(Read all about the Ventures after the videos)
The Ventures are an American instrumental rock band formed in 1958 in Tacoma, Washington. Founded by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle, the group in its various incarnations has had an enduring impact on the development of music worldwide. With over 100 million records sold, the group is the best-selling instrumental band of all time. In 2008, the Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Their instrumental virtuosity, experimentation with guitar effects, and unique sound laid the groundwork for innumerable groups, earning them the moniker "The Band that Launched a Thousand Bands". While their popularity in the United States waned in the 1970s, the group remains revered in Japan, where they tour regularly to this day.
Formation and rise to fame
Don Wilson and Bob Bogle first met in 1958, when Bogle was looking to buy a car from a used car dealership in Seattle owned by Wilson's father. Finding a common interest in guitars, the two decided to play together, while Wilson joined Bogle performing masonry work. They bought two used guitars in a pawn shop for about $10 each. Initially calling themselves the Versatones, the duo played small clubs, beer bars, and private parties throughout the Pacific Northwest. Wilson played rhythm guitar, Bogle lead. When they went to register the band name, they found that it was already taken. Disappointed, they cast about for an appropriate name. Wilson's mother suggested the name "The Ventures", upon which they eventually agreed in 1959.
After watching Nokie Edwards play at a nightclub, they recruited him as bass player. Bogle owned a Chet Atkins LP, Hi-Fi in Focus, on which he heard the song "Walk, Don't Run". Soon, the group was in a recording studio playing the new song, with Bogle on lead, Wilson on rhythm, Edwards on bass, and Skip Moore on drums. They pressed a number of 45s, which they distributed to several record companies. Later, Skip Moore opted out of the group to work at his family's gas station. When "Walk, Don't Run" was recorded, he also opted out of the royalties from the recording, taking $25 for the session instead. He later sued to collect royalties but failed because of his prior opt-out. "Walk, Don't Run" sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.
Needing a permanent drummer for the group after George T. Babbitt, Jr. dropped out because he was not old enough to play night clubs and bars, they hired Howie Johnson and, in the midst of a fast-paced touring schedule, recorded an album to capitalize on the success of the single. (Babbitt went on to become a 4-star general in the USAF and on March 1, 1998, he played live in uniform on drums with the band.) The lineup of Bogle, Wilson, Edwards and Johnson remained intact until 1962. The group found early success with a string of singles, but quickly became leaders in the album market. The Ventures were among the pioneers of concept albums (starting with 1961's The Colorful Ventures) where each song on several of their albums was chosen to fit a specific theme. Some of the Ventures' most popular albums at the time were a series of records of dance music. In the early 1960s "golden age of hi-fi", with the novelty of stereo still in its experimental stages, the Ventures found their characteristic style of recording each instrument in either the extreme left or right channel, with little (if any) cross-over, enhancing the stereo effect to its fullest limits.
In 1961, Edwards, a talented guitarist in his own right, suggested that Bogle's lead guitar abilities were being stretched, and that they were in essence wasting Edwards' talents by keeping him on bass. Bogle agreed, and rapidly learned the bass parts to all their tunes, allowing Edwards to take lead guitar. This move would prove vital in modernizing the band's sound, ensuring success in an ever-changing market well into the late 1960s.
In the fall of 1957, Johnson was injured in an auto crash, which caused irreversible spinal damage. This forced him to play with a neckbrace. Johnson played on the first four LPs and recorded on about half of the tracks on the fifth LP (Twist with the Ventures/Dance!). He did not like spending so much time away from his new family (second marriage), and because of this he left the band. Johnson continued to play locally in the Washington area with local groups until his death on May 5, 1987, at age 54.
At the time Johnson quit the Ventures, Bogle and Wilson already knew Mel Taylor, house drummer at The Palomino in North Hollywood (the venue where they would play numerous shows during their resurgence in the 1980s). Taylor was known for a hard-hitting style of drumming. The group invited him to some recording sessions, which led Taylor to become a permanent member of the Ventures.
Resurgence and decline in the US
The combination of Edwards on lead guitar, Taylor on drums, Bogle on bass and Wilson on rhythm guitar remained unchanged until Edwards left the band in 1968, to be replaced by Gerry McGee, son of the famous Cajun fiddle player Dennis McGee. Edwards came back in 1973 and remained with them until 1984, although he has toured and gigged with them dozens of times in the subsequent years. Edwards' replacement in 1984 was, once again, Gerry McGee. Mel Taylor left in 1972 (and was replaced by drummer Joe Barile) to pursue a solo career when the Ventures became a nostalgia act. His intentions were to concentrate on new material and the progressive side of music. He returned in 1979 and stayed with the Ventures until his death from cancer in 1996. When Mel Taylor got sick he was replaced by his son, Leon Taylor. (Original drummer Howie Johnson had died in 1987; Skip Moore, the drummer on "Walk, Don't Run" is also deceased.)
Their commercial fortunes in the US declined sharply in the early 1970s due to changing musical trends. In the late 1970s and into the 1980s, a resurgence of interest in surf music led to some in the punk/new wave audience rediscovering the band. The Go-Go's wrote "Surfin' And Spyin'" and dedicated it to the Ventures. The Ventures recorded their own version and continue occasionally to perform the song. Their career again rejuvenated by Quentin Tarantino's use of the Lively Ones' version of Nokie Edwards' "Surf Rider" and several other classic surf songs in the soundtrack of the hit movie Pulp Fiction. The Ventures became one of the most popular groups worldwide thanks in large part to their instrumental approach—there were no language barriers to overcome. The Ventures are still the most popular American rock group in Japan, the world's second largest record market. One oft-quoted statistic is that the Ventures outsold the Beatles 2-to-1 in Japan. They produced dozens of albums exclusively for the Japanese and European markets, and have regularly toured Japan from the 1960s through to the present. According to a January 1966 Billboard Magazine article, the Ventures had five of 1965's top 10 singles in Japan.
The Ventures today
On March 10, 2008, the Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with John Fogerty as their presenter. In attendance were original members Don Wilson and Nokie Edwards, late 1960s member John Durrill, current guitarist Bob Spalding, and current drummer Leon Taylor who, along with Mel Taylor's widow, Fiona, accepted on behalf of the Ventures' late drummer. Bob Bogle and Gerry McGee were unable to attend the ceremony. Fiona Taylor gave special mention to her husband's predecessor drummers Skip Moore and Howie Johnson. The Ventures performed their biggest hits, "Walk, Don't Run" and "Hawaii Five-O", augmented on the latter by Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame musical director Paul Shaffer and his band.