Mike Mitchell, founding member of the influential ’60s rock band the Kingsmen, and guitarist on their hit single “Louie Louie,” has died. The band’s drummer Dick Peterson confirmed the news to Rolling Stone, stating that Mitchell died on Friday (April 16), his 77th birthday. No cause of death was revealed, but Peterson told RS that Mitchell “peacefully passed away.”
The Kingsmen got their start in Portland, Oregon in 1959. In 1960, Mitchell and bassist Bob Nordby joined then-drummer Lynn Easton and vocalist Jack Ely (who died in 2015). In 1963, the group recorded their famed version of Richard Berry’s 1957 track “Louie Louie.” The song rocketed up the Billboard singles chart, spending six nonconsecutive weeks at Number Two on the Hot 100.
The Kingsmen’s version of “Louie Louie” championed the garage rock stylings gaining traction at the time—it was far more distorted and raucous than Berry’s melodic original. Mitchell’s iconic guitar solo and Ely’s inarticulate singing intrigued listeners, and even the FBI, who famously launched an investigation to determine whether or not Ely’s lyrics were littered with obscenities. They ultimately ruled that the song was “unintelligible at any speed.” The controversy didn’t hurt—Ely once told Rolling Stone that sales of the single spiked when, in 1964, it was banned in the state of Indiana.
Though Ely and Nordby left the group in 1963, Mitchell was the last founding member to remain in the Kingsmen. He played guitar with a rotating lineup for 62 years, cutting six albums between 1963 and 1966 and playing countless live concerts. In addition to “Louie Louie,” Mitchell played on the Kingsmen’s recordings of “Money (That’s What I Want),” “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” and more.
In his statement to Rolling Stone, Dick Peterson said that he was “deeply saddened” by Mike’s death, adding: “He was the kindest and most generous man on the planet.”