November 15, 1963 Louie Louie

For two years, FBI investigators interviewed witnesses. They listened to the song at varying speeds, backward and forward, but the relentless search for bawdy material came up empty. In the end, the song was ruled “unintelligible at any speed”.

In 1955, Richard Berry wrote a song about a Jamaican sailor returning to his island to see his lady love. It’s a ballad, a conversation in the first person singular, with a bartender. The bartender’s name is Louie.

The song was covered in Latin and R&B styles in the fifties, but was never more than a regional hit on the west coast.

Louie3“Mainstream” white artists of the fifties and sixties often covered songs written by black artists. On April 6, 1963, an obscure rock & roll group out of Portland, Oregon covered the song, renting a recording studio for $50. They were The Kingsmen.

Lead singer Jack Ely showed the band how he wanted it played. Berry’s easy 1-2-3-4, 1-2, 1-2-3-4 ballad would be changed to a raucous 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3 beat.

The guitar work could only be described as anarchic, the lyrics unintelligible.  The Kingsmen recorded the song in a single take. It was released by a small label in May and re-released by Wand Records in October, 1963. Sales of the single increased through the 15th of November, the song entering the Billboard Top 100 chart on December 7.

Rock & Roll music is so mainstream now, that it’s hard to remember how subversive and decadent it was considered to be.

Louie Louie’s impenetrable lyrics led to all kinds of speculation about what was being said.  More than a few imaginations ran wild. Fabricated lyrics ranging from mildly raunchy to pornographic were written out on slips of paper and exchanged between teenagers, spurring interest in the song and driving record sales through the roof.

Concerned parents contacted government authorities to see what could be done. One parent, a Sarasota, Florida junior high school teacher, wrote to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. “Who do you turn to when your teen age daughter buys and brings home pornographic or obscene materials being sold along with objects directed and aimed at the teenage market in every City, Village and Record shop in this Nation?” The letter ends with a plea, complete with four punctuation marks: “How can we stamp out this menace????
louierfk1

The FBI took up the investigation in 1964 under the ITOM statute, a federal law regulating the Interstate Transportation of Obscene Material. There are 119 pages in the FBI’s archival website, covering the case.

For two years, FBI investigators interviewed witnesses. They listened to the song at varying speeds, backward and forward, but the relentless search for bawdy material came up empty.  In the end, the song was ruled “unintelligible at any speed”.

Louie4Strangely, the feds never interviewed Kingsmen lead singer Jack Ely, who probably could have saved them a lot of time.

The song has been covered by numerous artists over the years, including Paul Revere & the Raiders, Otis Redding, Motorhead, Black Flag and Young MC.  The best version ever, has got to be the Delta Tau Chi fraternity version from John Landis’ 1978 movie, Animal House.

“OK, let’s give it to ’em.  Right now”.

October 5, 1968 Magic Carpet Ride

Joachim‘s mother Elsabeth had to flee with the baby in the harsh winter of 1945, as the oncoming Soviet Red Army destroyed all in its path. The two would escape the Iron Curtain one more time in 1948, this time in a dangerous nighttime dash which the then-four year old remembers to this day.

Joachim Fritz Krauledat was born in Tilsit, East Prussia on April 12, 1944, a region later absorbed into Soviet Russia. The boy never met his father.  A German soldier on the Eastern Front of WWII, Fritz Krauledat would be killed months before the birth of his son.

Joachim‘s mother Elsabeth had to flee with the baby in the harsh winter of 1945, as the oncoming Soviet Red Army destroyed all in its path. The two would escape the Iron Curtain one more time in 1948, this time in a dangerous nighttime dash which the then-four year old remembers to this day.

“Pack your rucksack Joachim. We’re going on a trip.’ That was all my mother told me the night we escaped from East Germany” ….. We crossed near the Hartz Mountains south of Brunswick and Hannover. I remember seeing search lights moving, ……… As the women passed under the wire, one of our guides took me by the hand and led me through, As I crouched I could hear a commotion, then gunfire, maybe a machine gun burst. Hurry, hurry, hurry just keep running implored our guide.” *

JohnKayYoungThe family settled for a time in Hannover, West Germany, barely avoiding the communist noose as it closed around their former home in the East.

Krauledat was an indifferent student, possibly due to poor eyesight. He’s legally blind, afflicted since birth with achromatopsia, a condition which left him totally colorblind and severely averse to light.  Even as a child, he was rarely seen without the dark glasses which would later become his trademark.

The boy became interested in music, listening over the British Forces Broadcasting Service and US Armed Forces Radio.  Listening to his transistor radio, Little Richard singing in a language he didn’t understand, Joachim Krauledat knew.  He was going to become a rock ‘n roll singer.

The family moved to Canada in 1958, where the Canadian National Institute for the Blind offered him a Wollensach reel-to-reel tape recorder.   The “Talking Book Program” was intended to bring the spoken word to visually impaired students.  This 14-year old was more interested in the “record” button.

The gym teacher called him “John”, while his mother became “Mrs. K,” to the other kids.  The name stuck.  Years later, Joachim Krauledat legally changed his name to John Kay.

“ From as far back as I remember, I always liked music.”

– John Kay

The family moved to Buffalo in 1963, where the young musician found his possibilities limited.  At age 20 he and his buddy Klaus packed up the ’62 Chevy, and headed west.  The “Mother Road”.  Route 66.

