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Friday, December 5, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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'Louie Louie' gold record going on eBay

Seattle Times staff reporter

Forty years after a song with mumbled vocals and supposedly lewd lyrics went from Pacific Northwest radio hit to nationwide sensation, the gold record it earned has gotta go.

Jerry Dennon, 65, co-founder of early-era Seattle rock 'n' roll label Jerden Records, is selling the award he received in 1964 for producing "Louie Louie" by The Kingsmen. The collectible is being offered to the public for the first time as Dennon starts auctioning treasures from his bountiful corporate archive.

The auctions at www.ebay.com are to begin Monday with the opening bid for the gold record at $5,000. Items will be listed under the seller name: soundworksinc.

"I'm emotional about it," said Dennon, who runs the reborn Jerden label out of a business park in Redmond. "I have been the only one who has had access to these items for years and years. We recently moved our office and rather than storing them in a closet or box, I thought maybe it's time to share them with the world."

Dennon, who lives on Bainbridge Island, was a record promoter in Portland in the 1950s, persuading local disc jockeys to play specific songs on the radio, when he hooked up with seminal Seattle label Dolton Records. Dolton had been turning out hit after hit by local bands, such as The Fleetwoods and The Ventures, creating what then became known as the "Seattle sound."

Dennon and country music star Bonnie Guitar broke from Dolton to form Jerden in 1960, hoping to copy the winning formula and ride its wave. But it wasn't until Dennon stumbled upon a Portland nightclub band, The Kingsmen, in 1963, that Jerden realized its first big hit. And it didn't happen immediately.

As a favor to the nightclub owner, who also was a Portland disc jockey, Jerden agreed to record a single for The Kingsmen, who were teenagers. They settled on "Louie Louie," which had been a smash in Seattle for Rockin' Robin Roberts and The Wailers a couple of years earlier.

The Kingsmen's version received some radio airplay in Portland the summer of 1963, but it wasn't until a friend of Dennon's at a Boston rhythm 'n' blues station started playing the single that it really took off. Boston's leading Top 40 station followed suit, and 25,000 records were sold in one week.

The garage-rock rendition of the Jamaican-flavored ballad, with unintelligible lyrics that alarmist parents were certain had to be obscene, swept the nation. Before Dennon knew it, he was mass producing "Louie Louie" 45s, carting boxes of the discs onto airplanes headed back East.

"The success was going to kill me," he said.

To meet the sales demand, Dennon entered into a master-lease agreement with New York-based Wand Records, which had the resources to release the record nationally.

Dennon fondly recalls the event when he received the gold record, which denoted sales of at least 1 million. It was during a big cocktail party in New York City, thrown by Wand's parent label, Scepter, whose main hitmaker at the time was Dionne Warwick.

"The band was there, celebrities were there and the president of the company, Florence Greenberg, handed me my gold record," Dennon said.

These days, almost anyone connected to a top-selling record receives a gold record. Back then, the coveted award tended to go only to the producer and artist. Dennon said he knows of only one other gold record for "Louie Louie" by The Kingsmen in existence — and that one, obtained from a band member, is on display at Experience Music Project.

Dennon also is auctioning several contracts and other documents related to Jerden's long relationship with The Kingsmen as well as other collectibles that mark the era of early Seattle rock 'n' roll.

"I realize there are a lot of folks out there who were into what we did at Jerden," he said. "So while I am emotional about getting rid of these things, I'm also excited about it."

The showpiece of his collection, the gold record with a black-and-white Wand label, is mounted against a dark background and framed.

"You know, it's been hard for me to visualize who is going to own this," Dennon said. "Obviously, I hope it's someone who is going to treasure it and appreciate it — someone who loves that significant period of time in Northwest music history."

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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