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A Tribute to Jack Ely, A Musical King Among The Kingsmen

Updated on May 22, 2020
Jack Ely and The Kingsmen.
Jack Ely and The Kingsmen. | Source

So long, Jack.

Jack Ely (September 11, 1943 -- April 27, 2015) was 71 and had been fighting valiantly against an illness that will remain unknown for Ely's religious beliefs would not allow exploratory surgery to diagnose or find a cure.

Jack Ely's death, sad to say, is not in the category of the late John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, or Abraham Lincoln. All of these men were martyrs of sorts while Ely was a simple man who loved his electric guitar and playing with his close friends who evolved into bands with names like The Courtmen and every garage band's favorite, The Kingsmen, of whom he was the original member.

Ely with another band, The Courtmen.
Ely with another band, The Courtmen.

No bells and whistles required.

Ely might not have been viewed as important as the aforementioned martyrs, but still, and even only believed by yours truly, he also touched us and those around us with his almost-obscure, magical talent of singing, promoting and living what he played.

Was the meteoric rise of The Kingsmen similar to the rock gods, The Beatles? No. It wasn't necessary. Ely and his Kingsmen only had to score once, similar to the home team (playing in the big championship game) only being down by two-points with three minutes on the clock and they have a first and goal from the seven-yard line.

Jack Ely with his bass.
Jack Ely with his bass.

One song. Gone to Venus.

One snap, one short pass and bam! Pay dirt. Home team comes away with the championship. Same way the Kingsmen did with "Louie, Louie," a simple three-chord song that has been, and will always be played by young rocker's one n their first electric Fender playing in the security of their garage. It will happen. I promise.

The now-late Jack Ely did not write this gazillion-seller, "Louie, Louie." The song was penned in the mid-1950s by Richard Berry, a Los Angeles musician with a deep love for doo-wop music. As he recorded it in 1957, the tune had a calypso feel and described a customer telling a certain barkeeper he had to go, to get back to his girl waiting in Jamaica.

John, this is also for you.

Jack Ely.
Jack Ely.

"Louie, Louie," wax icon.

Neither you or I can number how many times "Louie, Louie," has been played over our free FM and AM radio airways. I'm glad. I know that Ely would be glad too at knowing he and a group of talented musicians "blew the doors off their Cadillac," with this one song. I only wish I had a witty phrase to place here.

As a musical side note: When Jack Ely and The Kingsmen first recorded "Louie, Louie," the cost was only $36.00. That's it. Kinda laughable at the time, huh? But that's how life works at times. An obscure person with an annoying sound or song will be the ridicule of fools, then score huge bucks and popularity that stifles the horselaughs of the fools.

The Kingsmen 1957.
The Kingsmen 1957.
The Kingsmen--more mature.
The Kingsmen--more mature.
Early Kingsmen--mid 1960's.
Early Kingsmen--mid 1960's.

"Louie, Louie," and Animal House.

And what would the movie icon, "Animal House," be without "Louie, Louie," blasting the ears of the stuffy conservatives while the alcohol-saturated frat brothers and their pledges of Delta House sway back and forth doing their best, even with tongues swelled and judgment compromised, sing along with this Kingsmen hit on their old jukebox.

I will answer my own question of what "Animal House" would be without "Louie Louie?" Naked. As naked as a drunken idiot who took a dare in some dim-lit back-alley bar to pull off his clothes.

"Louie, Louie," is really a multi-tool song in disguise. True. It's a getting drunk with friends song. This is proven on "Animal House," and if truth be revealed, by Jack Ely and his band members after several dates they played on the road.

"Louie, Louie," is a harmless song, actually a good dance song for all generations. Even the disciples of Grunge. The song is that stretched from the twisted mind of Richard Berry to the guitars and drums of The Kingsmen.

And . . ."Louie, Louie," is a medicinal-tune. I know. Back in my beer-drinking days (that I remember), I would be a bit down and out with a bad case of blues as hip musicians and people say. I would pop a couple of cold one's, plop my 45 record of "Louie, Louie," on my JC Penney stereo (Ha!) and with the cold beer in my veins and this Kingsmen song in my mind I would be feeling better in a short time.

You are free to disagree with this or any part of my tribute to the good friend I never met: Jack Ely. Your disagreeing won't change my opinions at all.

An older Jack Ely.
An older Jack Ely.

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