Mike Mitchell, ‘Louie Louie’ Guitarist of The Kingsmen, Dead at 77

by Anna Dunn

Mike Mitchell, lead guitarist of The Kingsmen, died on Friday on his 77th birthday, according to a publicist for the group. Mitchell was the last founding member of The Kingsmen, still playing in the band. The band is best known for its rendition of Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie.”

Drummer Mike Peterson for the Kingsmen told the Rolling Stone, “We are deeply saddened by Mike’s passing. For the past 57 years, we have been playing colleges, fairs, and festivals, vintage car shows and rock n’ roll shows throughout the USA. Mike is irreplaceable, and he will be greatly missed not only by us but the fans as well. Mike was a favorite for his comedic nature as well as his musicianship.”

Guitarist Joe Walsh said of Mitchell, “I learned to play the guitar because of Mike Mitchell. I know every one of his solos, mistakes and all.”

Mike Mitchell’s Legacy

Mitchell’s Solo on “Louie Louie” Is commonly referred to as one of the most famous guitar solos of all time. “Louie Louie” spent six weeks at #2 on the hot 100. The Rolling Stone ranked The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” #54 their “500 Greatest songs of All-time.

The Kingsmen formed in Portland, Oregon, in 1959. Mitchell and The Kingsmen recorded six albums between 1963 and 1966. Mitchell continued to play that infamous “Louie Louie” guitar solo with the band for over six decades.

Part of the success of “Louie Louie” was due to a wide misinterpretation of the lyrics as “indecent.” However, the song was recorded on poor recording equipment, and the lyrics were simply misheard. The misheard lyrics even drew the attention of the FBI, and the song was banned in Indiana.

Peterson told The Rolling Stone that “When ‘Louie Louie’ was banned in Indiana back in 1964 by then-Governor Walsh, every kid had to have a copy, and the record took off like wildfire across the country!” Since the song’s release, bands such as The Beachboys and R.E.M have covered it.

A writer for The Oregon Music Hall of fame spoke of Mitchell in a Facebook post, saying, “He was quite possibly the nicest musician I was ever around.” He continued by saying that Mitchell was “always offering his services to make the world a better place……help give kids music education in the schools.”

And according to The Oregon Music Hall of Fame, “His playing just got better as he aged.”

No cause of death was released, but it’s said that Mitchell passed away “peacefully.”