The Louie Files: ’62 Seaside Riot

When I started running blog posts about “Louie Louie,” I discovered some history along the way. In the case of finding the location of the Pypo Club, I’ll admit I was befuddled. The origins of the Kingsmen’s recording could be found at the Seaside, Oregon club. While the Pypo Club was not central to the ’62 riots, when discussing this history with my friend Jeff Dodge he told me his father Stew Dodge had been a witness to the event.  I knew there was more to this era to cover. Stew Dodge has been a longtime Portland musician and behind the music scene too through the sound company he owns. I’ve never been to a riot so I had to hear a first hand account.

July 1962

In the summer of ‘62, I was headed for my senior year of high school at North Catholic which is right down the street. Now it’s an Arby’s on Lombard Street. Our family hung out at the beach. We had friends that had a cabin at Tolovana Park. It was a beater, neat, great, beat up five bedroom beach cabin and we’d rent it before school started for a few years. We hung out at Cannon Beach a lot, went up to Seaside hung out there a lot. In the summer of ‘62 I was down there with, I can’t remember probably staying at the cabin in Tolovana Park. I think it was probably a Saturday night and we went in to Seaside. We had a great beach party going. It was Pete Dressler and Al Kemmer. There was maybe four guys and three of the foxiest chicks that ever went to North Catholic High School and I actually struck up a conversation with Fran Yohn who was absolutely fantastic and I had high hopes until the Seaside lifeguards came walking down the beach. Pete Dressler got beat up. They threw the guitar in the fire, drank all our beer and then split. Nobody got really hurt. It was a power move. It was the lifeguards. There was a guy, his nickname was, Hodun, a big guy and there was another guy I’m not going to mention his name because he was kind of the head lifeguard and the next day I went down to the Turnaround I think with Al Kemmer and these guys were hanging around the lifeguard tower, strutting around and they made some crack “hey you have a good party last night.” And I said, “No, we didn’t have a good party at all.” I said, “But you’re gonna wish you never did that because Labor Day weekend I’m going to bring all my friends down here and we’re going to get even with you.” So file that away.

Stew Dodge, far left from US Cadenza band lineup, 1966

Saturday, Labor Day weekend ‘62

So we found ourselves down at the coast, oh there was half a dozen guys I was down there with. Things started getting really crowded and really crazy. It was just huge, packed, you had to walk in the streets because the sidewalk’s too full. This is one thing the good residents of Seaside probably don’t want to admit but I was 17 and I looked like I was 12 and I could walk into any one of three or four taverns buy a case of beer as long as I took it down on the beach on the sand, as long as I went down to the Turnaround and then went on down to the beach. Well let me think. Is that a good idea? Maybe not. So Saturday was pretty crazy, there wasn’t any aberrant behavior I don’t think, it was just packed and a huge party.

The day of the riot, Sunday, Sept. 2nd

The Times Theater is on Main Street and it’s like a long block away from the Turnaround, I think it’s a four way stop now with the light and we were just walking up and down the sidewalk and hanging out and a fight started. As I recall it was a guy who went to University of Oregon and somebody else said the other guy was a javelin thrower from USC or something and it was like a John Wayne movie. These guys were slugging it out. It was a fair fight but it was a real fight. Everybody backed up so there was like a 20 foot diameter ring right in the middle of the intersection where these guys were fighting. Everybody’s cheering them on and finally they said, “Do you want to quit?” “Yeah I’ll quit.” And they shook hands and walked down the street to get a beer and then the cops showed up. I can’t remember why, one guy got arrested and they cuffed him, threw him in the backseat of the squad car and they were already headed up Broadway towards the Turnaround so they drove up to Turnaround and the crowd followed them. They tried to take a right hand turn at the Turnaround and they couldn’t move it was too many kids. It was really packed and people were yelling, screaming and cheering and stuff and drunk, everybody’s drunk. You know the average age seemed to me to be 21 or 22 older and younger, but college. I was kind of in the minority. I was a junior in high school. Somebody, and I was right there I was watching it, somebody ran up and opened the passenger side, back door on the cop car and they grabbed the guy that was in the cop car and spirited him away. All the sudden they didn’t have their prisoner anymore. So one of the cops slammed the door and they both hopped in and they went up to the corner took a right headed back into town and then when they got down in front of the Catholic Church a block down the street they couldn’t move again.

