They had other hits. But one song more than any other is guaranteed to be on the Kingsmen's set list Saturday night at Centralia College's Corbet Theatre.
You know the one. Richard Berry wrote it. Tacoma’s Fabulous Wailers and Lawrence “Rockin’ Robin” Roberts turned it into the party anthem we all know and love.
It was a mandatory cover for just about every garage-rocker we associate with the Original Northwest Sound.
Inevitably, it became a coast-to-coast smash, thanks in no small part to Jack Ely’s unintelligible singing on the version Portland’s Kingsmen pressed in 1963.
“On a daily basis, we were confronted with, ‘What are the lyrics to “Louie Louie” and how did you boys think you could get away with such outrageous behavior?’ ” longtime Kingsmen drummer Dick Peterson recalls, laughing.
Peterson joined the band after the rough but iconic single was recorded, just in time to experience the ensuing controversy.
As recounted in his book “Louie Louie: Me Gotta Go Now” (AuthorHouse, $19.95), the song really took off in 1964 after rumors that Indiana Gov. Matthew Welsh banned it. The FBI even looked into the allegedly lewd lyrics.
“The FBI was all over us,” Peterson said. “Church groups were all over us. And we were just a bunch of clean-cut kids from the Northwest, not trying to be subversives at all. And it’s like no matter what you told the press, they wouldn’t believe you. It remains today. People hear whatever they want to hear. Certainly, by the standards of the CDs and rap music that are out today, we were considered mild. But I firmly believe that ‘Louie Louie’ and its iconic status would not have been reached had it not been for the controversy.”
The Kingsmen also hit the charts with “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” “Jolly Green Giant” and other cuts, but their popularity had waned by the early ’70s. They spent the next few years gigging around the Northwest unaware Hollywood would give their careers a big boost in 1978.
That boost came in the form of the classic comedy “Animal House” in which Bluto (John Belushi) and the drunken brothers of Delta Tau Chi swoon and croon to the Kingsmen’s hit in one of the film’s most memorable scenes.
“When it started, we were at the pinnacle of success, and then we were has-beens. And then all of a sudden with ‘Animal House,’ we were classics,” Peterson said. “We had more work than we could handle again.”
Since then, the Kingsmen’s version of “Louie Louie” has been in movies, commercials and TV shows galore.
“We’ve been on ‘The Simpsons’ three times,” Peterson said. “Over time, it just keeps growing and growing into craziness. It was just used in a movie last year with Tom Cruise – in a movie ‘Knight and Day’ – as his ringtone on his telephone. It just doesn’t go away.”
But after nearly half a century of playing “Louie,” Peterson must get sick of it, right?
“Heavens no!” Peterson insisted. “It’s not about playing it. It’s about watching what people do when you play it, and that’s always different. You know some people get pretty crazy.”
Only Mike Mitchell remains from the original Kingsmen’s lineup.
On Saturday, he and Peterson will be joined on stage by Steve Peterson, Todd McPherson and Dennis Mitchell.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Centralia College’s Corbet Theatre, 500 W. Walnut St., Centralia
Tickets: $15 to $25; proceeds benefit Centralia College Foundation scholarships
Information: 360-736-9391, ext. 777