Single on Mojo by Melbourne band formed in 1965. They are notable for being the first to include Ross Wilson and Ross Hannaford. After The Pink Finks folded the Rosses were in Party Machine, and in Sons Of The Vegetal Mother which generated the band-within-a-band that became Daddy Cool.
This was the first of four Pink Finks singles April 1965-May 1966.
Incredibly successful and universally known single on Seattle label Jerden, June 1963. It was later released on Wand, in October 1963, and entered the Billboard charts in November 1963, peaking at #1.
Louie Louie was already well-known in the Pacific Northwest region by the time this version was released. It had become a standard in the repertoires of local bands, and some of them had already recorded it.
The history of Portland, Oregon r&b band The Kingsmen goes back to 1957 when its members were in high school.
Vocals on Louie Louie are by founding member of the band Jack Ely. The Kingsmen have been open about their debt to a 1961 version by Rockin Robin Roberts with The Wailers (see below). Kingsmen guitarist Mike Mitchell, quoted in 2003, said We were copying the Wailers, except we were doing it as an instrumental. Nobody knew the lyrics until just before we recorded it. (News Tribune, Tacoma, cited below)
They had two other charting singles in the USA, Money (1964, #16) and The Jolly Green Giant (1965, #4; also #29 in Adelaide).
The chronology of Louie Louie’s creation is hard to pin down. You can find sources stating that it was written in 1955 or in mid-1956. Some sources, including Discogs.com, date the single as 1956 while others, including 45cat.com, say early 1957.
Louisiana-born Richard Berry (1935-1997) was an influential, prolific and versatile singer, composer and sessioneer. He is heard on numerous records in his own name, or as a group member or duettist. He was a member of doo-wop group The Flairs, sang bass on The Robins’ Riot in Cell Block #9 [YouTube], and embellished Etta James’s Roll With Me, Henry [YouTube].
Louie Louie became one of the most recorded songs ever, thanks to the 1963 hit version by The Kingsmen. In the 1980s college radio station KFJC, in Los Altos Hills, CA, initiated a Maximum Louie Louie marathon when they played a few hundred versions in a row.
References, further reading: 1. Richard Berry biography by Richie Unterberger at All Music. 2. If too much Louie Louie is barely enough, see The Louie Report: The blog for all things LOUIE LOUIE 3. My 2005 blog post about the FBI’s investigation of Louie Louie also looks at the phenomenon of the song: I’m sure this is filthy, just wait while I figure out what he’s saying. 4. Dave Marsh wrote a whole book about the song: Louie Louie : the history and mythology of the world’s most famous rock ‘n’ roll song [Internet Archive].
El Loco Cha Cha is by Cuban composer Rosendo Ruiz Jr. (Rosendo Ruiz Quevedo, 1918-2009).
As I understand it:
• Richard Berry was influenced by El Loco Cha Cha when he wrote the distinctive riff heard from the opening of Louie Louie. It was being played by Ricky Rillera & The Rhythm Rockers, a band that Berry was singing with at the time.
• El Loco Cha Cha was released on René Touzet’s 1957 album From Broadway To Havana, also as a single (1957), but it must have been around earlier than that. (Dave Marsh says it had been a “local hit” for Touzet by the time it inspired Berry, but I can’t find a recording earlier than 1957). Touzet was a Cuban orchestra leader in USA from 1946.
• It is true that El Loco Cha Cha was in turn derived from Amarren al Loco by Jose Fajardo’s Cuban band Fajardo Y Sus Estrellas. However, the similarity between the two songs lies in the vocal melody: the distinctive rhythmic line that turned up in Louie Louie is not yet heard on Amarren al Loco. [YouTube]
Single on Etiquette, March 1961. This was the first release on Etiquette, a label set up by Tacoma, Washington, band The Wailers.
Although the full band is uncredited for contractual reasons, this is The Wailers featuring band member Rockin Robin Roberts (Lawrence Fewell Roberts II, 1940-1967). Before he joined them, The Wailers had charted #36 Billboard in June 1959 with their instrumental Tall Cool One, an original by band members Richard Dangel, Kent Morrill, and John Greek. It would re-enter the charts in May 1964 (#39).
This version of Louie Louie, with vocals by the energetic and innovative Roberts, is the bridge between Richard Berry’s r&b original and the famous garage version by Portland, Oregon, band The Kingsmen. Roberts’s call before the instrumental break, for example, OK, let’s give it to ’em, right now! is repeated on the Kingsmen record. Dave Marsh writes that Roberts understood the genius of Louie Louie, and credits him with recognizing the song’s gutter magnificence.
The role of Wailers guitarist Richard Dangel has also been acknowledged in working up the vocalised “duh-duh-duh” line from Berry’s record and coming up with the now familiar instrumental riff. Vocalist Roberts had already sung Louie Louie with his previous band Little Bill And The Blue Notes, led by Bill Engelhart who had also released a version of the song, on Seattle label Topaz (1960).
In fact, by the time The Kingsmen recorded their famous hit version of Louie Louie, the song was well-known in the Pacific Northwest.* As Peter Blecha tells it at HistoryLink.org, after Richard Berry sang Louie Louie at a touring rhythm & blues show in Seattle in September 1957, teenagers started requesting the song at dances, and it became a standard in the repertoires of local bands:
Essential reading: 1. Richard Berry, Los Angeles R&B singer, brings “Louie Louie” to Seattle on September 21, 1957; and 2. Roberts, “Rockin’ Robin” (1940-1967), both by Peter Blecha at Washington State history site HistoryLink.org. 3. Dave Marsh on “Louie Louie”, cited below. 4. Rick Nelson, “It’s Louie Louie Time”, News Tribune (Tacoma), 24 August 2003, pp 41, 44. This excellent overview of the history of the song includes Wailers bassist John “Buck” Ormsby recalling the roles of both Rockin Robin Roberts and Wailers guitarist Richard Dangel in reworking “Louie Louie”. [At newspapers.com, paid subscription required.]
*Northwest, also called Pacific Northwest, region, northwestern U.S., including the states of Oregon and Washington and part of Idaho. [Britannica]
Single on Portland, Oregon label Sandé May 1963. It was reissued in June 1963 on Columbia, the major label that signed the Raiders for a successful recording career for the rest of the 1960s and into the early 1970s.
The Raiders were formed in Boise, Idaho in the late 1950s. Before moving on to Portland, they had released nine singles on LA area label Gardena, one of which was a moderate instrumental hit, Like, Long Hair (1961. #38 USA).
This was recorded around the same time as The Kingsmen’s version, and released a month earlier, but its success was limited to the Northwest and was soon overshadowed by The Kingsmen’s national hit.
Little Bill is Tacoma, Washington, rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Bill Engelhart who formed Little Bill And The Blue Notes (also written as Bluenotes) in 1955.
This appears to be the first recording of Louie Louie by a Pacific Northwest region artist. It was recorded when Bill was working solo in Seattle after leaving The Bluenotes.
Rockin Robin Roberts first sang Louie Louie when he was with The Blue Notes, He quit in mid-1959 and joined The Wailers with whom he recorded a version of Louie Louie that influenced The Kingsmen when they cut their hit version.
Further reading: Honoring Little Bill Engelhart at South Sound Blues Association’s website.
B-side on Chess November 1956.
Richard Berry cited this as an influence, and the similarities are clear. How it fits into the chronology of Louie Louie is unclear (see above under Richard Berry).