A bottle like this?

It was too crowded. I was standing there with hundreds of people, the cops were, “Okay, break this up, let us through here,” and from kind of up the street towards the beach came a Blitz Weinhard stubby bottle through the air and punched out the rear window of the cop car. And that was it. Everybody kind of went, “uh oh,” that’s all changed and the cops were able to get into their car and take off and we didn’t see another cop, I’m thinking this was five o’clock in the afternoon, six, somewhere in there, we didn’t see another cop for two or three hours, nobody, no authority at all. They all just gave up which is probably a good idea. By this time they started calling in county, state cops, cops from Astoria, cops from all the agencies up and down the North Coast. So it was just anarchy, you know. It was thousands of kids, nobody in charge, everybody is drunk, everybodies’ having a great time. So we’re all back up at the Turnaround and Al Kemmer says let’s get some guys let’s get three or four guys and let’s start chanting, “Let’s get the tower.” Statue of limitations, okay, I’m not afraid now you know I’ve lived my life. And they did. The thousand people streamed down into the sand and pushed over the lifeguard tower. It was like two and a half stories tall and it was right next to the Turnaround so a long way from the water and we thought well that was interesting.

Then about fifty people picked it up, carried it up the steps and stood it up in the middle of the Turnaround and I’m thinking this is interesting you know this is getting out of control and then they started rolling it end over end down Broadway. It took like fifty guys to do that. It was spectacular and I’m think it pretty much disintegrated from falling over a bunch of times in the cement and then the cops started coming up the street and a fire engine. A fire engine came up about a block away from the actual Turnaround, maybe, and they hooked it up to the fireplug, fired that thing up and got their high pressured hose, I think they only had one, they might’ve had two hoses. They had at least one hose and started hosing down the crowd, which was great fun, you know, and again it didn’t start getting crazy until firemen and cops and other people with some sort of authority in Seaside started using ax handles and they started beating on the kids and then arresting a lot of kids. My good friend, he grew up two houses away from Pat Daily, he went to jail that night. They got him for inciting a riot, hauled him off and put him in jail. We bailed him out the next day.

There’s a picture of a guy, with a newspaper holder, I was right there, I watched that. He tried hitting somebody with that. And then the water stopped the hose quit and a guy, a kid, came running up the street with the keys to the fire engine in his hand, a huge cheer, right. It got tough after that. It got really rough. There was lots of cops. I don’t think the National Guard made it there that day. I think they were there the first thing in the morning. They called up the Guard and that was pretty much it for the anarchy, the thousands of kids from up and down the coast. Three or four of us walked out of town to Gearhart, which is the next town north and we all slept in a barn. I don’t know whose barn it was. It was Labor Day, it got pretty chilly that night but I can remember all of us slept in the hay in the corner of this barn because all of the highways were closed so we couldn’t get anywhere. That’s the chronology from my memory.

With Dr. Corn’s Bluegrass Remedy, 1976

PO: But the cops left and you guys kind of were set off what kind of rioting was going on right as the cops left? Was it fighting?

No, it was a party. It wasn’t even edgy, you know, it was a party. I think the seamier element, I think that’s when stuff started getting broken, and I wasn’t up on Broadway when they were breaking windows and stuff and I think that was, I can’t really remember if that was before the reinforced Police got back up the street. It may have been. With the fire engine, that was great fun getting hosed down with water but they were gone a long time. My feeling was that it was still a giant drunken party

Fritz Richmond’s Barbecue Orchestra, 2003

PO: Combined with maybe some underage drinking.

Some!

PO: But you mentioned the older crowd too, 21 to 22 mixed in with high school kids.

There was wholesale drinking. They were lined up in the bars buying cases of beer and then going down to the beach.

PO: As far as those lifeguards, did you ever catch up with them?

Yeah, the next day. We walked down there, me and half a dozen of my buddies walked down the steps and there were four stakes in the ground and they had it roped off where it used to be. I thought that was a wonderful memorial. It was suggested that it would be a really good idea if we got the hell out of Seaside right then and we did. That was Labor Day, that was Monday. I didn’t press it. I didn’t want to get something going all over again but I was able to look at the stakes in the ground and smile at them.

US Cadenza reunion, 2013

PO: You pretty much got the last laugh because their stand had been destroyed.

