Mike Mitchell, co-founding guitarist of “Louie Louie” rockers the Kingsmen, died Friday at age 77.
Dick Peterson, the band’s drummer since 1963, confirmed Mitchell’s death in a statement to Rolling Stone. He said Mitchell, the Kingsmen’s sole remaining original member, “peacefully passed away,” but no cause of death was announced.
“We are deeply saddened by Mike’s passing. He was the kindest and most generous man on the planet,” Peterson said. “For the past 57 years, we have been playing colleges, fairs, and festivals, vintage car shows and rock n’ roll shows throughout the USA. Mike is irreplaceable, and he will be greatly missed not only by us but the fans as well. Mike was a favorite for his comedic nature as well as his musicianship.”
Eagles‘ Joe Walsh also offered his “sincere condolences” in a statement, highlighting Mitchell’s influence on a generation of guitarists. “I learned to play the guitar because of Mike Mitchell,” he said. “I know every one of his solos, mistakes and all. We’re losing the good guys.”
The Oregon Music Hall of Fame saluted the guitarist on Facebook, noting, “He never let his chops fall behind. His playing just got better as he aged.”
Mitchell helped form the Kingsmen in Portland, Ore in 1959. Four years later, the garage rock group released their debut single, a raucous cover of Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie,” which peaked at No. 2 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart.
As the song’s popularity soared, so did the legend surrounding its supposedly controversial lyrics — extending from the somewhat slurred delivery of singer Jack Ely. (The frontman recorded his vocal into a microphone suspended from the ceiling, forcing him to shout in order to project over the instruments.)
The FBI even launched an investigation to determine whether or not “Louie Louie,” a song about a sailor’s missing his love interest, was in any way pornographic. While they reportedly concluded the tune was “unintelligible at any speed,” there were other consequences.
“When ‘Louie Louie’ was banned in Indiana back in 1964 by then-Governor Walsh, every kid had to have a copy, and the record took off like wildfire across the country!” Peterson added to Rolling Stone in his statement.
“Louie Louie” appeared on the Kingsmen’s debut LP, 1963’s The Kingsmen in Person. The band released five more studio albums in various formations, and they earned several other hits during the decade, including renditions of “The Jolly Green Giant” (which hit No. 4) and “Money” (No. 16).
Reflecting on his career in a 1999 radio interview, Mitchell said he isn’t bothered by “Louie Louie” being the focus of his band’s legacy. “We’re just happy to have any success, that we can still do this,” he said. “It’s actually a wonderful career that we’ve had.”
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