Remembering Doug Ingle: The iconic voice and organist of Iron Butterfly

Doug Ingle helped shape rock music, with one of the most iconic rock jams of all time.
Iron Butterfly
Iron Butterfly / Michael Ochs Archives/GettyImages

Doug Ingle, co-founder of the iconic rock band Iron Butterfly, passed away at age 78 on May 24, 2024. He was mostly known for his role as the singer and organist on the band's most famous track, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida."

To a large degree, that track truly embodies rock music of that era, and was no doubt an influence on future hard rock and heavy metal (hell, I'd even argue the song is a bit goth-y, given its dark mood). Also, Ingle's very role in the band was a product of the times. Back in the 1960s, rock organists were considered every bit as big as "guitar gods," as you also had Jon Lord's epic organ playing in Deep Purple, Ray Manzarek's iconic keyboard work in The Doors, and Garth Hudson of The Band (and plenty of others).

Ingle was the last surviving member of the band's classic lineup from the late 1960s. Iron Butterfly, formed in San Diego in 1966, achieved their greatest success with the 1968 album In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. The album, named after the 17-minute title track, spent 81 weeks in the top 10 in the U.S. and was at one point Atlantic Records' bestselling album. It was certified quadruple-platinum and remains a landmark in rock history.

When the keyboard intro to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" starts, people tend to take notice. It's really a bit of music that catches the ear, whether someone totally commits to the rest of the song or not. The passing of Doug Ingle was announced by his family on social media.

Doug Ingle and Iron Butterfly's hit remembered

Doug Ingle Jr. posted, "It’s with a heavy heart & great sadness to announce the passing of my Father Doug Ingle. Dad passed away peacefully this evening in the presence of family. Thank You Dad for being a father, teacher and friend. Cherished loving memories I will carry the rest of my days moving forward in this journey of life. Love you Dad."

"In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," a song whose title reportedly came from a slurred version of "In the Garden of Eden" as misheard by drummer Ron Bushy, became a cultural touchstone, and is definitely a fun bit of rock trivia. In addition to being an epic jam, the song's title represents some of the quirky aspects of the creative process, similar to how The Rolling Stones song "Paint It Black" was forever altered because the Decca record label originally misprinted it as "Paint It, Black" (Decca also had famously rejected the Beatles, though no one wishes to take credit for that error). "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" indeed sounds different from "In the Garden of Eden."

The 17-minute long version or the radio version?

Despite its original length of over 17 minutes, a radio edit of 2 minutes and 52 seconds climbed to No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100. The full-length track, however, became legendary and was often seen as an emblem of the era's musical excess. The song's length and peculiar title became part of its lore.

Legend has it that the 17-minute version was recorded during a rehearsal when the band was asked to play the song to set recording levels. Unbeknownst to the band, the engineer had hit "record," and that extended jam session became the master take (to be fair, acts from other genres have had extended jams become hits, such as James Brown's "Make It Funky," and some tracks from the "Golden Age of Rap" were a bit on the longer side).

Cultural impact of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida"

"In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" left a lasting legacy in popular culture. It was famously parodied on The Simpsons in the 1995 episode "Bart Sells His Soul," where Bart tricks his church's congregation into singing the song under the title "In the Garden of Eden" by I. Ron Butterfly. It's a fitting scene, and song moment, in an episode rightfully called "one of the more supernatural episodes" of The Simpsons.

The track was also covered by artists like Slayer, the Residents, Boney M, and the Incredible Bongo Band, whose version was sampled by rapper Nas. Additionally, it featured prominently in Michael Mann’s 1986 thriller Manhunter.

The band that kep on going?

Iron Butterfly, despite their brief period of immense fame, did not maintain the same level of recognition in counterculture nostalgia as some of their contemporaries. The band experienced several lineup changes and eventually disbanded in 1971. Ingle participated in short-lived reunions in the late 1970s and 1980s and a longer stint in the late 1990s before retiring from performing in 1999.

Other members of the classic "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" lineup also passed away over the years: guitarist Erik Brann in 2003, bassist Lee Dorman in 2012, and drummer Ron Bushy in 2021. Iron Butterfly's extensive lineup history is noted on Wikipedia, listing 60 musicians who have been part of the group in its various incarnations (See "Former members"). So, technically, according to legends whispered in the increasingly digital wind, the band supposedly still exists even now, in some form or another.

In a 1995 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Ingle reflected on the band's tumultuous past, expressing regret over the issues that plagued them in the 1970s. He described the rapid rise to fame and subsequent financial troubles, stating, "It all came so fast and easy... I was a child among men."

Ingle spoke of his losses, including a 600-acre ranch and a grand piano, due to unpaid tax debts. Despite these challenges, he maintained a positive outlook, emphasizing that his later life was grounded in reality rather than wishful thinking. Doug Ingle's contribution to rock music, especially through "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," remains a significant part of rock history.