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Annual garage band festival becomes a Portland institution



COURTESY: TROY FOLSOM - Beyond Veronica has been a major part of Nuggets Night. 'They put their hearts into this festival,' says Luke Strahota, festival organizer. 'They embody the generous spirit of the musicians who play the festival.' This year's festival is June 24-25 at Mississippi Studios.Everyone from groupies to drug dealers have been known to follow rock ‘n’ roll bands.

But few bands can say they’ve been tailed by the FBI.

One band, however, was not only investigated by the feds, but eventually became buddies with the G-men initially assigned to take them down — Portland’s The Kingsmen, whose 1963 cover of Richard Berry’s “Louie, Louie” was targeted by public officials for its allegedly obscene lyrics.

Mike Mitchell has played guitar for the band since 1959, and remembers the controversy well.

“J. Edgar Hoover wanted to put us in prison for messing with the moral fiber of the youth,” he says with a chuckle, referring to the famed — some would say infamous — late director of the agency.

Indeed, the song’s slurred lyrics, sung by Jack Ely, who died last year, led the nation’s morals police to assume something dirty was being said, so the FBI sent agents to The Kingsmen’s shows for more than a year to determine what the heck The Kingsmen were singing, Mitchell says. Over time, however, the FBI agents not only realized The Kingsmen were not singing anything profane or obscene, they wound up helping out the band, Mitchell says.

The Kingsmen had recorded a song called “Jolly Green Giant,” poking fun at the alleged dating woes of the mascot of the Green Giant canned vegetables company. The company eventually sent The Kingsmen cans of food to pass out at its gigs.

“You couldn’t really throw a can of beans,” Mitchell says. “The FBI guys were nice enough to pass out the cans of beans and corn.”

Given how profanity and obscenity are now part and parcel of a lot of popular music, Mitchell laughs when he thinks back on how “milquetoast” the “Louie, Louie” controversy was. Nonetheless, the tune’s raucous organ, shambling guitar, and somewhat sloppy drums combined to make what’s probably the greatest garage rock anthem of all time, rivaled only by “96 Tears” by ? and The Mysterians for the number of times other bands have covered it.

It's garage and psychedelic rock that Mitchell and his band will celebrate when The Kingsmen take the stage at Mississippi Studios Saturday, June 25, on the second of two nights that comprise the ninth annual Nuggets Night, which pays tribute to the songs found on the various Nuggets psychedelic and garage rock compilations released since 1972. The compilations have influenced dozens of bands, played a role in kick-starting punk and are considered must-have records for any serious rock ‘n’ roll audiophiles.

Mitchell says The Kingsmen wanted to play the show, in part, because it benefits KISN 95.1 FM, Portland’s oldies station, which is now a nonprofit. In its original commercial form, KISN featured such hosts as Ken Chase, The Kingsmen’s manager who also owned The Chase, a popular dance club in Milwaukie where The Kingsmen regularly played. Mitchell adds he’s amazed his band’s music remains so popular, even with younger rockers.

“This is fun music,” he says. “ You don’t have to do any particular dances, you can just get out on the floor and move around.”

COURTESY: ANNE LAURENT - The Flamin' Groovies headline the June 24 portion of Nuggets Night.Dig these Nuggets

The Nuggets festival takes place Friday and Saturday, June 24-25, at Mississippi Studios, 3939 N. Mississippi Ave. Doors open at 7 p.m. Friday, and 6 p.m. Saturday, with The Flamin’ Groovies headlining the June 24 lineup and The Kingsmen headlining the June 25 lineup. Eyelids, The Pynnacles, The Reverberations and Karaoke From Hell share the Friday bill, which also features the final performance of power popsters Beyond Veronica.

In addition to The Kingsmen, who take the stage at 9 p.m. June 25, Saturday’s bill features Paradise, The Minders, The Suicide Notes, The Verner Pantons, Mister Tang, The Blue Whips, The Hauer Things, The Jim Jams, Lagoon Squad, Dartgun And The Vignettes, The Mean Reds and The Sellwoods. A certain Portland Tribune music writer will lend his harmonica playing to The Hauer Things, who close the night, on “Psychotic Reaction” by The Count Five and “When The Night Falls” by The Eyes.

Tickets for Friday’s show are $20, and $15 for Saturday’s. You can also purchase a weekend pass for $30. For more information, visit www.mississippistudios.com or www.nuggetsnight.com.

The gospel of Luke

Nuggets Night is primarily organized by Luke Strahota, drummer for The Satin Chaps. Strahota says he wanted this year’s Nuggets shows to benefit KISN because Northwest rock ‘n’ rollers owe a historical debt to the station.

“These guys were on their side and really getting their sound out there and repping what Portland and the Pacific Northwest were laying down at the time,” he says, adding that KISN played a key role in promoting not just The Kingsmen, but bands like Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Wailers and The Sonics.

“KISN is a legendary radio station not only in Portland but worldwide,” Strahota says.

He adds that he’s psyched the Flamin’ Groovies are playing Nuggets, and notes the band — which includes local resident Chris Wilson — have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years, scoring new fans turned on by such 1970s power-pop classics as “Shake Some Action” and the lovely Byrds-like anthem “I Can’t Hide,” which can be found on “Children of Nuggets,” a compilation of tunes by bands influenced by the original Nuggets acts.

“Knowing that they were actually on the Nuggets collection was a big draw to have them involved,” Strahota says.

He also gave props to Beyond Veronica, noting the band has provided much of the instrumental backline over the years for Nuggets Night. The much acclaimed power pop group consists of Bonnie Veronica on vocals and guitar, Kirk Larsen on lead guitar and backing vocals, Earl Temp on keyboard and backing vocals, Neesie Doss on bass and Kurt Steinke on drums.

“They put their hearts into this festival,” Strahota says. “They embody the generous spirit of the musicians who play the festival.”

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