Rock instrumental group
Called “one of the first, best, more lasting and influential of instrumental guitar-based rock com bos” by The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, the Ventures had remarkable staying power since the burst on to the rock scene with their hit single “Walk Don’t Run” in 1960. Between 1960 and the mid 1970s, thirty-seven of the group’s more than fifty albums placed on the U.S. pop charts.
The Ventures were known for their crisp rocking sound with driving percussion and light, twanging electric guitars. They had a significant influence on the surf music of the Beach Boys, and traces of their style can be heard in songs by groups such as Blondie, the B-52’s, the Go-Go’s, and others. The group survived through the decades by continually updating their sound to match the musical style of the era, copying many other bands and experimenting with everything from disco and reggae to psychedelic rock. Their albums have featured recordings of songs written by everyone from Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, and Henry Mancini, to Duke Ellington, Paul McCartney, and Booker T.
Original members included Bob Bogle (born January 16, 1937, in Portland, OR), guitar; Don Wilson (born February 10, 1937, in Tacoma, WA), guitar; Nokie Edwards (born May 9, 1939, in OK), lead guitar, bass; Howie Johnston (born 1938, in WA), drums. Later members included Melvin Taylor, drums; and Jerry McGee, guitar; Johnny Durrill, keyboards; and Jo Barile, drums.
Bogle and Wilson formed duo called Versatones, Tacoma, WA, 1959; guitarist Nokie Edwards and drummer Skip Moore joined group, 1959; renamed group the Ventures, with Howie Johnston replacing Moore on drums; founded Blue Horizon label with help of Wilson’s mother; recorded first song, “Cookies and Coke” on Blue Horizon, 1960; had major hit with “Walk Don’t Run, 1960; released first album, The Ventures, on Dolton label, 1961; performed in the “Alan Freed Spectacular” at the Hollywood Bowl, 1961; released first dance-oriented album, Twist with the Ventures, 1962; became popular group in Japan, 1960s; released one of the first instructional records, Play Guitar with the Ventures, 1965; worked as guest and session players for Harvey Mandel, Leon Russell, David Gates, and others, 1960s; had last charting single, “Theme from A Summer Place” 1969; continued to tour and record actively, especially in Japan, 1970s-90s.
Awards: became first foreign member of Japan’s Conservatory of Music; were inducted into Northwest Music Association’s Hall of Fame, 1990.
Addresses: Record company —One Way Records, One Prospect Avenue, P.O. Box 6429, Albany, NY 12206-0429.
Bob Bogle was the key force behind the birth of the Ventures. An avid guitar player since his teens, Bogle met fellow guitarist Don Wilson in Seattle in the late 1950s when both of them were working as mortar removers on construction sites. By 1959 the twosome was performing as the Impacts with a pick-up rhythm section in local clubs. In 1960, after expanding into a quartet with Nokie Edwards on bass guitar and Skip Moore on drums, the group renamed themselves the Versatones. Moore was later replaced by Howie Johnston. Eager to record, the Versatones formed their own label called Blue Horizon with the help of Don Wilson’s mother, who became the group’s manager. In early 1960 they broke into vinyl with “Cookies and Coke,” which was recorded in a Seattle studio. Soon afterwards the group dubbed themselves the Ventures.
After hearing the song “Walk Don’t Run” on a Chet Atkins’s album, the group began performing the song and it became a favorite with audiences. “We were asked to play it half a dozen times a night and decided this is the song to record,” said Bogle, according to Bob Shannon and John Javna in Behind the Hits. After sending demos of the song to various record labels without success, Wilson’s mother decided to release it on their Blue Horizon label. They played a copy of it for Bob Reisdorff, the manager of the Fleetwoods and owner of the local Dolton recording label, but Reisdorff rejected it. After shopping the song around to radio stations, the group lucked when out when Pat O’Day, a friend who was a local deejay, made the song a local favorite by playing it after each news bulletin on station KJR in Seattle. Reisdorff changed his own tune on the song after hearing it on radio and agreed to release it on his label. The contract negotiated by Wilson’s mother gave the group artistic control over their releases via their Blue Horizon Productions.
“Walk Don’t Run” became a major hit, selling over a million copies and rising to number two on the U.S. pop charts. “Initially a jazz instrumental, it [“Walk Don’t Run”] nonetheless lent itself to simplified chord structure and by emphasizing its beat, the Ventures constructed a powerful, compulsive sound which not only became their trademark, but was echoed in the concurrent surfing style,” commented The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music.
