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Friday, June 24, 2011


Richard Berry was born in Extension, south of Monroe,Louisiana on April 11, 1935, and moved with his family to Los Angeles as a baby. Richard attended Jefferson High School in South Central Los Angeles during the early 1950's. He began singing and playing in local doo-wop groups, recording with several of them including The Penguins, The Cadets and The Chimes, before joining The Flairs (who also recorded as The Debonaires and The Flamingoes) in 1953.
 The Flairs’ 1953 record "She Wants To Rock", on Modern Records, featured Berry’s bass vocals, and was an early production by Leiber & 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 at Modern, again uncredited, as the counterpoint to Etta James on her first record and big hit, "The Wallflower (Dance With Me Henry)', and several of its less successful follow-ups. Berry also recorded with several other groups on the Modern and Flair labels, including Arthur Lee Maye and The Crowns, and girl group The Dreamers (who later became The Blossoms)
   By the end of 1954, Berry left the Flairs to form his own group, the Pharaohs, while also continuing to work with other groups as a singer and songwriter. One of these 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 Rene' Touzet's "El Loco Cha Cha", and also influenced by Chuck Berry's "Havana Moon". Richard Berry and the Pharaohs recorded and released the song as a B-side on Flip Records in 1957. It became a minor regional hit, was re-released as an A-side  and, when the group toured the Pacific Northwest, 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 F.B.I. The song has been recorded over 1,000 times, but, because Berry sold its copyright cheaply in 1959, he received little financial reward for its success for many years.
  Three decades after the release of "Louie Louie" Richard Berry continued to perform regularly in Downey, El Monte, Montebello, Norwalk and other Southern California cities with a large Chicano population. The existence of a loyal, appreciative & sizeable Chicano audience allowed Berry to remain true to himself & his art.
  In February 1996, he performed for the final time, reuniting with The Pharaohs and The Dreamers for a benefit concert in Long Beach, California. However, his health declined, and he died of heart failure in 1997.

A far more detailed recording history can be found in the book "L.A. R&B Vocal Groups 1945-1965' by Steve Propes & Galen Gart.

We will visit more of Richard Berry's recording in the future.

You may listen to "Louie Louie" here:


Soley for historical, educational & listening pleasure.

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