Mike Mitchell

Mike Mitchell, Guitarist on the Kingsmen’s ‘Louie Louie,’ Dies

Mike Mitchell, lead guitarist for the Kingsmen for more than six decades, died Friday on his 77th birthday, according to a publicist for the group.

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His death, was confirmed by the group on its louielouie.org website. Mitchell reportedly died of a heart attack; the location was not revealed.

Mitchell was the only surviving member to continue with the band since its start in 1959.

“We are deeply saddened by Mike’s passing. He was the kindest and most generous man on the planet,” drummer Dick Peterson said in a statement.

Members of the Kingsmen pose for a portrait circa 1965. Mike Mitchell is on the right

“Mike is irreplaceable and he will be greatly missed not only by us but the fans as well. Mike was a favorite for his kindness, comedic nature as well as his musicianship.”

“Mike is irreplaceable, and he will be greatly missed not only by us but the fans as well. Mike was a favorite for his comedic nature as well as his musicianship,” Peterson added.

The garage rock band started recording in 1963. Their first effort was “Louie Louie,” a song written and first recorded by Richard Berry in 1955, and played by virtually all Northwest rock and roll and R&B bands.

The session cost a reported $36 at Portland’s Northwest Recorders. Jerry Dennon, a record producer in Seattle, pressed a few hundred copies on his regional label, Jerden. Northwest music fans were already familiar with the song from Berry’s version and a subsequent cover by a local band, the Wailers (1961).

As it began to drop in popularity, a controversy regarding the lyrics spread across America. The record was banned from sales and airplay in Indiana and elsewhere because teens countrywide thought the recording was riddled with obscene lyrics.

That naturally stimulated even more interest, so much so that the FBI investigated the band, following them as they crisscrossed the country for over a year until the recording was deemed “unintelligible.” Wand reissued the song in 1964 (and again in 1965 and 1966). The single ultimately reached #2 on the Hot 100.

Music critic Dave Marsh referred to lead singer Jack Ely’s vocals as resembling “Donald Duck on helium.” Then-Indiana Gov. Matthew Welsh banned sales of the recording in his state, claiming it was pornographic. The FBI conducted an investigation — but the inquiry ended after their sound laboratory was unable to clearly determine what was actually being sung.

“Louie Louie” has since been covered by everyone from the Beach Boys to the Grateful Dead to R.E.M.

Mitchell performed the famous jangly guitar solo in the middle of the song and continued to perform with different lineups of the band for more than 60 years.

“His playing just got better as he aged,” the Oregon Music Hall of Fame said in a Facebook post Saturday.

The group rode the success to become a popular concert attraction, appearing in those years with such British Invasion acts as the Rolling Stones, the Zombies, the Kinks, Peter and Gordon, Chad and Jeremy and others, as well as North American acts the Beach Boys, the Righteous Brothers, the Isley Brothers, the Turtles, the Byrds, and the Lovin’ Spoonful.

The Kingsmen were featured on the era’s top TV music shows, including Shindig, Hullabaloo, American Bandstand and Where The Action Is, and in the beach party movie, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.

They earned subsequent chart success with a 1964 cover of “Money” (#16) and the novelty hit, “The Jolly Green Giant,” about the frozen foods character, which reached #4 in 1965.

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