Louie Louie Day
Lou Watson '15 designs the plaque commemorating the 50th anniversary of the recording of Louie Louie.
Lou Watson ‘15 made history – literally – this month. The PNCA Intermedia major was commissioned by the Oregon Music Hall of Fame to design a plaque celebrating the 50th anniversary of the recording of the classic rock n’ roll song, “Louie Louie,” by The Kingsmen.
According to the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, “In 1963 five young Portlanders went into the studio at 13th and Burnside and recorded a version of Richard Berry’s west coast hit, Louie Louie. What followed was perhaps the biggest shift in popular music in the region and a mega hit of worldwide proportions. It reached #2 in the world in early 1964.” Today, there are close to 1600 versions of the song in circulation.
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales unveiled the plaque on September 5, 2013, accompanied by high-school marching bands and radio stations playing “Louie Louie.” Streets were blocked off for the celebration. Voodoo Doughnuts even whipped up a commemorative pastry to mark the occasion.
Hales also declared October 5th “Louie Louie Day,” to coincide with the annual Oregon Music Hall of Fame induction, which included a performance by the Kingsman.
“I responded to the ad posted by the Oregon Music Hall of Fame,” wrote Watson, “firstly because of my sentimental attachment to the song. (My dad used to sing it to me, albeit very out-of-tunely, when I was little). And secondly, because it sounded like a project I could have some fun with.”
Watson proposed a resin-encased jukebox, featuring LP’s by every artist who has covered the song (a long list). Her initial idea, however, was sidelined for a revamped proposal including a bronze plaque of the original 1963 pressing of the 45. The bronze plaque now stands at the site of the original recording, a space now occupied by Skylab Architecture.
Though “Louie Louie” has long been a staple anthem of college football games and big school frat-houses, with her commemorative plaque, Watson has carved an art school niche for the hit here in Portland.
She viewed the experience mostly as a creative opportunity, but also recognized that the struggle with design concepts, and with working around city events, boards, and zoning permits, was a first rate lesson in the challenges and rewards that face artists who create work for public spaces.
Watson took the set back with good humor. “I figured that this was a good lesson in working with committees/public art/bureaucracy, so I had to come up with something that would work for everyone.”