Passings: Jack Ely of the Kingsmen, Singer of "Louie Louie"

Jack Ely, whose slurred lead vocals on the Kingsmen's Louie Louie will go down in history as slanderous for those with an imaginative mind, died on Tuesday at his home in Redmond, OR. He was 71.

Ely was raised by his mother after his father died when he was four. Initially, he trained as a classical pianist but took up guitar after seeing Elvis Presley on TV.

In 1959, drummer Lynn Easton asked his friend Ely to play guitar and sing at a Portland, OR hotel show. They continued their musical relationship, playing at a number of other local venues, adding guitarist Mike Mitchell and bassist Bob Nordby, and naming themselves the Kingsmen.

While playing at a club in 1962, the band heard the song Louie Louie by Rockin' Robin Roberts and noticed how it got the crowd on their feet and dancing. While the Kingsmen normally played more downbeat music, Ely convinced the band to learn the song and add it to their set lists.

In early 1963, the Kingsmen became the house band at the Portland club Chase owned by local DJ Ken Chase who ended up also being their manager. On April 6, 1963, Chase booked a studio for the band where they went in and recorded Louie Louie in one take. Ely claimed that his slurred vocals were the result of his having to yell to be heard over the band and the fact that he was still wearing braces on his teeth. Jack also started singing the third verse early but, thinking that it was just a rehearsal take, corrected himself and joined in again at the right time. Chase, though, had other plans, liking the raw sound of the first and only take, and released it first on Jerden but was later picked up by Wand where it went to number 2 and became one of rock's most famous tracks.

Ely left the group in August of 1963 over a dispute on who should sing lead vocals. Ely went off on his own and formed a new version of the Kingsmen but the original group took legal action. In the end, Ely was stopped from using the Kingsmen's name but all future editions of their most famous record were required to carry the text "Lead Vocals by Jack Ely".

His new group, the Courtmen, recorded two singles for Bang records with little success before Ely was drafted. By the time he was out of the service in 1968, his musical career was past and he sunk into drug and alcohol addiction. After battling back, he became a main backer of Rockers Against Drugs.

Later in life, Ely took up a new career training horses.

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