And then twenty-five years later or thirty years later, I was hanging out with this girl who lived in Cannon Beach and her landlord was the guy. I think his name is Dick Donica or something, he was the head, he wasn’t the big tough guy but—these guys, they’re all king of the Pypo Club and stuff. They’re real celebrities in Seaside and insufferable jerks. And he was Maggie’s landlord at the house she was living in, in Cannon Beach and this was in ’90, ‘91 maybe, and I knew who he was and I ran into him a couple times and he kept going, “Do I know you?” This was 30 years later and I was like, “No I don’t think so.” He looked at me funny and said that two or three times over that summer.

PO: What are your thoughts as far as Seaside not wanting to talk about it?

It’s funny because in the mid-70’s I worked at a place and one of the guys I worked with, the guy worked out in the warehouse, Sonny was the guy’s name, he was from Seaside and he was there during the riot. It came up once and they’re all pissed off that it gave Seaside a bad name, yeah, sleepy little beach town.

A sound idea, indeed.

PO: I mean part of my thought is it was right before I was born but I think about back then you think, early 60s everybody’s respectful, for this or that you can think about the Marlon Brando types the Wild Ones or something it’s not a biker gang thing but,

No, and that wasn’t, if you look at the pictures, I’ve been looking at the pictures and actually I’ve been seeing guys and I’m going okay I remember that guy. I don’t know who was at fault to do things over again that kid shouldn’t have thrown that beer bottle. Maybe they shouldn’t have arrested that kid. They’re trying to do a big power play in front of a thousand drunk college students, maybe that wasn’t smart. Nobody down there, none of the cops, sleepy little Seaside town, the worst they’d ever done was roust a drunk or a bounced check. This was totally new ground for them so it was a comedy of errors I think and there wasn’t, except for the tower, there wasn’t any sort of pre-planned thing so it was not a conspiracy it was something that got out of hand.

Performance photos courtesy of Trench Digger Productions. Many thanks to Jeff S. Dodge and Mr. Stew Dodge, too!

More reading:

http://www.oregonlive.com/history/2016/06/seasides_wave_of_riots_in_the.html

My favorite part of the link below is how the photo is debunked by the commentators:

http://www.stumptownblogger.com/2011/05/the-seaside-riots.html

Next week: Portland has a bell?

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The Louie Files: Louie Louie Sculpture

I never would have known there was a “Louie Louie” sculpture in town if I had not been tipped off by Will Simmons. Will enjoys his fame as a blogger for the Pittsburgh Orbit and I was lucky to have him as a guest columnist. Earlier this month, he wrote about the greatest moment in rock history and had been looking for photos for the post. If you haven’t read it already it was about the 60’s Portland band the Kingsmen recording “Louie Louie.” I ran the post on April 6 in honor of the 54th anniversary of the making of that record.

A closer look.

You have to make some considerations when you’re attempting to illustrate a song. It’s challenging. Artist Tim Bavington illustrated the song’s sound waves in a sculptural form  that hangs in the lobby of the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal uilding at 1220 SW 3rd Avenue in Portland. You pretty much have to have synesthesia to make an image of music and yet Tim Bavington’s sculpture takes the notes and chords from the song “Louie Louie” and does that. My research revealed that the sculpture replicates the Kingsmen’s version of the song but unless you’re a sound engineer with a keen eye, as opposed to your average federal worker, how would you know?

The Louie Files: Louie, Louie Sculpture 3

I made my way downtown on a Tuesday afternoon during my spring break. With a sneaking suspicion that a federal building meant security, I emptied my pockets of various odds and ends before leaving the house. I was getting worked up knowing I was going to have to explain my mission. When I arrived I told the guard about my blog related photography assignment. I wondered if I sounded professional, or crazy. He remained unfazed, as if this were an everyday occurrence. I was instructed to only take pictures of the sculpture and not the security apparatus I was passing through. Taking off my shoes only proved to be a minor annoyance. It was getting me closer to the sculpture. I discovered the plate in my arm from this summer’s bike accident didn’t set off the metal detector.

The guitar solo is the yellow part.

After collecting my belongings, one of the other guards told me, what sounded like a rumor, that the art was hung upside down. I was flabbergasted. Art hung upside down? I asked why no one ever returned to hang it right. She explained that she had worked in building construction and thought the art work cost more to hang than to make. Rearranging it would be cost prohibitive. She seemed like a good source of information so I asked how the art work ended up in a Portland federal building. Her explanation was cryptic. She told me she had lived in Portland for a long time and wacky things happen here. Days later I had to wonder if I had not fallen victim to the greatest joke about abstract art of all–the old nobody knows which side is up joke.

