It is only logical that you make money for your masterpieces that you didn’t only pour your heart into, but also sweat, time, and effort. It would certainly hurt you and your ego if other people earned cash out of your creation, right?
For artists, gaining popularity and fortune from what they make and do may be the best recognition they hope to have. But for R&B singer Richard Berry, the man behind the iconic Louie Louie, he ended up earning little in the beginning despite the massive success of the track.
The Extension, Louisiana-born singer was said to have developed his interest in music during a summer camp, where he was given a musical stringed instrument ukulele. When he was in high school, Richard and his friends would sing doo-wop, a mix of blues and rhythm founded in the ‘40s, and R&B songs.
As for the influence of rock and roll, it was said that this was because of a phone call from his cousin Marvin in 1955. Richard was undeniably talented, so after finishing high school, he went on to perform with doo-wop bands and began recording with The Penguins, The Flairs, The Five Hearts, The Crowns, and The Cadets and the Chimes.
One night in 1955, as Richard was about to hit the stage with Rhythm Rockers and Rick Rillera, he reinvented El Loco Cha Cha by Rene Touzet, using toilet paper to write new lyrics and notes. He recorded this track with Pharaohs and was released as a You Are My Sunshine B-cover.
Flip Records released the same song as an A-side hit and later, other doo-wop groups started making covers of the track. However, Richard and his record label didn’t earn much – the problem was, he needed the money.
Richard was then going to tie the knot but still had no means to do so, so by 1959, he sold his songwriting and publishing rights, including Louie Louie, to his record label for just $750. Among those that rereleased their versions of this song were Paul Revere & the Raiders, Byrds, Fugitives, Otis Redding, Beau Brummels, Patti Smith, and many more.
The one that we now know today was the version of The Kingsmen, whose Louie Louie became controversial because of the lyrics. Richard vanished from the scene and didn’t earn any penny from these releases.
But thanks to California Cooler, Richard finally got what was rightfully his. The company wanted to use the song Louie Louie in their commercial but learned that they needed a go-signal from the songwriter himself.
The lawyer that the beverage company sent to Richard advised the artist to reclaim his right after learning that he had been cheated off millions from royalties. He filed a case and the rights holder settled – it was not clear how much was involved but according to the grapevine, he had between $20 million and $25 million.