The Enduring Legacy of The Kingsmen—Part 2

“Louie Louie” — under investigation by the F.B.I.

Because of its unpolished sound and edgy rhythm and blues, the song already had huge appeal, but questions surrounding the song lyrics fueled its momentum. As the controversy grew, the song was banned on many radio stations, and prohibited entirely in the state of Indiana. Of course, this meant the song was destined to take off in a big way. A concerned parent wrote to then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy, complaining the lyrics were obscene, and eventually an official inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation was launched. Was “Louie Louie” really corrupting the youth of the day?

J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, said about the song, “[I] strongly believe that the easy accessibility of such material cannot help but divert the minds of young people into unhealthy channels and negate the wholesome training they have already been afforded by their parents.”

Take a moment to consider what’s on the radio today!

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Letter from the FBI Lab, WA DC. 1965. Printed through the Freedom of Information/Privacy Act, section 202-324-5520

The guys had no inkling of how big a deal it was.  Former keyboard player Barry Curtis remembers, “All I knew was, at one point we had two singles and three LPs on the Billboard Chart at the same time, and The Kingsmen were the number one live touring band in the country.” They were on the road constantly and insulated from the outside world. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for them to be booked once, often twice, and sometimes even three times in a day, 330 days of the year. And think of how cool it was for a bunch of teens and early 20s guys from Portland, performing with The Beach Boys, The Zombies, The Dave Clark Five, and The Rolling Stones.

They were earning $4000 a night or $6,000 on double days, so even when considering their manager’s 15 percent; 10 percent for their agents, the prestigious William Morris Agency; and hotels and expenses, they were still making more money than any of them could’ve imagined. But it wasn’t like all of the money was ending up in their pockets. The guys drew salaries and were told the rest was “being put away for their retirement.” For context, during the mid-1960s, the minimum wage was $1.25; the average family income was less than $7,000 per year; and you could fill your gas tank for $5.00. They were having the times of their lives.

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“Jolly Green Giant” recording session, Audio Recording, Seattle—1964 Left to right: Jimmy-John, Lynn, Jerry Dennon, Mike, Karney Barton (engineer) © 2006 Richard Peterson

As their fame and popularity grew, so did the FBI investigation. The Federal agents attended every concert, monitoring the band. In spite of the constant surveillance, the guys weren’t concerned until there came a knock on the door in the middle of one night, with someone saying, “This is the FBI and we are going to talk.” That was when everyone realized, for the first time—they might actually be in some trouble.

To be continued…

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Terri Nakamura is a professional graphic designer who loves social media, music and writing.  Follow her on Twitter: @terrinakamura; Read her blog, Confessions of a Graphic Designer: http://seattledesigner.blogspot.com/ or find her connections: http://about.me/terrinakamura

© 2010-13 Terri Nakamura

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