The Louie Files: Louie, Louie Sculpture

Feds in there somewhere.

The Federal Building itself is a work of art. Ironwork up the entire building had me wondering how this obscures people’s views from the windows but it sure looks cool. Inside the lobby, the “Louie Louie” sculpture is given a great amount of space, the whole lobby, minus the security apparatus, to be noticed and admired. The large windows on the ground floor allow light to be reflected back on the surface of the art work. I found this distracting because it doesn’t allow the color of the sculpture to be seen as well but it adds a dimension to the piece. It’s always going to look different. That sentiment was summed up in the title plaque that describes how artist Tim Bavington:

“assigned colors to spectrographic images of the music, and the resulting color combinations correspond to the song’s changing chords. Viewed from different angles and in shifting light throughout the day, the forms appear fluid and ever-changing.”

Seating for seven.

Another detail I appreciated was how the art reflected off the shiny floor, mirrored in swirls of color. I laughed to think about how there was seating arranged far from the art work with enough space between to take the whole thing in or not look at the sculpture at all. I had to wonder if people considered the artist’s methods, design and subject matter and if the art ever started discussions about the song itself.

Detail

The song has taken on a bit of a new life for me as I started this series of blog posts related to it. I never quite caught on to the “Louie Louie” resurgence in the ’80’s but after reading about the “Louie Louie” marathons at California college radio stations it now makes sense. I finally got around to visiting the building where the song was recorded. Next year I hope to write about the plaque being returned to one of its walls. I heard it had been stolen but was told when I visited the site that it was taken off for renovation work.

IMG_4979

The Louie, Louie Building sponsored by FedEx.

Mostly I like the idea of a bunch of guys bombing into a recording studio and being bum rushed into churning out a quick take of a song that became legendary. One Facebook responder didn’t think the guitar solo was raunchy enough and while that’s something to consider, the song was recorded in a way that created a delicate balance, anything done even in the slightest different way, another take or an overdub (if that technology even existed then), might have thrown off the whole recording. As Simmons described in his greatest rock moment post, the Kingsmen created a recording full of “magical quirks,” a phrase that relates to the possibilities that can still be found in Portland. Somehow it all seems subversive in a subtle way that a sculpture would be installed in a federal building  50 years after an Indiana Governor alerted the F.B.I. and started a rock and roll witch hunt of sorts over the song’s perceived explicit nature. I’ll take quirks anywhere I can find them even if it means taking my shoes off.

Next week’s topic will be Sign Additions. You’ll have to tune in to see what this is about. The following week we’ll be running the last of this year’s Louie Files series. We’re thinking it will be a first hand account of the Seaside riots.   

For sculpture information see:

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2013/07/the_kingsmens_infamously_innoc.html

Many thanks to Louielouie.net for their “greatest moment” write up:

http://www.louielouie.net/blog/?p=8424

The Louie Files: Finding Pypo

There’s plenty to do at the Oregon coast, even during a rainy weekend. There’s bad cable television, waves to look at and listen to and rain showers to dodge when the time seems right for a walk on the beach. But I was on assignment. No, I hadn’t gone to Seaside, Oregon for the sole purpose of hunting down the remains of an old teen club but since I was in the area, the exact area, I knew I could make it part of my agenda. I was really in Seaside because my wife, Ronna, was attending a conference at the Convention Center. My real assignment was to monitor the dog and keep him from barking and waking everyone up at the hotel.

When Will Simmons from the Pittsburgh Orbit was preparing a post for this blog to celebrate the anniversary of the Kingsmen’s recording of “Louie Louie,” I read the story about the origins of the song and kept hearing about the Pypo Club in Seaside. I was in the right place to snap a few photos of the place that played a part in the song’s history. By now, hopefully, you’ve read Simmons’ “Louie Louie,” post. The Pypo Club was integral to the Kingsmen’s association with the song. It was at the club where the band kept seeing kids get up and dance to Rockin’ Robin Roberts’ version of “Louie Louie” every time it came on the jukebox. This inspired the band to perform it themselves. Obsessives like me find this moment of inspiration historical. It led to the Kingsmen recording “Louie Louie.” Historical events mean building preservation and plaques. I knew the club was on Broadway so after walking to the Convention Center the night we arrived I found the street which is the town’s main drag and headed towards the ocean. I expected to see the Pypo Club looking familiar like the old photo I’d seen but the darkness kept it hidden. That was okay since I had the next day to find it.

