I probably should begin by apologizing for the awkward title of this piece but it is a reasonably accurate statement, even if it needs further elaboration. The Kingsmen, a fractious group that has existed in one form or another in almost every decade since its inception in the 1950s, is most remembered for “Louie, Louie.” But that performance was inspired by an earlier version, one offered up by Rockin’ Robin Roberts and the Fabulous Wailers — a bunch whose very name is attention-grabbing.
The song itself has received more than its share of bad press through the years — the Kingsmen’s version was even investigated by the FBI because of supposedly obscene language — and is dismissed by most serious critics. But it has had surprising staying power and has always been part of nearly every band’s songbook.
Originally recorded in the mid-1950s by its composer, Richard Berry, in a Jamaican style that played into its story of a troubled sailor, the song kicked around for a few years before it caught the attention of a Tacoma group known as the Wailers. Original members John Greek, Richard Dangel, Kent Morrill, Mike Burk, and Mark Marush had already found some success with their sax-driven style on “Tall Cool One,” and when they joined up with established vocalist Rockin’ Robin Roberts to record “Louie, Louie,” the result was very different from Berry’s original vision.
Although the record wasn’t a big hit for the guys, it would nevertheless form the basis for another Pacific Northwest band — the Kingsmen — to continue the song’s evolution, and the resultant record became a big seller. And even if most experts groan when hearing the song, almost every small group for the last 50 years has performed it, which certainly qualifies it as a rock standard.