The success of “Walk Don’t Run” allowed Wilson and Bogle to give up their construction jobs for a full-time music career. Dolton’s distribution by Liberty Records resulted in the Ventures relocating their recording activities to the Los Angeles base of Liberty. According to Shannon and Javna, Liberty Records owner Bob Bennett offered the group some prophetic advice. “Don’t change the image,” Bennett supposedly told the group. “You can add to it but don’t change it. Don’t ever try a vocal.”
Chart success greeted the group again with their 1960 release of “Perfidia.” This Latin tune first released by Alberto Dominquez in 1939, became a number-fifteen hit for the Ventures. At this point, the band focused on albums, releasing their first in a long string of LPS in 1961. This first release, The Ventures, featured a collection of mostly covers of other group’s instrumental hits. Confirming the popularity of the group, the album rose up the U.S. pop charts to the number eleven slot and the Ventures were invited to perform in the “Alan Freed Spectacular” at the Hollywood Bowl with stars such as Brenda Lee, Bobby Vee, B.B. King, the Shirelles, and others. That same year, Mel Taylor replaced Howie Johnson on drums after Johnson quit following a car accident.
In 1962, the Ventures revealed their willingness to embrace new elements in their music with their release of “2000 Pound Bee,” which featured the first-time recording of fuzz-guitar in a song. They had their most successful LP release in 1963 with The Ventures Play Telstar, and The Lonely Bull, an album that achieved gold-record status and topped out at number eight on the charts. At this time Edwards took over lead guitar duties, while Bogle switched to bass guitar. In 1964 the group proved that lightning can strike twice, when they made the top ten with a new version of “Walk Don’t Run” that incorporated various influences from popular surf music of the time.
Coinciding with the first availability of electric guitars on a mass scale in Japan, the Ventures’s initial tour of that country in the mid 1960s made them overnight super-stars there. Their instrumentals bypassed any language barrier, and before long, the group had established a popularity in Japan that rivaled the Beatles. The Ventures remained a major draw in Japan after their fame waned in the U.S., and they performed a series of concerts there each year for over a quarter century. The Japanese demand for their music was so high that the Ventures often wrote songs designed for Japanese lyricists to add words to in their own language.
Dance music also proved a gold mine for the Ventures, and they had big sellers with their Twist with the Ventures and other albums designed for dancing. In 1965 they released one of the first instructional records, Play Guitar with the Ventures. Tie-ins to current pop culture were common for the group, as shown by their covers of theme songs for television shows such as Batman, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Secret Agent Man, and Hawaii Five-O. Their Hawaii Five-O recording in 1969 brought the group their last hit single, topping out at number eleven. That same year the group released their last charting single, a cover of Percy Faith’s “Theme for A Summer Place.” That song peaked at eighty-three on the hit parade.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Ventures toured and recorded extensively. They also worked as guest and session players for artists such as Harvey Mandel, Leon Russell, and David Gates. Edwards left the band in 1968 to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Jerry McGee, who had played with the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, the Monkees, and Kris Kristofferson. The addition of keyboardist Johnny Durrill, who had formerly played with the Five Americans, made the group a quintet in1969, When McGee left to record with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, Edwards returned to the group in 1972. Taylor and Durrill later left the group, and drummer Jo Barile came on board. The group took more artistic control over their music when they founded their Tridex label, and in 1979 Taylor returned to the group.
After fading from the popular scene in the 1970s, the Ventures enjoyed a resurgence in 1981 with their recording of “Surfin’ and Spyin,” a song written by the Go-Go’s Charlotte Caffey. The song was particularly popular in California thanks to a revival of surf music there, and the group played numerous gigs on the west coast to wide acclaim. Since that time the Ventures have maintained an active presence on the nostalgia circuit and continue to be a major draw in Japan, where their album sales have topped the forty-million mark.
“Walk Don’t Run,” 1960.
“Ram-Bunk Shush, 1961.
“The 2,000-Pound Bee,” 1962.
“Hawaii Five-O,” 1969.
The Ventures, Dolton, 1961.
Surfing, Dolton, 1963.
Play Guitar with the Ventures (instructional), Dolton, 1965.
Ventures A-Go-Go, Dolton, 1965.
Super Psychedelics, Liberty, 1967.
Walk Don’t Run: The Best of the Ventures, EMI America, 1990.
Clarke, Donald, editor, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Viking, 1989, p. 200.
Hitchcock, H. Wiley, and Stanley Sadie, editors, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Volume 4, Macmillan, 1986, p. 456.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Volume 5, Guinness Publishing, 1995, pp. 4321-22.
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, Dorling Kindersley, 1996, pp. 898-99.
Romanowski, Patricia, and Holly George-Warren, editors, The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 1995, p. 1046.
Shannon, Bob, and John Javna, Behind the Hits, Warner Books, 1986, p. 102.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from the All-Music Guide and CD Universe websites on the Internet.
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