Text by inda Claycamp, Illustrations by Stan Shaw
You know the ditty, the one that’s the de facto Washington state song, with perhaps the most often misinterpreted lyrics in American rock music—“Louie Louie.” But did you know that a UPS grad is responsible for tweaking the song into the version that has been covered by scores of artists over the past four decades? Rockin’ Robin Roberts, the man who put the yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah and oh, oh, oh, no in the Wailers’ ubiquitous version of “Louie Louie,” enrolled at the University of Puget Sound as Lawrence Fewell Roberts II in 1958 after graduating from Tacoma’s Stadium High School. Although Robin was a geology and chemistry double-major and a math minor, he managed to complete his studies, pledge to Sigma Nu, and perform in the original Tacoma garage-rock band, The Wailers. Rockin’ Robin not only sang with the band, in 1961 he rearranged “Louie Louie” from the Jamaican-themed version first penned by Richard Berry in 1955 to the rock ‘n’ roll version we know today. Of course, when you think of “Louie Louie,” it doesn’t bring to mind The Wailers; it was the Northwest group The Kingsmen who found the earliest, biggest success with their recording of the American favorite—one year after its release by The Wailers.
After Robin graduated from UPS, he continued his musical career for another couple of years while pursuing his master’s degree in biochemistry at the University of Oregon. After UO he moved to San Francisco, where an automobile accident took his life in 1967.
Rockin’ Robin’s version set the standard for literally hundreds of recordings of “Louie Louie” in the past 40 years by artists ranging from Otis Redding to Frank Zappa to The Kinks.