Doug Ingle, the Voice of Iron Butterfly, Is Dead at 78

Doug Ingle, the lead singer and organist of Iron Butterfly, the band that turned a purportedly misheard lyric into “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” the 17-minute magnum opus that propelled acid rock into the outer reaches of excess in the late 1960s, died on May 24. He was 78.

His death was confirmed in a social media post by his son Doug Ingle Jr The post did not say where he died or specify a cause.

Mr. Ingle was the last surviving member of the classic lineup of Iron Butterfly, the pioneering hard rock act he helped found in 1966. The band released its first three albums within a year, starting with “Heavy” in early 1968, and, after a lineup shuffle, cemented its place in rock lore with its second album, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” released that July.

“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” spent 140 weeks on the Billboard album chart, peaking at No. 4, and was said to have sold some 30 million copies worldwide. A radio version of the title song, whittled to under three minutes, made it to No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100.

But it was the full-length album version — taking up the entire second side of the LP in all of its messy glory — that became a signature song of the tie-dye era. With its truncheonlike guitar riff and haunting aura that called to mind a rock ’n’ roll “Dies Irae,” the song is considered a progenitor of heavy metal and encapsulated Mr. Ingle’s ambition at the time:

“I want us to become known as leaders of hard rock music,” Mr. Ingle, then 22, said in a 1968 interview with The Globe and Mail newspaper of Canada. “Trend setters and creators, rather than imitators.”

A psychedelic dirge but also a love song, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” captured a 1960s spirit of yin-yang duality — much like the band’s name itself. There have been varying origin stories regarding its mysterious title, with its overtones of Eastern mysticism; the band’s drummer, Ron Bushy, said in a 2020 interview with the magazine It’s Psychedelic Baby that it grew out of an inebriated garble.

Returning to the house he shared with Mr. Ingle late one night, Mr. Bushy, who died in 2021, said he had found Mr. Ingle working on a slow country song on his Vox organ after drinking “a whole gallon of Red Mountain wine.”

When he asked Mr. Ingle what the song was called, “it was hard to understand him because he was so drunk,” he said, “so I wrote it down on a napkin exactly how it sounded phonetically to me … ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.’ It was supposed to be ‘In the Garden of Eden.’”

Adding to the legend of the song was that it was essentially an in-studio soundcheck that became the final version.

Don Casale, an engineer at the session, had asked the band to run through the song so he could set the recording levels, but he hit “record” as the band meandered through a sprawling free jam featuring solos by the guitarist Erik Braunn, fills by the bassist Lee Dorman and a two-and-a-half-minute drum solo by Mr. Bushy.

“After 17 minutes and five seconds I ended the tape,” Mr. Casale recalled in a 2020 interview with The Rochester Voice, a New Hampshire newspaper. “I then called down to the band and said, ‘Guys, come on up and listen to this.’ They loved it.”

While the song is an enduring artifact of its times, its legacy remains complicated.

“With its endless, droning minor-key riff and mumbled vocals, ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ is arguably the most notorious song of the acid rock era,” Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote on the website He noted that the song rambles on for what “to some listeners sounds like eternity.” But, he added, “that’s the essence of its appeal — it’s the epitome of heavy psychedelic excess, encapsulating the most indulgent tendencies of the era.”

Even so, in a 1988 appraisal in The Los Angeles Times, the music critic Steve Hochman deemed the song “nothing short of a pop monument.”

Douglas Lloyd Ingle was born on Sept. 9, 1945, in Omaha and grew up in San Diego. As a child, he developed a taste for music from his father, Lloyd Ingle, a church organist.

At his career zenith, Mr. Ingle performed with Iron Butterfly at hallowed venues like the Hollywood Bowl and the Fillmore East in New York (with Led Zeppelin as an opening act), and made enough money to buy multiple properties, including a 600-acre ranch.

The third Iron Butterfly album, “Ball” (1969), rose to No. 3 on the Billboard chart, followed by two albums — “Iron Butterfly Live” and “Metamorphosis” — that both made the Top 20 in 1970. But by that point, Mr. Ingle said, he had grown weary of life as a rock star.

“When I did autograph sessions, I’d shake hands with people and I just didn’t feel anything,” he said in a 1996 interview with The San Antonio Express-News of Texas. “I lost track of why I was doing music in the first place.”

The band broke up in 1971, and Mr. Ingle went on to manage a recreational vehicle park and work as a house painter. He was eventually forced to sell his ranch and other properties to pay off debts to the Internal Revenue Service.

He also remained occupied on the domestic front, marrying three times and raising six children and three stepchildren. Information on his survivors was not immediately available.

While Mr. Ingle remained in the shadows for decades, his most famous song did not. Over the years, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” popped up in various places — as a gag on “The Simpsons,” on the soundtracks of the films “Manhunter” (1986) and “Less Than Zero” (1987), sampled by the rapper Nas.

On occasion, he re-emerged for Iron Butterfly reunion tours. Before a concert in 1996, he told The Express-News: “Some people see the Jurassic rockers and say they’re burned out on playing. I’m burned out on not playing. Of course, a 25-year break helped.”

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