Mike Mitchell, The Kingsmen co-founder and Louie Louie guitarist, dies aged 77

Mike Mitchell
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Mike Mitchell, co-founder of 1960s garage rock band The Kingsmen and guitarist behind hit track Louie Louie, has died at age 77.

The news was confirmed by Kingsmen drummer Dick Peterson, who revealed in a statement given to Rolling Stone that Mitchell had “peacefully passed away” on his 77th birthday on April 16. No cause of death was given.

“We are deeply saddened by Mike’s passing. He was the kindest and most generous man on the planet,” the statement read. “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.”

Revered for his blistering solo in the band’s 1963 track Louie Louie, Mitchell was co-founder of rock ‘n’ roll four piece The Kingsmen, who formed in 1959 with an original lineup of Mitchell, Jack Ely, Lynn Easton and Bob Nordby. Despite numerous personnel changes over the years, Mitchell remained with the band from its inception, resulting in a live performing career that spanned over six decades.

Four years after the band formed, they achieved a smash hit with their track Louie Louie in 1963, which was a loose cover of Richard Berry’s R&B original. Mitchell’s guitar solo, often referred to as one of the greatest garage-rock guitar solos ever recorded, appeared in the track as a demonstration of his influential guitar playing abilities.

Louie Louie would remain at number two in the Hot 100 for six consecutive weeks, despite controversy with the FBI for some misinterpreted profane language, though it would not be the band’s only charting success. Thanks largely in part to Mitchell’s consistent guitar work, the Kingsmen continued to be considered a cornerstone of garage-rock sound.

The band followed up their debut album The Kingsmen in Person with five studio albums in three years between 1963 and 1966, with their 1965 offering The Kingsmen Volume 3 containing the top 5 charting track The Jolly Green Giant

A year prior, the band achieved a US Top 20 rendition of Money (That’s What I Want) in 1964 – yet another track that put Mitchell’s instantly recognizable guitar work on show courtesy of his high-octane bends, rapid-fire trills and energetic chord progressions.

Throughout his career, Mitchell decorated The Kingsmen’s discography with an abundance of influential guitar work, which in turn influenced emerging generations of garage rock 'n' rollers.

Speaking of Mitchell, The Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh wrote, "I learned to play the guitar because of Mike Mitchell. I know every one of his solos, mistakes and all."

Mitchell was the sole remaining member of the original lineup to still be performing with the band up until his death.

In a statement put out by the Oregon Music Hall of Fame on April 17, Terry Currier wrote, "He has given us great music on record and live for over 60 years. He was quite possibly the nicest musician I was ever around.

"For me, the Oregon Music Hall of Fame and the City of Portland, he was always offering his services to make the world a better place... help gives kids music education in the schools, scholarships and him and the Kingsmen headlines a number of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame inductions."

"He never let his chops fall behind. His playing just got better," he continued. "Mike, we love you and we will miss you dearly. Look forward to meeting up with you on the other side... rest in peace."

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.