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Mike Mitchell (1944–2021), “Louie Louie” guitarist with the Kingsmen

by Linnea Crowther

Mike Mitchell was the guitarist for the Kingsmen, best known for playing the iconic solo on the 1963 hit song “Louie Louie.”

The Kingsmen and “Louie Louie”

Mitchell was one of the founding members of the Kingsmen in 1957, when he was still a teen. The group found their greatest success with their 1963 cover of “Louie Louie.” Recorded in a single take, which the band thought was a practice run, the song is sloppy and all but unintelligible, and therein lies its charm. It rose to No. 2 on the Billboard chart and became highly influential on rock music even as it was investigated by the FBI for pornographic content. Banned in Indiana and on various radio stations across the U.S., the song turned out to have innocuous lyrics that were simply easy to misinterpret. Mitchell remained with the Kingsmen as other members left, recording minor follow-up hits including their 1964 cover of “Money (That’s What I Want)” as well as “The Jolly Green Giant” (1965) and “Killer Joe” (1966). By 1967, Mitchell was the only founding member of the Kingsmen still in the band, and he continued to tour and play with the Kingsmen until his death.

Mitchell on recording “Louie Louie”

“We actually recorded three songs, loaded gear in and out, within an hour. The whole session cost us, I think, $36.” —from a 1999 interview with John Broughton

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Tributes to Mike Mitchell

Full obituary: Rolling Stone

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