There are two successful and conspicuous songs from American music history that share a remarkable and unique coincidence — as well as several minor coincidences.
Each is so well-known that it would be difficult to find many adults raised in America who cannot at least hum along to one of them. Many could hum along to both, recite a few words, and drop immediately into a comfortable toe tapping when each chorus is struck up. Yet, hardly anyone knows the words to the songs; hardly anyone knows the story behind these songs, or knows the stories they tell.
On the other hand, the songs’ differences are stark.
The later song is rowdy and timeless; for six decades running it’s been a top choice at parties and gatherings, especially if there is a dance floor. And it seems destined to ride that fame indefinitely.
The earlier song is stuck in history, firmly planted in the first decade of the 20th century — the Edwardian Era. And yet it retains its popularity as a quaint reminder of perhaps simpler times: when powered flight and electric lights were new; when great enjoyment could be found in playing flat music records on a gramophone, or sitting on the porch in the company of a comfortable friend, sipping sweet iced tea, watching fireflies in warm summer twilight.
But that one remarkable unique coincidence: a man’s name, Louie, is repeated in both of the songs’ title and chorus.
There aren’t many finer men than my dear friend Kevin Shepardson. One month after surviving cardiac arrest, he is still in hospital. Finally out of ICU and moved to a hospital closer to his family, he’s still in need of great medical care, and all the love, prayers, good thoughts and wishes we can send his way.
Right up to this past New Year’s Eve day, when the “event” happened, Kevin published a daily newsletter via email, which he called “The Good News Today.” It came in two parts. The first was spiritual, connected to the scriptures of the daily office, with a short reflection by a staff member of Creighton University.
The second part was what he called his “ramble”, with whatever was on his mind, from weather to current events. The rambles frequently contained music tributes to some special event. Perhaps a birthday or anniversary of one of his many friends, or an approaching holiday. They were always appropriate and fitting. Kevin is a bit of a music expert (OK, music trivia geek), and you could tell he put care into selecting the proper songs, complete with Youtube links so we could hear them professionally performed.
If Kevin were to select a music tribute song for a celebration party (like his 60th, which is next week), or for a nostalgic commemoration of early 20th century America, he might have selected one of these two songs.
Or, maybe not.
Singer/songwriter Richard Berry was a talented musician, and could perform early R&B as well as doo-wop. In 1955, aged only 20, he penned the lyrics to a song that may live forever.
It’s about a lovesick guy at a bar, talking to a bartender named “Louie.” Berry claims he was inspired by a similar song — One for my Baby (and one more for the Road) — best sung by Frank Sinatra, where a lovelorn guy is pouring his heart out to a bartender named “Joe.” In “Louie Louie” the guy at the bar is talking about his girl back in Jamaica … a three day and night sailing trip away. And it’s time for him to go see her.
The song was finally recorded with his group, The Pharaohs, in 1957 as the B-side to “You are my Sunshine” on the Flip Records label. Their R&B version of “Louie Louie” was totally understandable and was pretty easy to follow. As a minor hit; it was soon re-released as an A-side. Richard Berry & The Pharaohs’ original version of Louie Louie is almost painful to listen to. That is, if you’ve been weaned on the later rock version. Their version of the song soon languished, maintaining some popularity on the west coast, from San Francisco to Seattle.
Over the next few years, quite a few groups in the Pacific Northwest picked up the song, and played versions of it in concerts and small gigs. Some recorded it. In fact, to date, “Louie Louie” has been covered and recorded over 1,500 times. 
Well, moving to 1963, “The Kingsmen” were a new group in Portland, Oregon. They had been playing the song for months at parties and gigs, getting wilder and wilder with the song. No longer Rhythm and/or Blues, it was full raucous Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Ken Chase had a local radio show, and ran a teen night club where the Kingsmen played. After hearing them play the song live, he agreed to set up a recording session for the song. They did the song in one take, since they were tired from having just performed a Louie-thon. Or because they were cheap (the recording only cost $50). Or both.
Nonetheless, over the years, it’s the Kingsmen’s almost totally incomprehensible version of “Louie Louie” that has become the standard. Since the Kingsmen, it’s known more for the guitar instrumental bridge than its lyrics or story. It has been recognized by organizations and publications worldwide for its influence on the history of Rock and Roll.
- In 2007, in Rolling Stone ranked it #5 in its list of 40 songs that changed the world.
