‘Louie Louie’ singer Ely dies at 71

The China Post - - ARTS -

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.

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