The Club keeps you young.

The following morning I did more research. I read the obituary of the man, Gil Tolan, who co-founded the club in 1961. The Pypo Club got a brief, one sentence mention. The gentleman had a full life so the obituary explored his many other accomplishments. Then I discovered that the first Pypo Club was torn down. This club had figured so prominently in rock history and yet I could find few specifics about it. Some Facebook mentions seemed concerned with casual reminiscences. Somewhere a comment explained the building’s demise.

A commenter tells the tale.

With all the development that had gone on in the last 50 years it made sense that a teen club would be inconsequencial. Right there at the point where the Pypo Club would have faced the ocean was a concrete bunker complete with a roundabout for auto traffic with a statue of Lewis and Clark in the middle. Underneath this were the public bathrooms. Additional research revealed the club had moved to a second location in a building that became an electrical business. That too was torn down to make room for a parking lot. I never determined when that happened. I was sitting in a hotel room like I’d been bowled over by a rouge wave. I had nothing to photograph. There was no way to capture the Pypo Club aspects of the “Louie Louie” story.

Possible Pypo Club site now bathrooms.

I thought I needed to go to the electrical business named Borland’s. They had moved into the second Pypo Club on A Street. That business then moved to G St. I’m not sure if I had a specific address other than the street name but I was thinking that the town was small enough that if I drove up and down G Street I’d see it. I imagined a back office with photos of old buildings and stories about rock and roll legends but I never saw the business. Surely the internet would have told me if the business was still around and if they had weekend hours, but I missed the part where the business was actually located in Gearhart. I regrouped because I knew I had spared someone, and myself, some awkward and over-caffeinated blubbering about being a blogger hot on the trail of a rock club who’s name I couldn’t even pronounce.

History is made here.

I remembered seeing a sign for a historical museum in the area and I headed back to find it. Walking in and seeing the sign for the 3 dollar entrance fee had me telling the man at the desk in the entrance way, “I don’t have any money but I’m trying to find information about the Pypo Club.” I still wasn’t sure how to pronounce it so I said it both ways, “Pee-po” and “Pie-po” to be safe. I explained that it was an old rock club where the Kingsmen and Paul Revere and the Raiders played. He said he hadn’t heard of it. I think I babbled a bit about what I knew about the buildings being torn down. I mentioned the ’62 riots which were associated with the Pypo Club. He seemed to know about that. Then he disappeared into the back and brought out an old phone book. I would have preferred he bring out an old timer they had stashed in the backroom with exstensive knowledge of the town’s early rock years. After going back a couple of times, he found a phone listing in the 1963 book. He had spent a few minutes looking the club up under the letter U. The photo I showed him had “Under 21 Club” on the awning.

The Louie Files: Finding Pypo 5

There’s that number, again!

I’ll admit it was a bit confusing but I realized Seaside had more history going on than what happened at the Pypo Club and there was a whole museum devoted to it. The volunteer was younger than me but I was still mystyfied. I mean the Kingsmen, “Louie Louie,” the germ of an idea had happened in Seaside. Why wasn’t it a bigger deal? Why didn’t everyone know? I took a photo of the listing in the old phone book, evidence that the place existed. I left wracking my brain about what else I could photograph, but forgot to take a picture of the museum. I made my way back to A Street and took pictures of the empty lots across from the Dairy Queen the man at the museum told me about.

Not in the area of the second Pypo Club.

The next morning I realized I could go back to the old address of the original club, 1 N. Broadway. Here’s where I remain confused. Either I saw the club listed at this address or wanted to think that the address still existed even though the club is long gone. Right there in the phone book it’s listed as 1 Broadway. The thing I got excited about was that with it’s black stripes the awning looked similar to the one in the old Pypo Club. Due to some early morning chaos, my first picture was crooked. When I went to take the picture the dog growled at a man who approached the store then turned away, while out front a woman was having her car towed which wasn’t going to make a nice wide shot. As I was packing up to check out of the hotel, I made plans for more photos. I needed the histroy museum and business at what I thought was the old address or at least a better awning shot. I was in need for a witness to this history but was in no mood to hang out at the local eatery, the Pig’n Pancake restaurant and badger random senior citizens with questions.

