Mike Mitchell, the co-founding lead guitarist for the Kingsmen — best known for their 1963 rock classic, “Louie Louie” — died of a heart attack on his birthday, April 16th, at age 77. Mitchell, who launched the band back in 1959, remained the sole original member of the group still performing with the Kingsmen.
“Louie, Louie,” which was originally recorded by its composer Richard Berry back in 1955, became a Top Two hit for the Kingsmen in 1963. The tune, which has become a “frat rock” perennial, courted trouble for its slurred lead vocal — which led many to assume the band was masking obscene lyrics. After several years of the FBI trying to nail the group, a federal judge found that the record's lyrics were actually, “unintelligible at any speed.”
The Kingsmen followed “Louie Louie” with two other Top 20 hits — 1964's “Money,” which hit Number 16, and the band's second-biggest hit, 1965's “The Jolly Green Giant,” which peaked at Number Four.
The Kingmen's longtime drummer Dick Peterson shed light on what it was like for the band to head out on the road as teenagers let loose for the first time: “I was 17 at the time when we did the first tour. When were packed up and we were ready to go — it was an adventure! We really didn't know what to expect. You don't really have a sense of how big the record is or how popular you are until you get out on the road. It easily and quickly became a way of life.”