Mike Mitchell, founding member of the influential rock band The Kingsmen from the 1960s and guitarist on their hit single “Louie Louie”, has passed away. The band’s drummer, Dick Peterson, confirmed the news to Rolling Stone, stating that Mitchell died on Friday, April 16, his 77th birthday. No cause of death was disclosed, but Peterson told RS that Mitchell “died peacefully”.
The Kingsmen began in Portland, Oregon in 1959. In 1960 Mitchell and bassist Bob Nordby joined then drummer Lynn Easton and singer Jack Ely, who died in 2015. In 1963 the group recorded their famous version of Richard Berry’s 1957 track “Louie Louie”. The song hit the Billboard singles chart and spent six non-consecutive weeks on Number Two on the Hot 100.
The Kingsmen version of “Louie Louie” worked to help the garage rock styles gain momentum at the time – it was far more distorted and rougher than Berry’s melodic original. Mitchell’s legendary guitar solo and Ely’s inarticulate vocals intrigued the audience and even the FBI, which is known to launch an investigation to determine whether or not Ely’s lyrics were littered with profanity. They eventually decided that the song was “incomprehensible at any speed”. The controversy didn’t hurt – Ely once told Rolling Stone that sales of the single rose when it was banned in Indiana state in 1964.
Although Ely and Nordby left the group in 1963, Mitchell was the last charter member to remain in the Kingsmen. He played guitar for 62 years with a changing line-up, cut six albums between 1963 and 1966 and played countless live concerts. In addition to Louie Louie, Mitchell starred on the Kingsmen recordings of Money (That’s What I Want), Little Latin Lupe Lu, and more.
In his statement to Rolling Stone, Dick Peterson said he was “deeply saddened” by Mike’s death, adding, “He was the nicest, most generous man on the planet.”