Former Kingsmen singer and Oregon horse trainer, Jack Ely has died at the age of seventy-one. His son, Sean Ely, confirmed his father’s death, stating that while his father had indeed been sick, due to his religious beliefs, no one in the family knew what the illness was. Ely (who left the band when drummer Lynn Easton decided that he instead of Ely should be frontman of the group) is best known for his rendition of the Richard Berry song “Louie Louie.” As the song began to climb the charts, Ely tried to rejoin the band, though Easton would not allow it. Despite how popular his rendition had become, Ely earned no money from the song’s radio play since he was not the original author. Whether or not that had anything to do with it, Ely was a strong supporter of the Performance Rights Act, which works at getting royalties to artists and their labels.
Ely recorded “Louie Louie” in 1963 after playing it live several times, but to the wrong beat. “I didn’t know the song that well and at rehearsal, I ended up showing them wrong. I unconsciously rearranged ‘Louie Louie’ at that moment.” At Ely’s insistence, the Kingsmen’s manager set them up a recording session with only a day to prepare for their studio time. While the band was irked at having so little time to prepare, they decided to go through with the session anyway, despite Ely having his braces tightened just that morning, making it hard for Ely to enunciate his words properly. The producer kept the microphone at a distance from Ely to give the illusion of a live performance, causing Ely to virtually yell into the microphone, adding to the infamously slurred performance. Ely also entered the third verse slightly early and had to wait for the band to catch up. Despite the band’s dislike of the take, their manager, Ken Chase, liked their rawness and convinced them to keep it. “I stood there and yelled while the whole band was playing and when it was over, we hated it. We thought it was a totally non-quality recording.” The song became a number two hit and stayed on the charts for sixteen weeks; it also was the subject of a four hundred and fifty-five page report compiled by the FBI. The song’s muffled sound led the FBI to believe that Ely was singing pornographic lyrics and launched an investigation, concluding that Ely’s vocals were “unintelligible at any speed.” Despite the FBI’s claims, Ely always felt that it was just hype set up by the record company to cause controversy and bring more attention to the song.
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