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The Kingsmen

The history of The Kingsmen is somewhat overwhelmed by the impact of their most famous single, "Louie Louie," which to this day remains the definitive garage-band tune and, by 1983, had spawned enough cover versions to run three days without repetition on South Bay college station KFJC's Maximum Louie Louie marathon.

The Portland, Oregon, teen band's version of the song was far from the first -- L.A.'s Richard Berry had written the tune years earlier, and Tacoma band The Wailers (no relation to Bob Marley's band) had made it a standard in the lineup of every aspiring rock band in the Northwest. Lead vocalist Jack Ely, intending to teach the band The Wailers' version, somehow changed the rhythm of the song to what has become, as the All Music Guide put it, "the only way anyone has played it since." The band spent $36 to record the song in an ill-equipped studio, with Ely warbling unintelligible lyrics over the distinctive riff. The recording was soon eclipsed by the version by Northwest rivals Paul Revere and the Raiders, and would have faded quickly into oblivion had it not surfaced in the Midwest and on the East Coast in 1964. Its popularity was soon fueled by FBI investigations into possibly sinister meanings of the mystery lyrics, while some radio stations heard indecent verses and banned the tune from the airwaves.

Ironically, by the time the record took off, Ely had left the group, while another founder, Lynn Easton, trademarked the group's name. Easton, the lead vocalist on the band's subsequent hit "Jolly Green Giant," left as well in 1967. Since then, the remaining three founders and a changing cast of supporting musicians have remained mainstays of the oldies circuit and continued to delight frat boys of all ages.

Written by: Mary Eisenhart

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