Mike Mitchell, guitarist on the Kingsmen’s Louie Louie, dies aged 77

Ben Beaumont-Thomas
·1-min read
<span>Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives</span>
Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives

Mike Mitchell, who recorded one of the most famous guitar solos of all time for the Kingsmen’s Louie Louie, has died aged 77.

No cause of death was given. Kingsmen drummer Dick Peterson told Rolling Stone: “We are deeply saddened by Mike’s passing. He was the kindest and most generous man on the planet … Mike was a favourite for his comedic nature as well as his musicianship.”

Mitchell was the last remaining original member of the group, who formed in Portland, Oregon in 1959. Their cover version of the R&B song Louie Louie, released in 1963, reached No 2 in the US charts and became the definitive version.

With Mitchell’s rock’n’roll guitar solo adding a crazed energy to the three-chord recording, the song is a cornerstone of the garage rock sound. It was the subject of an FBI investigation into the lyrics sung by frontman Jack Ely, which were suspected to be obscene, and got the song banned in the state of Indiana. Ely’s performance – which features a famous error as he comes back in too early after Mitchell’s solo – was rendered brilliantly unintelligible thanks to the band’s lo-fi recording into a single microphone suspended above the band.

The Kingsmen followed it with a US Top 20 version of Money (That’s What I Want), and a return to the Top 5 in 1965 with The Jolly Green Giant. They had no further hit singles, but continued to successfully tour amid various personnel changes. Mitchell remained in the lineup throughout, resulting in a performing career of more than 60 years with the band.