- In 2004 Mojo Magazine rated it #1 in “Ultimate Jukebox: The 100 Singles You Must Own”.
- Mojo and Rolling Stone have rated it the #51 and #54 top songs of all time, respectively.
Stories and commentary on “Louie Louie” and the Kingsmen could fill volumes. For example:
- The lead singer for the famous Kingsmen 1963 recording, Jack Ely, quit the group four months afterward over a disagreement. At the time only some 600 copies had been sold. Ely missed out on large royalties.
- Washington State considered making it the state song.
- The states of Washington and Oregon, and the cities of Seattle and Portland have declared “Louie Louie” days. 
- There is an “International Louie Louis Day” 
- The FBI investigated the song to determine if it was obscene (the lyrics are that incomprehensible), as it was so popular at raucous parties (as recreated in National Lampoon’s movie “Animal House” ).
- Which is pretty laughable today, considering how “artists” like Barrack Obama’s good friend Jay-Z fill their “songs” with the F-word and the N-word – not to mention gratuitous violence, usually against women – and are rewarded with critical acclaim and Grammy awards. Not that most true music aficionados or anyone with common sense would give two BMs about that.
Another somewhat famous song nearly shares this unique “Double-double” Louie coincidence. Each is named “Brother Louie”, wherein “Louie” is repeated in the song lyrics, but not in the title. One version was recorded by Hot Chocolate (in the UK), and was covered by the group Stories (US based). The Stories’ recording came in at #13 in the US for 1973; Hot Chocolate’s recording was #86 that year in the UK.
There is a second “Brother Louie” which is completely different, by Modern Talking (1986). It did not crack the top 100 for that year. I’m not familiar with this song, but it seems mildly annoying.
After Jack Ely had left the Kingsmen he soon realized he was going to miss out on those royalties. So he wrote and recorded several songs with his new group, The Courtmen, alluding to his “Louie Louie” connection, including “Louie Louie ‘66”. But it is really the same song, although this time easier to understand.
Subsequent lawsuits between the Kingsmen and Ely resulted in him getting paid $6,000 and label credit as the lead singer on future record pressings.
Louie, part deux
July 1848 was a seminal moment. The Seneca Falls Convention kicked off what could be called the Women’s Movements that still have modern-day repercussions. Historians have suggested that it was not so much a feminist movement or a woman’s rights movement – it was a wide reaching social movement. 
By the turn of the 20th century, it was women who had led the charge for founding the Red Cross (Clara Barton) and for humane treatment of severely ill mental health patients (Dorthea Dix). Women were becoming doctors and surgeons (not the same thing then). They supplied the energy and drive to reform labor: advancing stricter child labor laws, organizing unions to drive for better and safer working conditions (especially for garment workers), and for five day work weeks, instead of the usual seven days. And pushed for forty hour work weeks, instead of the usual 60 or 70, with paid overtime compensation.
Alcohol abuse – in fact downright drunkenness – was a huge problem in 19th century America. The temperance movement – based on the desire for a healthier family life – owes all of its early energy to Women.
Yes, women were feeling their oats and ready to do more. They were shockingly daring to smoke in public and demanded the right to vote (By 1900, several western states, — Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Colorado — had already granted full women’s suffrage ).
In marriage, women grew less and less inclined to be totally subservient to their husbands. Yes, they loved their men and were devoted spouses and mothers, but – especially in the middle and upper classes – they were eager to get more out of married life than children and laundry.
Women, their influence and their interests, cut a wide swath across the social milieu as America approached the grandest, the largest, and the most extravagant World’s Fair in history: the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, to be hosted at Forest Park, in Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1904.
In 1890, Saint Louis was the nation’s second largest producer of beer. By 1904 they had dropped to number five, but that’s still a lot of beer. The big brewer Anheuser-Busch sold large quantities on the East Coast thanks to enhanced distribution via refrigerated cars they had helped pioneer on the nation’s ever expanding railroad capacity.
Early in 1904, New York lyricist Andrew Sterling was trying to come up with a song to promote the upcoming World’s Fair in Saint Louis. Two stories of his inspiration for the earlier “Louie” song survive, although it is likely that each is apocryphal.
The first story claims that in New York, those Saint Louis beers (Budweiser and Busch) were often called “Louis”, pronounced “Lou-ee” —the same as the French Saint, King Louis IX, after whom the city is named. It seems that at a bar one night, Sterling hailed the bartender, whose name happened to be Louis (Louie). Wanting another beer, he called out, “Another Louis, Louis.” 
