Jack Ely, Kingsmen singer who made ‘Louie, Louie’ famous, is dead at 71

The Kingsmen didn’t write the song “Louie, Louie” — that would be Richard Berry — but they recorded the only version that really counts, at a recording studio in Portland, Oregon, in 1963. Jack Ely, the singer who unintelligibly shouted out the lyrics, died Tuesday at age 71 at his home outside Bend, Oregon. His son, Sean Ely, confirmed the death to The Associated Press, and said he didn’t know what illness his father died of, “because of his religious beliefs.”

The Kingsmen member Jack Ely has died after a long battle with an illness–he was 71: http://t.co/MQ4q0bDVbM pic.twitter.com/X4isAmZ9BS
— E! Online (@eonline) April 29, 2015

The recording that made Ely’s garage band famous, as well as the song they covered, was a quirk of fate. The Kingsmen were going to record it as an instrumental, but “at the last minute I decided I’d sing it,” Ely said, according to his son. The garbled vocals are due to the fact that he’d had his braces tightened that day, and the recording engineer put the microphone a few feet above Ely’s head, so he had to stand on his toes, lean his head back 45 degrees, and shout out the lyrics.
The band didn’t like the recording; the world loved it. The FBI investigated the recording for lewd lyrics but ruled the song incomprehensible. Ely left the band soon after the recording, in a dispute with the drummer, who wanted to be lead singer. Jack Ely spend his later years training horses, and he made his final recording in 2012, a gospel album called Love is All Around You Now. Peter Weber