radio airplay did not last long as the Kingsmen's version quickly became more popular. As a result, Jerry Dennon, a record producer from Seattle, Washington, heard the song. He decided to press a few hundred copies of the single on his regional record label, Jerdon.
That same year, the recording made its way to Boston, where radio stations began to play it frequently. The exposure led Dennon to sign an agreement with Wand Records in New York for national distribution of the single, and it reached number two on the Billboard charts. As the popularity began to wane, a controversy surfaced. Parents began to question the lyrics in "Louie Louie." The record was banned in Indiana and other areas, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted an official investigation into the lyrics. By the time the ban was lifted, the song and the band had achieved even greater exposure and success.
Before the end of 1963, the Kingsmen recorded a concert at The Chase nightclub in Milwaukee, Oregon. Wand took the recording and turned it into their debut album Kingsmen in Person. "Louie Louie" appeared on the album as well, but not in a true live version. Wand decided to have the group record the song in the studio and later add taped crowd noise to give the impression of a live concert.
Success Created Internal Struggle
By 1964, "Money" became the second single for the Kingsmen, although it did not reach the same heights of success as their first. Wand continued to reissue "Louie Louie" in 1964, 1965, and 1966. In 1964, Wand released Kingsmen, Vol. 2, and the band became the number one touring band in the United States. The rapid rise to success resulted in the breakup of the original lineup.
Easton and Mitchell continued performing and recording as one rendition of the Kingsmen while Ely attempted to form his own version of the group. In retaliation, Easton copyrighted the Kingsmen name, making it impossible for the other rendition to continue. Over the next two years, the Kingsmen toured and recorded such songs as "Little Latin Lupe Lu" and "The Jolly Green Giant," but they never regained their initial success.
J.D. Considine later wrote in Rolling Stone, "Not only was Jack Ely, the voice of 'Louie Louie,' forced out after that first hit, but apart from the Top Five novelty 'The Jolly Green Giant,' most of the Kingsmen's later output consisted of desperate attempts at recapturing the 'Louie Louie' magic."
In 1965, the Kingsmen set 56 consecutive attendance records in as many venues, which included colleges, ballrooms, arenas, state fairs, and dances. They also released Kingsmen, Vol. 3 and Kingsmen on Campus that same year and appeared on the soundtrack for the film How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. After the release of Up and Away in 1966, Easton left the band, and two years later, the band decided to discontinue performing.
In 1978, the Kingsmen discovered a reason to make a comeback. The movie Animal House was released in theaters and featured John Belushi performing his own adaptation of "Louie Louie" in the Kingsmen style. The Kingsmen's version was also played over the film's credits. The song's popularity quickly came rushing back. "Animal House not only was a phenomenally successful movie, but it also spawned the revival of the popularity of music from our era," singer Barry Curtis wrote on the band's website. "Kingsmen material, especially 'Louie Louie,' figured prominently in this movement."
Fought to Win Royalty Rights
Two years later, the Kingsmen regrouped and began touring again. In the early 1990s, Jack Ely regained some of his credit for the band's early work when he headlined the thirtieth anniversary Louie Louie tour. In 1993, the Kingsmen filed a lawsuit to claim rights to the band's 105 master recordings and rights to receive royalties on their music. The suit was against G.M.L. Records, the company that had purchased the catalog in 1984. The Kingsmen won the lawsuit, allowing them to receive royalties and maintain ownership of their recordings beginning in 1993.
In 1998, a federal appeals court upheld the lower court's ruling, and the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The three-judge panel of the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in its unanimous opinion: "The parties do not dispute that the Kingsmen never received a single penny of the considerable royalties that 'Louie Louie' has produced over the past 30 years."
From the formation of the Kingsmen in 1959 to the early twenty-first century, the group had 20 different members. Only guitarist Mike Mitchell remained throughout the band's career. Three of the members: Mitchell, Dick Peterson, and Barry Curtis have been together since 1963. In the 1990s, the band also included drummer Steve Peterson and Todd McPherson. The Kingsmen's version of "Louie Louie" appeared in several other movies, such as Quadrophenia, Coupe de Ville, Spaced Invaders, Naked Gun, Past Away, Dave, Jennifer 8, and Mr. Holland's Opus. Despite the lineup transformations and legal battles, the Kingsmen's music, and especially "Louie Louie," managed to help them earn a reputation as one of America's biggest party bands of the 1960s.
by Sonya Shelton
The Kingsmen's Career
Group formed in Portland, OR, 1959; recorded demo of "Louie Louie" and "Haunted Castle," released on Jerdon Records in the Northwest, then nationally on Wand Records, 1963; Kingsmen in Person released, 1963; original members split, 1964; Easton and Mitchell continued with three more albums, 1964-66; band discontinued performing, 1968; "Louie Louie" regained popularity with Animal House film, 1978; band re-formed for tour, 1981; band filed lawsuit and won rights to royalties and ownership of recordings, 1993-98.
- Selected discography
- Kingsmen in Person , Wand, 1963.
- Kingsmen, Vol. 2 , Wand, 1964.
- (Contributor) How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (soundtrack), Wand, 1965.
- Kingsmen, Vol. 3 , Wand, 1965.
- Kingsmen on Campus , Wand, 1965.
- Up and Away , Wand, 1966.
- The Best of the Kingsmen , Rhino, 1985.
- Live and Unreleased , Jerden, 1992.
- Since We've Been Gone , Sundazed, 1994.
- Very Best of the Kingsmen , Varese, 1998.
- Graff, Gary, and Daniel Durchholz, editors, MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
- Guitar Player, August 1987.
- Library Journal, August 1993.
- Rolling Stone, August 8, 1991.
- "A Brief History of the Kingsmen," The Kingsmen, http://www.oz.net/~craigb/history (June 3, 2001).
- Kingsmen Official Website, http://www.louielouie.org (June 3, 2001).
- "Kingsmen Win Rights to 'Louie Louie'," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com (June 3, 2001).
- "The Kingsmen," Classic Bands, http://www.classicbands.com/kingsmen (June 3, 2001).
- "The Kingsmen," Get Music, http://www.getmusic.com (June 3, 2001).
- "The Kingsmen," History of Rock, http://www.history-of-rock.com/kingsmen (June 3, 2001).
- "The Kingsmen," Xentel, http://www.xentel.com/xentel/kingsmen (June 3, 2001).
- "The Kingsmen Biography," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com (June 3, 2001).
The Kingsmen Lyrics
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