Jack Ely, co-founder of The Kingsmen and the voice behind the immortal “Louie Louie,” has passed away, according to a report confirmed by the singer’s son Sean. He was 71 years old. Ely had been suffering from an undisclosed illness.
Ely co-founded The Kingsmen in 1959, and they recorded their first single in 1963. “Louie Louie” was originally a hit by Richard Berry in 1957, and it told the story of a sailor returning to Jamaica to be with the woman he loves. However, you can’t gather any of that from the Kingsmen’s version, which is what made it such a legendary recording. Reportedly, when Ely sang the song, he had to rely on a microphone that hung awkwardly from the ceiling of the recording studio. This, combined with the volume of the band’s instruments, led Ely’s vocals to sound almost unintelligible aside from the chorus. The song became a massive hit, staying on the charts for 16 weeks, and Ely’s slurred vocals led to an FBI investigation as to whether or not the song was secretly pornographic in nature.
After “Louie Louie,” Ely left the Kingsman and played in The Courtmen and Jack E. Lee and The Squires before leaving music altogether.