Mike Mitchell, guitarist and founding member of the influential ’60s rock band the Kingsmen, has died at the age of 77. The ‘Louie Louie’ guitarist passed away on Friday (April 16), his 77th birthday, the band’s drummer Dick Peterson confirmed to Rolling Stone. No cause of death was revealed, but Peterson told the publication that Mitchell “peacefully passed away.”
The Kingsmen formed in Portland, Oregon in 1959, with Mitchell and bassist Bob Nordby joining then-drummer Lynn Easton and vocalist Jack Ely the following year. In 1963, the group scored an unlikely hit with their garage rock cover of Richard Berry’s 1957 song ‘Louie Louie’, which spent six nonconsecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. With Mitchell’s iconic guitar solo and Ely’s indecipherable singing, the Kingsmen’s rendition became the definitive version of the track and even drew the attention of the FBI, who launched an investigation to determine whether or not its lyrics were in fact obscene, ultimately deeming it “unintelligible at any speed.”
Mitchell was the last remaining original member of the band, playing guitar with a rotating lineup for the next 62 years. The Kingsmen released six albums between 1963 and 1966, and in addition to ‘Louie Louie’, also found success with singles including ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’, ‘Little Latin Lupe Lu’, and the novelty hit ‘Jolly Green Giant’.
“We are deeply saddened by Mike’s passing. He was the kindest and most generous man on the planet,” Peterson said in his statement. “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.”