A second, similar, version of the song’s inspiration has Sterling and co-composer Kerry Mills (who wrote the music) sitting together across a bar from a bartender named Louie and ordering a mixed-drink called a Louie. 
In any case, it was the repeating of the name “Louis” — pronounced “Louie” — that caught on and inspired Sterling to pen the lyrics to the song “Meet me in Saint Louis, Louis.” He must have been feeling a bit jolly, since he wrote each half-verse and the chorus in the form of a limerick (A-A-B/B-A).
In the opening verse of the song, we find that Louis’ wife (Flossie) has left him, apparently without warning. She leaves a note with the line: Life is just “too slow for me here.” She’s perfectly willing to re-connect with him, but on her terms, as her note continues in the chorus:
Meet me in Saint Louis, Louis. Meet me at the Fair.
Don’t tell me the lights are shining anyplace but there.
We will dance the Hoochee Koochee. I will be your Tootsie Wootsie.
If you will meet me in Saint Louis, Louis; meet me at the Fair.
Billy Murray was a very popular singer of that era. In fact, his voice graces four of the top ten hits of 1904. His recording of “Meet Me in Saint Louis, Louis” was made in May of that year and was immensely popular. It was the #2 song of 1904 (behind Sweet Adeline, which actually had three different recordings make the billboard).
The Murray version is kept light and cheery – it skips a key verse that makes it quite clear that Flossie (Louis’ wife), is making an extreme act of defiance. She wants more out of this marriage.
The dresses that hung in the hall,
Were gone; she had taken them all.
She took all his rings, and the rest of his things.
The picture he missed from the wall.
“What? Moving?” The janitor said.
“Your rent is paid three months ahead.”
“What good is the Flat?” said poor Louis, “Read that!”
And the janitor smiled as he read.
Chorus: “Meet me in St Louis, Louis …”
Flossie had not only left, she … took all of HIS things.
Further fixing the song firmly in a long ago era, Flossie’s note pledges “We will dance the Hoochee Koochee; I will be your Tootsie Wootsie.”
We might recognize Tootsie Wootsie from context, as it also appears in “In the Good Old Summer Time”, the #6 song of 1902 as recorded by William Richmond, charting at #1 for seven weeks.
You hold her hand and she holds yours
And that’s a very good sign
That she’s your Tootsie Wootsie
In the Good Old Summertime
“Tootsie Wootsie” is a sweetie pie: a boyfriend or girlfriend you can cuddle up to. And more.
The Hoochee Coochee was a dance that was considered very daring – even lewd – at the time. It was sexually provocative with lots of mid-section gyrations. It had become somewhat popular through exhibits at two earlier well-attended World’s Fairs in America; the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago.
The Hoochee Coochee was an “entertaining” dance to observe —usually men observing women with a bare midriff. Flossie says “we will dance” it — as in, together. Hmmmm.
If you think about it, Louis’ runaway wife, Flossie, really had a lot on her mind, and lot to offer. As Michael Lasser says in “America’s Songs II” — “It offers a tempting invitation: She promises him a good time at the Fair and afterwards. … the promise borders on sexual abandon.” 
So Flossie was not simply rebelling and running out on poor Louis. Her offer was all, or nothing. As in: All of her, or none of her. She was promising him some exciting “action” — connubial pleasure, if you will — if he would simply comply with her demand to leave home and…
“Meet me in Saint Louis, Louis. Meet me at the Fair!”
No wonder it was so popular!
Yes indeed! Marriage can be plenty interesting in a fun way if men would just take the time to listen to their wives once in a while!
Here’s hoping and praying that Kevin, and his Tootsie Wootsie Sue, can very soon run away and enjoy the delights of “hoochee koochee” as well.
Until then, I wish you all peaceful snuggling; or rowdy dancing. Or both. Your choice.
Joe Girard © 2015
Final notes and thoughts, followed by footnotes and bibliography.
- Neither Sterling nor Mills attended the Fair in Saint Louis.
- The Song was revived in the 1944 movie starring Judy Garland “Meet Me in Saint Louis” (this time pronounce the American way: like “Lewis”), wherein the chorus is sung by quite a few excited folks in the opening scenes. [Plot flaw: this is mid-summer of 1903, and according the sources I cited, the song’s words and sheet music were not written yet, nor had it become popular]
- My Friend Max Storm, founder of the 1904 World’s Fair Society, has his doorbell set up to play the chorus to “Meet me in St Louis, Louis” when it rings. His Tootsie-Wootsie, Shara, lovingly puts up with this, and much more.
