Jack Ely, co-founder of The Kingsmen and the voice behind the iconic single “Louie Louie”, has died at the age of 71. His son, Sean, confirmed that the singer died in his Oregon home on Monday evening. Ely succumbed to a long-suffered illness, though he never knew what the disease was due to his religious beliefs.
Ely (second from the left, above ) co-founded The Kingsmen in 1959. The band primarily recorded cover songs, their most famous of which was a rendition of Richard Berry’s 1955 single “Louie Louie”. Though the song went on to become one of the most recognizable hits of the century, none of The Kingsmen ever received royalties due to not being the original authors.
Berry’s “Louie Louie” was about a Jamaican sailor who missed his lady love, but Ely’s rendition is more renowned for being unintelligible. Ely credited this to a microphone hung awkwardly from the ceiling, saying he knew full well what the lyrics actually were but yelped them skyward just the same. The FBI launched an investigation into the song, claiming it contained pornographic messages. They put together a report 455 pages long, a fact Ely got “quite the kick” out of.
Ely and The Kingsmen, who are still active, parted ways shortly after the song was released. Ely started The Courtmen, with whom he recorded “Louie Louie ’66”. He never saw the success of the original, however. “He wanted to try on different occasions to pursue other endeavors in the music industry,” said Sean, “but I think when it was all done and said he was pretty happy that he did ‘Louie Louie.'”