In 1962, while playing a gig at the Pypo Club in Seaside, Oregon, then managed by Al Dardis, the band noticed Rockin’ Robin Roberts’s version of “Louie Louie”
being played on the jukebox for hours on end. The entire club would get up and dance.Ely convinced the Kingsmen to learn the song, which they played at dances to a great crowd response.
Unknown to him, he changed the beat because he misheard it on a jukebox. Ken Chase, host of radio station KISN, formed his own club to capitalize on these dance crazes. Dubbed the “Chase”, the Kingsmen became the club’s house band and Ken Chase became the band’s manager. On April 5, 1963, Chase booked the band an hour-long session at the local Northwestern Inc. studio for the following day. The band had just played a 90-minute”Louie Louie”.
Despite the band’s annoyance at having so little time to prepare, on April 6 at 10 am the Kingsmen walked into the three-microphone recording studio. In order to sound like a live performance, Ely was forced to lean back and sing to a microphone suspended from the ceiling. “It was more yelling than singing,” Ely said, “’cause I was trying to be heard over all the instruments.”
In addition, he was wearing braces at the time of the performance, further compounding his infamously slurred words. Ely sang the beginning of the third verse several bars too early, but realized his mistake and waited for the rest of the band to catch up.
In what was thought to be a warm-up, the song was recorded in its first and only take. The Kingsmen were not proud of the version, but their manager liked the rawness of their cover.
The B-side was “Haunted Castle”, composed by Ely and Don Gallucci, the new keyboardist. However, Lynn Easton was credited on both the Jerden and Wand releases. The entire session cost $50, and the band split the cost.
“Louie Louie” was kept from the top spot on the charts in late 1963 and early 1964 by the Singing Nun and Bobby Vinton, who monopolized the No.1 slot for four weeks apiece. The Kingsmen single reached No. 1 on the Cashbox chart and No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Additionally in the UK it reached No. 26 on the Record Retailer chart. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
The band attracted nationwide attention when “Louie Louie” was banned by the governor of Indiana, Matthew E. Welsh, also attracting the attention of the FBI because of alleged indecent lyrics in their version of the song. The lyrics were, in fact, innocent, but Ely’s baffling enunciation permitted teenage fans and concerned parents alike to imagine the most scandalous obscenities.
All of this attention only made the song more popular. In April 1966 “Louie Louie” was reissued and once again hit the music charts, reaching No. 65 on the Cashbox chart and No. 97 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.