The Anonymous Rock and Roll Legend
How an unsung keyboardist left lasting influences on garage rock, prog rock and punk rock all before he turned 23.
If you’ve ever been told you’re too young, then you have something in common with Don Gallucci. You likely weren’t told that while your hit song was being banned by the Governor of Indiana, though. Aside from offending the sensibilities of “Sales Tax Matt,” Don Gallucci’s story also includes being responsible for one of the most iconic opening riffs of all time, pioneering prog rock and then following that up by producing one of the first punk rock albums in history. It’s a story about a man who broke through three times with three completely separate bands, all before age 20. And you’ve never heard of him.
But you’ve heard “Louie Louie.”
Don Gallucci was 15 when he played keyboard on that track by The Kingsmen. He’s the first one you hear. He’s all it takes to know what’s coming next: that raw garage sound created in a $50.00 recording session, the power and incomprehensible wailing that could only come from a singer fighting through a mouth full of braces to reach a microphone hanging from the ceiling. And it all started with a keyboard riff that’s stood the test of time.
The immense popularity of “Louie Louie” spelled the end of Gallucci’s Kingsmen days. In spite of being a talented musician, he was simply too young to tour and was quickly replaced as management looked to capitalize on the single’s success.
A few years later with fellow former Kingsmen Jack Ely (the lead vocalist on “Louie Louie”), Don formed another garage band: Don & the Goodtimes. Though most of their tracks feature that same garage vibe of the Kingsmen recordings, the diamond of the Don & the Goodtimes catalog remains the 1967 Beach Boys inspired recording “I Could Be So Good to You.”
“I Could Be So Good to You” ditches the rawness of The Kingsmen for the sophistication and power Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” (fittingly provided by producer, Rolling Stones collaborator and Phil Spector right-hand man Jack Nitzsche). From the idyllic and charmingly ordinary lyrics to the marching, anthemic chorus echoing throughout the song, “I Could Be So Good to You” is a masterpiece that could easily hold it’s own on any Beach Boys album.
The track received a fair amount radio play in ’67–68 and eventually reached #56 on the Billboard charts and fared a little better on regional listings, but Don & the Goodtimes never amounted to much more than being the house band on Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is and eventually disbanded.
Still not even 20 years old, Gallucci went on the form the acclaimed prog rock band Touch in 1968 (not be confused with the Mark Mangold band of the same name formed in 1978).
Recording only one album, the eponymous LP is a marvel of sound engineering. Recorded at Sunset Studios before the proliferation of synthesizers, Gallucci and company were able to organically manufacture the brilliant psychedelic sounds that would make the album a cult classic. The LP would go on to inspire the bands Yes, Kansas and Genesis, among many others.
After the breakup of Touch, Don Gallucci would go on to become a house producer for Elektra Records. In a fortuitous case of being in the right place at the right time, Gallucci was tagged for arguably his most important contribution to music history in 1970.
Elektra flew him to New York to see the Stooges and their candlewax wearing front man Iggy Pop. Concerned that the Stooge’s live experience couldn’t be captured in a recording, Gallucci nonetheless accepted the challenge and went on to produce the Stooge’s landmark album Fun House.
Channeling his days with the Kingsmen, Gallucci stripped the studio of much of its standard equipment and had the band set up as if they were playing a live show. The raw sounds of Funhouse are textbook Stooges, but the album owes just as much of its feel to Don Gallucci. (For a more in-depth take on the Funhouse sessions, go read Wally Shoup’s excellent 2009 interview with Don Galluci from Perfect Sound Forever).
Few in music have had such widespread impact in such peripheral ways as Don Gallucci. You likely won’t find a Touch album in your local record store, or find Don & the Goodtimes on your local diner jukebox. But throw on Funhouse and listen for “Louie Louie”. And remember, while the Internet has freed music lovers everywhere to discover and appreciate garage bands, fringe performers and indie acts alike, there are already forgotten legends in the Rock & Roll pantheon and they may have have had a bigger impact than you realize.
For more listening like Don & the Goodtimes’ “I Could Be So Good to You” check out James Monk’s absolutely brilliant “B-Boys by the C-Side” mix:
Brad Johnson lives in San Jose, CA. He’s a Mandarin learner, former amateur archaeologist and devout baseball fan, but pays rent by creating marketing content for early stage startups. He doesn’t always get to publish what he wants for work, so he publishes whatever he feels like here. If you’d like to connect with Brad, you can find him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.