In the 1980’s, a three chord song called Louie, Louie was being considered by Washington State officials, to become the state song. This would have replaced the current traditional song, “Washington, My Home”. Of course, the latter seems more appropriate as a state song, but even to be considered, says something about Louie, Louie.
Louie, Louie was written in 1955, by Doo Wop musician, Richard Berry.
Berry was living in Los Angeles at the time and playing in a Mexican band called Ricky Rivera and the Rhythm Rockers. He was inspired by the rhythm of a song, he and his band were currently playing called “El Loco Cha Cha Cha”. While he was performing at a club called the Harmony Ball Room, one night, the lyrics for Louie, Louie, just popped into his head. The song is sung from the point of a customer, talking to a bartender, telling him how he intended to sail to Jamaica to find his true love. When you listen to the song, you’ll hear the Jamaican pronunciation of the lyrics.
In 1957, Berry released the first version of it, with his band The Pharaohs.
The rumor that followed Louie, Louie around for years, was that the lyrics were obscene. This prompted J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI to investigate the lyrics and it turned into a 31 month ordeal, which is hard for us to even imagine in 2012, given the lyrics on the radio today. Listening to Louie, Louie with the lyrics in front of me, I can assure you they aren’t obscene, but at least the rumor did manage to help bump up record sales.
The Pharaohs version of the song sold about 130,000 copies, but after about a year, the sales tapered off and Berry sold the rights, to earn some extra cash.
Berry’s version was not the one that made the song a hit, but we’ll get to that soon.
Approximately five years later, a Seattle, Washington musician named “Rockin” Robin Roberts discovered the song while digging through the bargain bin of a local thrift shop. At that time he had joined a local band called The Wailers (named the Wailers, long before Bob Marley came along). The Wailers recorded the song on The Etiquette record label. This version had the amazing Kent Morrill singing the lead.
Kent Morrill (second from the right) passed away in 2011 and there was a tribute for him at The Temple Theatre in Tacoma, Washington. I took part in playing with the band, to honor his life. It was an all-star (local all-stars) event with members from the bands, The Kingsmen, The Wailers, The Sonics and City Zu.
Note: I’m the girl playing guitar, in the shiny silver top, standing behind the sax players.
Now we get to the actual popular version of the song, that made Louie, Louie a hit. It was practically an exact replica of The Wailers version, only it was released by a Portland, Oregon band called “The Kingsmen”. The Kingsmen probably heard the Wailers performing it at one of their Oregon gigs.
Here’s a great interview with the lead singer of Louie, Louie, Jack Ely that sheds light from behind the scenes. It explains the entire FBI investigation and other interesting facts about the song. One of the most shocking things Ely states is that he only made $129.62 (to date) for his lead vocal on that song. Unbelievable!
Louie, Louie has become an anthem for people of the Northwest and inspired the LouieFest event (1000 guitars playing Louie, Louie, all at once) that takes place every year, to raise money for the Wailers Performing Arts Foundation. Wailers Foundation
Here is a brief (amateur) clip of Louiefest 2007. Kent Morrill from the Wailers is singing lead.
(Once again I’m playing guitar, standing behind the sax players. The sax player in the black t-shirt, is my singing partner.)
Louie, Louie has been labeled the most recognizable rock & roll song of all time and has been performed by the likes of Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, Iggy Pop, Barry White, Tom Petty, The Beach Boys, Blondie, and the Kinks, to name just a few.
Here are the lyrics to Louie Louie, so you can sing-a-long:Louie Louie Oh no, me gotta go Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah Louie Louie Oh no, me gotta go Me fine little girl she waits for me Me catch a ship across the sea Me sail the ship by me all alone Never see how I make it home Louie Louie Oh no, me gotta go Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah Louie Louie Oh no, me gotta go Three nights and days I sail the sea Think of girl constantly Upon the ship I know she there I smell the rose up in her hair Louie Louie Oh no, me gotta go Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah Louie Louie Oh no, me gotta go Me see Jamaica, the moon above Won’t be long me see me love Take her in my arms and then Tell her I never leave again Louie Louie Oh no, me gotta go Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah Louie Louie Oh no, me gotta go We gotta go now I said, We gotta go now Let’s hustle on outta here Let’s go!
Notes: Evening Magazine (July 25, 2012) Behind The Hits – Bob Shannon & John Javna You Tube Songfacts LouieLouieWeb