‘Louie Louie’ singer Ely dies at 71
Jack Ely, whose 1963 song “Louie Louie” was so unintelligible that the U.S. government investigated it for secret messages, has died aged 71, his family said Tuesday.
Ely was the 20-year-old singer of The Kingsmen when the band recorded the hard-charging song, which became a hit at the start of the rock era — even though the only clear words were in the title.
The song came to the attention of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who was notorious for secret investigations, after the song was banned in the state of Indiana.
Ely later said that the controversy started when a girl in Indiana alleged that the record carried obscene messages when slowed down to 33 rpm, and her mother passed along the message to the state governor.
A file declassified years later by the Federal Bureau of Investigation included a letter from a concerned citizen saying that the lyrics were “so filthy I cannot include them.”
But a subsequent FBI memo stated matter-of-factly that “three governmental agencies dropped their investigations because they were unable to determine what the lyrics of the song were, even after listening to the records at speeds ranging from 16 rpm to 78 rpm.”
Ely said that the lyrics were unexceptional and that the effect came because the microphone was hanging from the ceiling — which the producer thought would give a more live feel.
“What it really had to do with was how words get enunciated when your head is tipped all the way back and you’re yelling up,” Ely told music radio interviewer Allan Handelman.
The song by the white band from Portland, Oregon was originally written by the African-American musician Richard Berry.
As was common at the time, Berry earned little from the song when it was a hit, although he reached a settlement later. The song has since had frequent cover versions, notably by punk icon Iggy Pop.
The Kingsmen had limited success after “Louie Louie” and Ely’s career with other acts was cut short when he was drafted during the Vietnam War.
He later trained horses at a farm in central Oregon where he died late Monday, his son Sean told local television station KOIN.
In this April 16, 2009, file photo, Jack Ely, co-founder of the early 60’s band The Kingsmen and best known for his 1963 rendition of the song “Louie, Louie,” poses for a photo at his home in Terre Bonne, Oregon.