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'Louie Louie' producer parts with loot

Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2003

REDMOND, Wash. Jerry Dennon was 25 years old when he brought a teenage band into a Portland, Ore., studio to record a song that would become one of the country's most famous, a staple of fraternity parties and baseball stadium loudspeakers for decades to come.

It's now 40 years since the Kingsmen's version of ''Louie Louie'' broke through on a black Boston radio station, and Dennon is parting with his gold record of the hit and other mementos from the archives of Jerden Records, which helped popularize the garage-rock ''Northwest sound'' of the 1960s.

Beginning Monday, the gold ''Louie Louie'' goes up for auction on the Internet site eBay. Dennon hopes it winds up in a museum, such as Seattle's Experience Music Project or Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Over the next few months, Jerden will auction off the rest of its archives contracts, vintage albums and another gold record, Ian Whitcomb's ''You Turn Me On.''

''It's not like I'm parting with a child, but I am emotional about it,'' Dennon said during an interview at Jerden's offices in this east Seattle suburb. '

'It was a heady time. A lot of people in the business put us down for putting out 'funny' records, and it's not like it was Bert Bacharach or anything sophisticated, but people now recognize their importance, and I'm very proud of it.

''I've had these items for many years, and I just thought, hey, it's time.''

''Louie Louie,'' a calypso tune about a lovesick sailor, was written by Richard Berry in the late '50s. In 1961, a Tacoma band called The Wailers made it a regional hit by transforming the opening chords and adding a fierce guitar solo.

At the time, Dennon, a college dropout, had recently split off from Dolton Records the region's first pop label to found Jerden. His company's first release was a total flop, ''How Long,'' by Darwin & the Cupids.

Looking for a hit, Dennon agreed to a deal with a Portland disc jockey who also happened to own a teen nightclub: If Dennon would record the club's house band, the Kingsmen, the DJ would guarantee they'd get some airplay.

Dennon brought the five bandmates into a Portland studio. They were arranged in a circle around a single microphone hanging above their heads. That arrangement combined with singer Jack Ely's unfamiliarity with the lyrics contributed to a muddy, slurred sound that later prompted a two-year FBI investigation into allegations the song was obscene.

Dennon tried to circulate the recording to radio stations around the country, but was met mostly with negative reviews. Eventually, though, his friend at a Boston radio station which featured black artists agreed to put it on.

Within 48 hours, it was a hit, with Boston's biggest radio station, WMEX, asking for a copy. Many people continued to believe the Kingsmen were black, however including soul singer Sam Cooke, who asked to have the Kingsmen tour with him, Dennon said.

''We had to explain that they were a bunch of white high school kids from Portland,'' Dennon said. ''That killed that.''

To continue appealing to black audiences, though, the Kingsmen kept their photo off the record when it was released.

Dennon said he always thought it was absurd that some people alleged the often-unintelligible lyrics were obscene, but he didn't resent the attention.

Indiana Gov. Matthew Welch banned the song from radio stations in his state just as it was starting to slide down the charts, and Dennon responded by offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who could prove the song was obscene. The controversy gave the tune new legs.

Over the years, more than 12 million copies of the Kingsmen's ''Louie Louie'' have been sold, according to Northwest music historian Peter Blecha, who is coordinating the auction.

After a failed stint at salmon farming in the 1970s, Dennon got back into the music business.

In recent years Jerden has released several anthologies of Northwest rock from the 1960s.

Say what? 'Louie Louie' lyrics demystified

Original lyrics to ''Louie Louie,'' as provided by

Louie Louie

Oh no, me gotta go

Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

Louie Louie

Oh no, me gotta go

Me fine little girl she waits for me

Me catch a ship across the sea

Me sail the ship by me all alone

Never see how I make it home

Louie Louie

Oh no, me gotta go

Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

Louie Louie

Oh no, me gotta go

Three nights and days I sail the sea

Think of girl constantly

Upon the ship I know she there

I smell the rose up in her hair

Louie Louie

Oh no, me gotta go

Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

Louie Louie

Oh no, me gotta go

Me see Jamaica, the moon above

Wont be long me see me love

Take her in my arms and then

Tell her I never leave again

Louie Louie

Oh no, me gotta go

Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

Louie Louie

Oh no, me gotta go

We gotta go now

I said, We gotta go now

Let's hustle on outta here

Let's go!


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