It looks like Wyatt and Jonah are waiting to get into the garage for band rehearsal. It is important to celebrate Louie Louie Day on the birthday of Richard Berry. The dogs are ready. The radio show playlist is made up our favorite garage band sounds.
Mr. Berry was born in Extension, La.,April 11, 1935, near New Orleans, in 1935. He was sent to Los Angeles a year later to live with an aunt; his parents followed. ”Louie Louie,” written and recorded in 1956, is a cornerstone of rock. It has a simple but indelible beat, three basic chords and a melody that encourages even the tone-deaf to sing along. Its lyrics are the lament of a Jamaican sailor telling a bartender named Louie how much he misses his girlfriend.
In the summer of 1956, Mr. Berry was backstage when he heard the Rhythm Rockers play a dance tune with a distinctive introduction: the five-note pattern that became the basis of ”Louie Louie.” It was ”El Loco Cha-Cha,” by Rene Touzet; Mr. Berry borrowed the opening riff. In ”Louie Louie” (Hyperion, 1993), his book about the song, Dave Marsh describes the beat as: ”Duh duh duh. Duh duh.”
For the lyrics, Mr. Berry borrowed the concept of talking to the bartender from the Frank Sinatra hit, ”One for My Baby” and the idea of a lovelorn Caribbean sailor from Chuck Berry’s ”Havana Moon,” and came up with his own terse song in an invented pidgin. He wanted Latin percussion in his version, but his record company vetoed the idea.
Flip Records first released Mr. Berry’s ”Louie Louie” as the B-side of his version of ”You Are My Sunshine.” But ”Louie Louie” became the hit; for one week, the Los Angeles disk jockey Hunter Hancock played the song every hour on the hour on KGFJ. It sold tens of thousands of copies on the West Coast, but Mr. Berry’s attempts at a follow-up hit were unsuccessful. In 1959, he needed money to get married, and he sold the publishing rights to ”Louie Louie” to Max Feirtag, the owner of Flip, for $750. He did, however, retain the rights to royalties for radio play.