That old, familiar awning.

There I was scrambling around, carrying bags in the pouring rain, loading the dog in the car, going back to the room for the last load and dealing with a key card that stopped working. The museum was easy. It was all about waiting for the flag to unfurl just right, but even that ended up getting cropped from the photo. Getting back up Broadway at noon proved tougher than I realized. It’s a small area but traffic congestion combined with the longest red light I’d ever experienced was making me late. I still needed to pick my wife up from her conference. I drove past the market somehow related to the Pypo Club snapping photos and realizing that driving while photographing was probably just as dangerous as driving while texting as I then began to navigate the turn around. I took a deep breath slogged for another block back through traffic and realized that I, at least, had a few more options of photos to tell the story of the Pypo Club a place that’s gone but who’s spirit emanates from the sun, rain, wind blown sand and ocean spray of the resort town of Seaside, OR.

Next time: A visit to the “Louie, Louie” sculpture located in a Portland federal building.

The Louie Files: The Greatest Moment in Rock-and-Roll

exterior of two-story brick building painted black, downtown Portland, OR

Hallowed ground. The former Northwestern Recorders, Burnside and 13th Ave, where “Louie Louie” was recorded.

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist this week is Will Simmons from the Pittsburgh Orbit. His love of the the Kingsmen’s version of “Louie, Louie” has inspired a slew of forthcoming posts to celebrate the 54th anniversary of  the recording. He’s won me over as I realize Will isn’t spewing hyperbole.

 

It is the greatest moment in rock-and-roll. I can say that definitively–I know them all.

Oh, sure–there’s Jackie Brenston and pre-spousal abuse Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88”, the so-called “first rock-and-roll song”. Elvis, whose famous croon and gyrating mid-section is right up there with the crazed abandon of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. Chuck Berry is a one-man honors course on the past, present, and future of the genre.

The Beatles launched a million shrill screams and sent inspired amateurs from all over into guitar shops. Their across-the-pond mates The Kinks, The Who, and the Rolling Stones all launched impressive salvos at this hallowed target.

Somebody’s going to argue for Robert Johnson selling his soul down on Highway 61, Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s rock-and-roll gospel, Dylan “going electric”, Janis Joplin’s impassioned ball-and-chain wails, Hendrix on his knees and out of his mind at Monterrey. “Rock and Roll, parts 1 & 2”, Mike Leander’s Frankenstein studio creation for Gary Glitter, was famously called “a castration op where you throw away the patient and keep the balls”. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” set some kind of high-water mark, but it’s not this one.

We could go on and on–heck, we haven’t even gotten to punk rock!–but what’s the point? No, “Louie Louie”–The Kingsmen’s definitive “Louie Louie”–recorded on this day in 1963, alone holds that title. And it happened right here….er, right there…in Portland.

Tim Bavington's sculpture "Louie, Louie" (detail), Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building downtown

Tim Bavington’s glass and acrylic sculpture “Louie, Louie” (detail), Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building downtown

Kids today. One thing they’ll never know is the absolute moment of greatest excitement in life. I’m talking about the brief seconds immediately following the record player’s discordant crunch–like a car crash heard from blocks away–as the needle makes contact with spinning black plastic. From that instant until the music kicks in–possibly nanoseconds, a blink of an eye, really–there is nothing except the amplified scratching of dust on empty grooves and a heightened anticipation that something incredible is about to happen.

When the needle drops on “Louie Louie” it has every molecule of this electricity behind it. The organ pick-up on the V chord and one run-through of the progression is just enough warning for rockers to rise from their seats and the timid to dive for cover.

Lynn Easton is a sonic terrorist wanted for crimes ranging from flagrant tempo irregularity to rampant contraption kit abuse. But then as now, there are no normal circumstances and Easton’s all-fills-all-the-time, no-crash-cymbal-left-alive approach to drumming is exactly what you want destroying rhythm in the scorched earth ground war that is rock-and-roll.

