Steve Van Zandt tells the story of Louie Louie, one of the all time most recorded songs.
Steve Van Zandt tells the story of Louie Louie, a song which survived the wrath of J Edgar Hoover's FBI to become one of the most performed, recorded and influential of all time.
The story begins in 1956 with Richard Berry, a 21 year old session musician and jobbing songwriter, sitting backstage before a club gig in California, and hearing a local band play an instrumental number which he can't get out of his head. The tune was called El Loco Cha Cha and the following day Berry bought a version by Rene Touzet and set about writing his own set of lyrics to the tune - a song about a homesick navvy talking to a barman about how he longed to return home to the girl he loves.
Richard Berry and his group The Pharoahs recorded the song (which he named after the barkeeper in the lyric) and Louie Louie was released in the spring of 1957, as the B-side to their version of You Are My Sunshine. Radio DJ Hunter Hancock flipped over the record and began playing Louie Louie on a regular basis. The song became a regional hit but Berry was sold his rights to the song for $750 in order to buy his fiancée a wedding ring.
It remained a cult favourite and was given a new lease of life when recorded by The Kingsmen in 1963. But then a rumour began to circulate concerning the supposed peculiarity of Richard Berry's lyrics. It was alleged that if the 45 was played at 331/3 rpm, so the story went, its obscene content could be heard. J Edgar Hoover's FBI was warned that a potentially pornographic recording was receiving national airplay and being bought by hundreds of thousands of American teenagers. Just to prove that there really is no such thing as bad publicity, within two months Louie Louie was number two on the Billboard charts and number 17 in the UK charts.
Banning the record from the airwaves, the bureau launched a 30 month long investigation to see if Louie Louie violated federal law. Richard Berry, members of The Kingsmen and disc jockeys from across the United States were all obliged to give statements to the FBI. But, despite employing agents in six major cities and analysing master tapes of the recordings, this was one case even Hoover's notorious G-Men couldn't crack.
Ever since, Louie Louie has become a standard for bands big and small. It's been recorded by, among many others, The Beach Boys, Iggy Pop, The Kinks, Julie London, Otis Redding, Bruce Springsteen and Ike and Tina Turner. Even so, songwriter Richard Berry ended up on welfare until he won back his rights to the song in the mid-80s and at last reaped the massive rewards of Louie Louie until his death in 1997.
This programme explores the amazing story of Louie Louie's journey from obscurity to cult classic. It features archive interviews and performances from Richard Berry, plus especially recorded contributions from his widow Dorothy and the many musicians who have been influenced by the song, including members of The Kingsmen, The Wailers and Paul Revere & The Raiders who will explore the enduring magic of Louie Louie.
It first broadcast on Radio 2 in 2007, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of its release.
Steve Van Zandt continues the story of Louie Louie's journey from obscurity to classic.
Steve Van Zandt continues the amazing story of Louie Louie's journey from obscurity to cult classic.
The documentary features archive interviews and performances from Richard Berry, plus especially recorded contributions from his widow Dorothy and the many musicians who have been influenced by the song, including members of The Kingsmen, The Wailers and Paul Revere & The Raiders who will explore the enduring magic of Louie Louie.
It first broadcast on Radio 2 in 2007, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the song's release.