Through the walls of the dressing room, he could hear the band.
It was summer, 1955. Richard Berry was the featured singer that night at the Harmony Park Ballroom in Anaheim, California. The band was Ricky Rillera and The Rhythm Rockers, led by brothers Bobby and Barry Rillera. As the band played the first set without him, warming up the crowd, Richard relaxed and waited backstage.
The repeated rhythm of the introduction of this one number caught his attention: duh duh duh.. duh duh. It stuck in his head, gave the songwriter in him an idea. Richard picked up the handiest piece of paper, a crumpled bag, and jotted down a couple of lines.
Later, he asked the Rillera brothers what the song was with that great intro. “That was ‘El Loco Cha Cha’ by Rene Touzet.”
Richard Berry (born April 11, 1935, Extension, LA) was an accomplished R&B singer with a strong and versatile voice. He was capable of doing a frantic, Little Richard-style lead, switch to a deep, Muddy Waters-style Blues growl and then turn in a smooth and soulful performance on a slow ballad. He’d had hit records as a member of The Flairs, with The Robins on their classic “Riot In Cell Block #9,” and with Etta James on her hit “The Wallflower.”
As a songwriter, Richard knew how to follow a moment of inspiration and how to remain open to influence by other songwriters. “El Loco Cha Cha” had provided the riff, the basic rhythm, to build his new song on. “Havana Moon,” the Chuck Berry song that served as the B-side to Chuck’s 1956 single “You Can’t Catch Me,” and the Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen 1940’s-era standard “One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)” served as melodic and lyrical inspiration.
When the new song was done, Richard took it to a recording session with his band, The Pharoahs. In April of 1956, at Hollywood Recorders on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA, Richard Berry and The Pharoahs recorded four songs: “You Are My Sunshine,” “Somewhere There’s A Rainbow,” “Sweet Sugar You” and the new one: “Louie Louie.”
In April of 1957, “Louie Louie” was released on a Flip Records single as the B-side to “You Are My Sunshine.” When “Louie Louie” started getting more attention and airplay, it was re-released as the A-side of a single with “Rock Rock Rock” on the back.
In April of 1963, two popular Northwest Rock & Roll bands: Paul Revere & The Raiders and The Kingsmen, went into the studios of Northwest Recorders in Portland, OR and each recorded their version of “Louie Louie.”
In late 1963/early 1964, “Louie Louie” b/w “Haunted Castle” by The Kingsmen had reached #1 on the Cashbox chart and held the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six weeks in a row.
Dave Marsh, author of “Louie Louie: The History & Mythology of the World’s Most Famous Rock ‘n’ Roll Song; Including the Full Details of Its Torture & Persecution at the Hands of the Kingsmen, J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I., & a Cast of Millions; & Introducing for the First Time Anywhere, the Actual Dirty Lyrics” and the liner notes to the CD compilation “Love That Louie: The Louie Louie Files,” wrote: “‘Louie, Louie’ is either the essence of Rock ‘n’ Roll or definitive proof that no such essence ever could exist – unless it’s both of those at once.”
Information for this post was drawn from the two sources by Dave Marsh as listed above and The All Music Guide to Rock.
P.S.: According to the website www.louielouie.net , Monday, April 11, 2011, was International Louie Louie Day. I wish I’d known!