The next several years were spent honing and developing his music, a folk and blues singer performing throughout North America. Kay joined a blues rock and folk group called “The Sparrow” in 1965, becoming part of the rock music scene in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, and the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

johnkay66
Heading West, Route 66

The band added a couple new members in 1967, changing their name to a character from a Herman Hesse novel. They called themselves Steppenwolf.

Steppenwolf became one of the world’s foremost rock bands, with standards like “The Pusher”, and “Monster”, releasing “Magic Carpet Ride” on this day in 1968. They gave us the term “Heavy Metal” with the rock anthem “Born to Be Wild”, but that didn’t refer to the music. “Heavy Metal Thunder” referred to large, loud, motorcycles.

Steppenwolf toured for over 40 years. There isn’t a Baby Boomer alive who wouldn’t read this and come away with one of their songs in his head. They’ve sold over 25 million records and licensed their songs in over 50 motion pictures. The music is iconic, from the sound track of the 1969 “Easy Rider” film to their last performance on July 24, 2010, at the three day HullabaLOU music festival in Louisville, Kentucky.

John KaySteppenwolf gave us 22 albums.  We all know them in one way or another. Yet, the lead singer’s escape from the horrors of the Iron Curtain, not once but twice, is all but unknown. That, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the Rest, of the Story.

 

  •  John Kay from his autobiography, Magic Carpet Ride

April 24, 1959 The Day the Music Died

A boy named Don McLean heard about the plane crash while doing his morning paper route. One day, the future singer/songwriter would pen the words “February made me shiver, with every paper I’d deliver”.

Jiles Richardson was a Texas DJ in 1958, the year he found recording success of his own with a song called “Chantilly Lace”.

Richie Valenzuela was only 16 when Del-Fi Records producer Bob Keane discovered the singer in California. “Donna”, a song he had written for his high school sweetheart Donna Ludwig, was on the way to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, right alongside the 45’s “B” side, an old Mexican standard turned Rock & Roll tune called “La Bamba”. By 1958 he was one of the hottest young recording artists of his time.All three

Charles Hardin Holley, “Buddy” to his friends and family, learned guitar, four-string banjo and lap steel guitar from his older brothers, Travis and Larry. The boy took to music at an early age, winning his first talent contest at the age of five. A music critic would one day describe the Lubbock Texas native as “the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll.” Contemporary and later musicians claiming inspiration from his work include the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Costello.

58 years ago, his name changed as the result of a misspelling in a recording contract, Holly was headliner of the “The Winter Dance Party Tour”. Richardson, performing as the “Big Bopper” and Valenzuela, professionally known as Ritchie Valens, were on the tour, along with Dion and the Belmonts, Holly’s friend from Lubbock and fellow musician Waylon Jennings, and a young Owasso, Oklahoma Rockabilly musician and former “Crickets” band member, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation named Tommy Allsup.WinterDanceParty

The musical tour included 24 cities in 3 weeks, a grueling schedule under the best of circumstances, but theirs were anything but the best. The tour bus had no heat, and a three-week winter bus tour of the upper Midwest is no place to be without heat. It was so cold that Holly’s drummer, Carl Bunch, suffered frostbite in his feet and left the tour in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Holly was sick of it, and decided to charter a plane for himself and some of his guys. At least that would give him time to do laundry before the next performance.

Dwyer Flying Service got the charter with a 1947 Beechcraft Bonanza, at $36 per person. There’s a popular story that the four-seater aircraft was called “American Pie”, but the story is a myth. The single engine airplane bore only the tail number: N3794N.

Richardson was running a fever at the time, so Waylon Jennings gave up his seat so the Big Bopper could ride in comfort. Allsup and Valens flipped a coin for the last seat, the coin landing heads up. Ritchie Valens had won the coin toss.

dancepartymapOn learning that Jennings wasn’t going to fly, Holly said “Well, I hope your old bus freezes up.” Jennings replied “Well, I hope your plane crashes.” It was just a good ribbing between friends, but the comment would haunt Jennings for the rest of his life.

 

N3794N left the ground in a snowstorm, shortly after 1:00am on February 3. The pilot, Roger Peterson, may have been inexperienced with the instrumentation, or he may have become disoriented in near whiteout conditions. One wing hit the ground in a cornfield outside of Clear Lake, and the aircraft corkscrewed into the ground, throwing the three musicians clear of the plane. There was no fire, just a small aircraft being swallowed up in a snow covered cornfield.  The bodies would lie in the field until late that afternoon.American Pie Plane crash

The show would go on. Needing to fill in at the next stop in Moorhead, Minnesota, they found a 15 year old talent across the state line in Fargo, and so began the musical career of Bobby Vee.

A boy named Don McLean heard about the plane crash while doing his morning paper route. One day, the future singer/songwriter would pen the words “February made me shiver, with every paper I’d deliver”.tommys-heads-saloon

Allsup returned to Odessa, resuming his musical career and opening a club in Dallas. in 1979. He called it “Tommy’s Heads Up Saloon”, after the coin toss that saved his life.

Distraught, Buddy Holly’s widow miscarried their only child shortly after the wreck.  His last song, “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”, reached #1 on the UK charts on April 24, 1959, the first posthumous release ever to do so.  In the US the song charted at 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, it would be his last top 20 hit in the country. Inscribed on Ritchie Valens’ gravestone are the words, “Come On, Let’s Go.”  The last surviving member of Buddy Holly’s 1959 touring band “The Crickets” passed away earlier this year, on January 11.  Tommy Allsup was 85.