- The song is often shown without the second “Louis” and without the comma between. This is incorrect.
- The Berry song “Louie Louie” is often shown with a comma between the two Louies. This is also incorrect.
 “Louie Louie,” the saga of a lovesick sailor pouring his heart out to a patient bartender, named Louie. — and other “Louie Louie historical highlights: http://seattletimes.com/html/entertainment/2003643550_louietimeline01.html
 According to some references, Louie, Louie has been recorded over 1500 times. LouieLouie.net and Peter Blecha, 4/1/2007 Seattle Times: http://seattletimes.com/html/entertainment/2003643548_louie01.html ]
 Washington, Oregon, Portland and Seattle “Louie Louie Day”. April 12, 1985 (Washington), April 14, 1985 (Seattle), April 2, 1986 (Oregon): http://www.louieday.org/default.htm
Finally, in the city where the Kingsmen recorded it, Portland celebrated “Louie Louie Day” October 5, 2013: http://koin.com/2013/10/05/its-louie-louie-day-in-portland/
 April 11 (the birthday of Richard Berry) is celebrated as International “Louie Louie Day“ [http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Louie_Louie_Day]. It is also listed by Chase’s Calendar of Events, and the National Special Events Registry
 FBI investigates “Louie Louie” for obscenity. http://vault.fbi.gov/louie-louie-the-song
 Plot error. Animal House supposedly occurred in 1962, one year before the Kingsmen’s recording was released.
 Women’s movement as Social Movement. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/647122/womens-movement
“Women and women’s organizations also worked on behalf of many social and reform issues. By the beginning of the new century, women’s clubs in towns and cities across the nation were working to promote suffrage, better schools, the regulation of child labor, women in unions, and liquor.” http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/progress/suffrage/
“Women were key players in the push for prohibition (meaning outlawing the sale and consumption of alcohol), improved housing standards, regulations of the food and drug industry and government inspections of factories. ”
The above link has been changed to: http://study.com/academy/lesson/womens-suffrage-early-feminism-movement-19th-amendment-leaders.html
 The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought, William R. Everdell [chapt 14/pg 206]; https://books.google.com/books?id=yVRb9sJ2KjEC&pg=PA206&lpg=PA206&dq=sterling+get+me+another+louis,+louis&source=bl&ots=znJQdCCPif&sig=zfezVLEHcMmQC78dXauLWFRVxJo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=HX7IVPGaIoKnNv7wgqgM&ved=0CD0Q6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=sterling%20get%20me%20another%20louis%2C%20louis&f=false
 America’s Songs II: Songs from the 1890’s to the Post-War Years, Michael Lasser [1901-1905/pg 27]; https://books.google.com/books?id=RlmLAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA243&lpg=PA243&dq=America%27s+Songs+II:+Songs+from+the+1890%27s+to+the+Post-War+Years,+Michael+Lasser&source=bl&ots=H_e1kCaphg&sig=hnTC8TDuh_gj_vV2NjlgW9l9e_A&hl=en&sa=X&ei=U4DIVLK7GYedNrfwgbgN&ved=0CDkQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=America’s%20Songs%20II%3A%20Songs%20from%20the%201890’s%20to%20the%20Post-War%20Years%2C%20Michael%20Lasser&f=false
Note: In further research, I could find no such drink called a “Louie” or a “Louis.” But that could just be that Google hasn’t found it yet.
 Meet me in St Louis, Louis: lyrics. “500 Best Loved Songs”, edited by Ronald Herder, page 219-220.
 The Hoochee Coochee (or Hoochie Coochie) in America: http://www.readex.com/blog/hoochie-coochie-lure-forbidden-belly-dance-victorian-america
 Women’s suffrage timeline by state in the US: http://constitutioncenter.org/timeline/html/cw08_12159.html
Odd that Washington as a territory granted full suffrage in 1883, but not as a state until 1910. In fact, the territorial laws were twice overturned. http://www.washingtonhistory.org/files/library/TheFightforWashingtonWomensSuffrageABriefHistory.pdf
 Primm, James Neal (1998). Lion of the Valley: St. Louis, Missouri, 1764–1980, pg 328-330
I'd really like to put a box in here. And wtf?