Jack Ely, Kingsmen Vocalist Behind Legendary 'Louie, Louie,' Dead at Age 71 from Mystery Illness
Jack Ely, the vocalist made legendary by his appearance in the classic rock song "Louie, Louie" by The Kingsmen, has died at the age of 71. His family confirmed that he had passed away from an illness he had be suffering from for years, although his religious beliefs led to him never seeking out a diagnosis (from Consequence of Sound).
The Kingsmen are legendary primarily for one song. Although the group recorded almost nothing but covers, one of those records struck gold. "Louie, Louie," a cover of Richard Berry's single, became popular for Ely's out-of-control vocals. This fact has continued to make the song a cult classic among fans and critics alike, although the vocalist would later clarify that the struggles to decipher his lyrics were the result of a recording microphone hanging awkwardly from the ceiling, requiring him to shout upward into it. Another classic bit of amateurism that's gone down in history is Ely's error during the recording, where he came in too early and cuts a verse short, confusing the band and leading them to enter the chorus before the verse had ended. Many bands continue to play the song in this style today.
Ely's vocals ended up landing the band in some amount of hot water, exactly because no one could tell exactly what he was saying. Many fans claimed to have obtained the "true lyrics" to the song, claiming there to filth of all sorts hidden in his message. These rumors led the governor of Indiana, Matthew Welsh, to ban the song from the state's airwaves, while the FBI led a 31-month investigation of the track for supposed pornographic lyrics, eventually turning in a 455-page report confirming that there was no proof this was true (and you thought Homeland Security was bad).
The true subject matter? A Jamaican sailor who missed his lover.
Ely ended up leaving the band shortly after the record was released, starting his own band, The Courtmen. They recorded a new version of his classic during 1966 but it never found the same audience as the original.