Het is vandaag twintig jaar geleden dat de zwarte doowop-zanger Richard Berry is overleden aan een hartfalen. Hij zal vooral de geschiedenis ingaan als de componist (en originele uitvoerder) van het nummer “Louie Louie”, “the most recorded rock song of all time”. (Wikipedia)

Berry was born in Louisiana, but moved with his family to Los Angeles as a baby. As a child he suffered a hip injury and had to walk on crutches until he was six. His first instrument was the ukulele, which he learned while attending a summer camp for crippled children.
Berry attended Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, and along with many other pupils practised singing vocal harmonies in the corridors. He began singing and playing in local doo-wop groups. Best-known were The Flairs. Their 1953 record “She Wants To Rock”, on Modern Records, featured Berry’s bass vocals, and was an early production by Leiber and Stoller. A few months later, when the producers needed a bass voice for The Robins’ “Riot In Cell Block #9” on Spark Records, they recruited Berry to provide the menacing introduction to the song – uncredited, as he was contracted to Modern. Berry’s voice was also used, this time at Modern, but yet again uncredited, as the counterpoint to Etta James on her first record and big hit, “The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry)”.
One of the groups Berry played with after leaving the Flairs was a Latin and R&B group, Rick Rillera and the Rhythm Rockers. In 1955, Berry was inspired to write a new calypso-style song, “Louie Louie”, based on the Rhythm Rockers’ version of René Touzet’s “El Loco Cha Cha”. Richard Berry and the Pharaohs recorded and released the song as the B-side to his cover of “You Are My Sunshine” on Flip Records in 1957. It became a minor regional hit, selling 130,000 copies. Several local R&B bands began to adopt the song and established its popularity. “Louie Louie” finally became a major hit when The Kingsmen’s raucous version – with little trace of its calypso-like origins other than in its lyrics – became a national and international hit in 1963. The nearly unintelligible (and innocuous) lyrics were widely misinterpreted as obscene, and the song was banned by radio stations and even investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The song has been recorded over 1,000 times, However, Berry received little financial reward for its success for many years, having sold the copyright for $750 in 1959 to pay for his wedding. Berry commented in 1993, “Everybody sold their songs in those days. I never was bitter with the record companies. They provided a vehicle for five young black dudes to make a record.”
In the mid eighties Berry was living on welfare at his mother’s house. Drinks company California Cooler wanted to use “Louie Louie” in a commercial, but discovered they needed Berry’s signature to use it. They asked the Artists’ Rights society to locate him, and a lawyer visited Berry. The lawyer mentioned the possibility of Berry taking action to gain the rights to his song. The publishers settled out of court, making Berry belatedly a millionaire.

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