Skip to main content

Mike Mitchell - An Obituary

Mike Mitchell – Guitarist

 

Born; April 16, 1944; died April 16, 2021 

 

Mike Mitchell, who has died aged 77, was a guitarist whose solo on The Kingsmen’s version of Richard Berry’s song, Louie Louie, helped define a sound that helped shift rock and roll out of the school hop and into infinitely rawer territory. The song was recorded by the teenage band in a three-track studio, where, according to Mitchell in a 1999 interview with John Broughton on Casey Radio, Melbourne, Australia, the Kingsmen’s one-take wonder of Louie Louie and two more songs took an hour all in, costing a cool $36 to make.

 

The result saw Berry’s three-chord construction ingested with new life as a bratty piece of almost incoherent bubblegum trash that became an inspiration for every garage band in town. Despite the messiness of the recording, it was released as a single in 1963, and eventually spent several weeks at number 2 in the U.S. charts. 

 

The Kingsmen’s record gained notoriety after the FBI began a lengthy investigation into the alleged obscenities hidden in the song’s barely decipherable lyrics behind vocalist Jack Ely’s unhinged hollering. When the record was banned in one state and pulled from the airwaves in others, such a reactionary move made Louie Louie an essential purchase for every small town rebel without a cause. 

 

Unable to make sense of whatever was being sung, like the squarest and most exasperated of parents, the FBI grudgingly declared Louie Louie to be ‘unintelligible at any speed’.“They were great guys just doing their job,” The Oregonian newspaper reported Mitchell saying of the FBI agents years after the incident.

 

Regardless of the mythology surrounding the lyrics, it was Mitchell’s guitar break that gave the recording its edge. The extremes of its frenetic fretwork even almost caused the song to collapse in on itself, as Ely mis-timed his cue and came in early following Mitchell’s wig-out before getting back on track. Combined, this made for one of rock and roll’s defining moments. For a band named after the brand of Mitchell’s after-shave lotion, this was quite an achievement.

 

Mike Mitchell grew up in Portland, Oregon in a musical family with his brother Dennis and sister Viva. He was taught the rudiments of guitar by his father, who played country and western. Mitchell would carry this influence into his rare lead vocal on a version of Henry Strzelecki’s song, Long Tall Texan.  Mitchell would practise every day, and later passed on his skills to his younger brother. 

 

“He was an incredible player,” Dennis Mitchell told The Oregonian. “He had long fingers. The lead he played on Louie Louie was ahead of its time for complexity. I was twelve years younger than him, and I played the guitar, too. When he came off the road from touring, he’d come home and spend time with me teaching me licks. He was a kind and gentle soul.”

 

Mitchell attended David Douglas High School in Portland, where he met Lynn Easton, who in 1960 invited him to join his new group, formed with Ely, a Washington High School student. The trio enlisted bassist Bob Nordby, and became The Kingsmen under the influence of Mitchell’s fragrant accessory. 

 

Drafting in keyboardist Don Gallucci, The Kingsmen practiced in the Mitchell family basement, energetically playing the circuit and becoming a local teen sensation. They became house band at The Chase, a teen dance club run by Ken Chase, who became their manager. When they heard Rockin’ Robin Roberts’ version of Louie Louie on the jukebox of another club, they decided to work the song into their set. Gallucci’s audacious new arrangement made it their own.

 

By the time they released Louie Louie, the band had splintered, with Ely and Nordby departing after Easton’s mother, who had registered the name of the group, declared that her son was to be its lead singer. Gallucci dropped out to finish high school. He would go on to produce Fun House (1970), the second album by The Stooges, led by Iggy Pop, who would do his own Kingsmen inspired version of Louie Louie.

 

Eastman and Mitchell built a new line up of the band, releasing several albums before Eastman departed in 1967. This left Mitchell as the group’s sole original member. He retained this status over a 62-year tenure that saw him play with numerous incarnations of the band.

 

During that time, Louie Louie found favour with fellow beat groups, both from The Kingsmen’s own generation and those that followed. Estimates suggest the song has been covered in around 1,000 different versions. These include renditions by The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, and pre-punk fellow travellers such as Pop. A generation of new wave garage bands looked to Louie Louie and other obscurities for inspiration. The song found a new lease of life after John Belushi and co sang it in frat boy comedy film, National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978). There is even an International Louie Louie Day, which takes place each year on April 11.

 

A heart bypass operation thirty years ago didn’t stop Mitchell from playing, and even latterly while ill in bed he would keep his guitar close. The riff he created more than half a century ago was never out of reach. 

 

He is survived by his children, Samantha and Max, his brother Dennis, and his sister, Viva Redding.


The Herald, May 10th 2021

 

ends 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

DISC 1 1. THE STONE ROSES   -  Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3   -  Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART   -  Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS   -  Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY  -  Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!   -  Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS  -  I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS  -  In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES   -  Everso 10. THE SEERS   -  Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND  -  You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS  -  We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE   -  Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS   -  Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND  -  In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES  -  Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS   -  Justice In Freedom (12" Version) 1. THE STONE ROSES    Don’t Stop ( Silvertone   ORE   1989) The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1 1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77) 3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77) 4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77) 5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77) 6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77) 7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77) 8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78) 9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78) 10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79)  11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79) 12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79)  13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79) 14. JOLT See Saw (6/79) 15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79) 16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79) 17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79) 18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79) 19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79) 20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79) 21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79) 22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79) 23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79) 24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80) 25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980) 1. THE REZILL

Edinburgh Rocks – The Capital's Music Scene in the 1950s and Early 1960s

Edinburgh has always been a vintage city. Yet, for youngsters growing up in the shadow of World War Two as well as a pervading air of tight-lipped Calvinism, they were dreich times indeed. The founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the subsequent Fringe it spawned may have livened up the city for a couple of weeks in August as long as you were fans of theatre, opera and classical music, but the pubs still shut early, and on Sundays weren't open at all. But Edinburgh too has always had a flipside beyond such official channels, and, in a twitch-hipped expression of the sort of cultural duality Robert Louis Stevenson recognised in his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a vibrant dance-hall scene grew up across the city. Audiences flocked to emporiums such as the Cavendish in Tollcross, the Eldorado in Leith, The Plaza in Morningside and, most glamorous of all due to its revolving stage, the Palais in Fountainbridge. Here the likes of Joe Loss and Ted Heath broug