Jack Ely Singer with the Kingsmen

Singer passes away.

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Jack Ely, singer with the Kingsmen, has died. He is best known for Louie Louie, a song inspired by the Caribbean which appeared, went away quietly and came back in a form so raucous that the American security services thought it should be outlawed, writes Alan Connor. In 1964, the FBI began a 30-month investigation into the Kingsmen song Louie Louie. They were convinced that lurking in its mumbled vocals were unspeakable, almost literally unimaginable obscenities. The lyric is really about a homesick mariner. How on earth did this happen?

The story starts in 1955, with Richard Berry, a doo-wop singer, waiting in a California ballroom’s dressing room, listening to a Filipino band playing a cha-cha – more precisely, a song called El Loco Cha Cha. It began with the rhythm: cha-cha-cha, cha-cha.

“They were doing this real way-out Latin riff. It was that duh-duh-duh, duh-duh – and immediately I said hey, man, that’s it: Louie Louie, Louie Louie.”

He scribbled notes on a napkin, then kept thinking. Berry had a bedside tape recorder to capture any nocturnal inspiration and once he found a story, the song was there. The lyrics may be unfathomable in the most famous version, but Berry’s couldn’t be clearer – they’re a sea shanty.

Media captionLouie Louie’s garbled lyrics made the song’s performers, the Kingsmen, a target for the FBI
Berry drew on songs where a lovelorn fellow misses his sweetheart, including One for My Baby and One More for the Road (set in a New York bar and made famous by Frank Sinatra). Berry shifted the location to an unnamed dock – Louie is a bartender whose ear is being bent by a sailor homesick for Jamaica and the “fine little girl” waiting there.

It’s a touching miniature about a man who needs to leave a bar to catch a ship and, in Berry’s original, decidedly non-raucous. It was the B-side to Berry’s version of You Are My Sunshine and before long was found only in bargain bins.

Meanwhile, Berry proposed to his partner Dorothy Adams. She said yes, with one caveat. “I wanted a wedding ring set to show my friends I got married… But at the time he couldn’t afford it. He said, I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna sell some songs, and then I’ll get the ring.”

Posted under Singer News, Singing Video
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