What takes “Louie” over the top, though, are the loose, drunk-sounding, shout-sung vocals of young Jack Ely. It’s just one of the song’s many magical quirks that the record was done in a single take, recorded live in the studio using just three room microphones, by a band that only just added the song to their repertoire. When Ely sings through his teenage orthodontal work, craning to be heard over the live band din, he’s working from only a passing familiarity with both the new lyrics and arrangement.

It all adds up to one of the great vocal performances in rock history. No one would possibly practice singing a song the way Ely delivers it. Likely–had the band been granted more studio time, budget, a producer–they might have rethought the spontaneity of this first, perfect take. Fortunately for all of us, they never got that chance.

"The Kingsmen on Campus" album cover with five band members in cardigan sweaters at the top of a brick staircase

If the cardigan’s a-rockin’… big Kingsmen on campus (1965)

By all accounts, Ely, Easton, and the gang were pretty square. From the band’s Wikipedia entry, “The Kingsmen began their collective career playing at fashion shows, Red Cross events, and supermarket promotions, generally avoiding rock songs on their setlist.” The group only fell into trash rock ass backwards after hearing the popularity of an already-recorded version of “Louie Louie” while playing at the very un-rock-and-roll venue of a yacht club on the coast.

There are plenty of wilder early rock records that pre-date “Louie’s” moment of glorious infamy, but none that got anywhere near the exposure The Kingsmen received. Coming at the tail end of the brief window between Elvis leaving the building and The Beatles “yeah-yeah-yeah”-ing arrival, “Louie” is the great exclamation point that ushers both popular and underground rock music into the 1960s. When the record peaked at #2, in December, 1963, the Billboard’s Top 40 chart contained such ’50s hangovers as Neil Sedaka, Bobby Vinton, and Al Martino, “Be True to Your School” and “Wives and Lovers”*. The top spot was held by The Singing Nun’s folky “Dominique”, sung en Française.

Seaside, Oregon phone book entry for the PYPO CLUB at 1 Broadway

An old-school phone listing is all that’s left of Seaside, Oregon’s Pypo Club, where The Kingsmen first heard “Louie Louie”.

The Kingsmen went on to record a series of albums in the mid-1960s full of decent, but forgettable R&B standards, dance-craze-of-the-week retreads, and unfortunate novelty tunes. It didn’t help matters that shortly after “Louie’s” success, Easton staged a bloodless coup to unseat Ely as lead singer and frontman. In one fell swoop, the band lost both of their greatest assets–the untrained voice and the unhinged beat.

promotional photograph of Jack Ely and the Kingsmen with band members smiling in jackets and ties

Jack Ely’s post-sacking, hack lineup of The Kingsmen, c. 1964 [photo courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society]

None of these things mattered to me. As a high school student in the 1980s, I bought used-bin copies of all their records and played them incessantly. My peers were listening to Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Cure while I was spinning The Kingsmen’s B-grade takes on Allen Toussaint and Rufus Thomas songs.

Looking back, I recognize how mediocre the Kingsmen’s second- or third-hand, safe-for-middle-America versions are in comparison to the real thing. But those albums served as a great gateway to finding out about much more interesting music–both in the New Orleans/Memphis R&B records they copied and the mid-’60s garage rock they became synonymous with.

The Kingsmen will never be remembered for the catalog produced by ‘60s rock peers The Pretty Things or The Troggs, The Chocolate Watch Band or The Sonics, The Standells or The Easy Beats. But they did one magical, perfect thing–right there at Burnside and 13th. It changed this blogger’s young life and he is forever in their debt. Me gotta go. Aye-yi-yi-yi-yi.

Hyperbolically yours,
Will Simmons
Pittsburgh

man holding a copy of "The Best of 'Louie, Louie'" vinyl album

The author, one needle-drop from ecstasy


Further reading: Dave Marsh’s 1993 book Louie Louie: The History and Mythology of the World’s Most Famous Rock’n’Roll Song (Hyperion) is a totally great read for anyone with even a passing interest in the song, Northwest rock history, or just a goofy, wild true tale. It’s amazing to me that Multnomah County Library only has one (print) copy in the system considering how much of the book could be considered “local history”, but hey–it’s available! (as of this writing)


* In fairness, the Dec. 14 Billboard Top 40 also contains some pretty good stuff–“Walking the Dog”, early Motown records, “Sugar Shack”, etc.

Next week in the second installment of the Louie Files, we’ll explore an attempt to find the rock club in Seaside, OR that inspired the Kingsmen to record Louie, Louie.