Mike Mitchell, Guitarist and Co-Founder of The Kingsmen, Dead at 77
As the soloist on the band's mega-hit, "Louie Louie," Mitchell helped set the template for both garage- and hard-rock guitar.
Mike Mitchell – co-founder and guitarist for garage-rock legends The Kingsmen – has died at the age of 77.
The Kingsmen's drummer, Dick Peterson, confirmed the news to Rolling Stone (opens in new tab) in a statement, saying that Mitchell “peacefully passed away.” No cause of death was given.
It was Mitchell who, in 1963, took the guitar solo on The Kingsmen's cover of Richard Berry's "Louie Louie." Raw, lightning-fast, and loud, the solo's unbridled energy helped make the song a No. 2 pop hit, but also helped set the template for garage-rock – and later hard-rock – guitar.
Having co-founded The Kingsmen in Portland, Oregon in 1959, Mitchell remained with the group for over six decades, and by 2021 was its last remaining original member.
Though they never again matched the commercial success of "Louie Louie," the Kingsmen did score two additional top 20 hits in the mid-1960s – a revved-up, 1964 cover of "Money (That’s What I Want)" and 1965's "The Jolly Green Giant," which peaked (opens in new tab) at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Even as their commercial success dried up, the influence of the band's raucous interpretation of "Louie Louie" remained profound, with everyone from punks like Iggy Pop, Black Flag, and The Clash, to classic-rock stalwarts like Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead, taking a stab at the song onstage.
These covers helped keep The Kingsmen in the limelight, and the band remained a popular touring attraction throughout their existence.
"I learned to play the guitar because of Mike Mitchell," Joe Walsh told Rolling Stone (opens in new tab), upon hearing of the guitarist's death. "I know every one of his solos, mistakes and all. We’re losing the good guys.”
“We are deeply saddened by Mike’s passing," said (opens in new tab) longtime Kingsmen drummer Dick Peterson.
"He was the kindest and most generous man on the planet. 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.”
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Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.