by E. "Doc" Smith
Jun. 19‚ 2009
Growing up, one of my favorite instrumental groups was the Seattle
based combo, "The Ventures". I'll never forget my first album,
"Hawaii Five-0" and their "10th Anniversary" double record set in
1970. Bob Bogle, lead guitarist and co-founder of The Ventures with
Don Wilson, were known for 1960's instrumental hits including "Walk,
Don't Run." Bogle died this week at age 75. The Ventures sold
millions of albums and heavily influenced a generation of rock
guitarists and in 2008, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame. The Hall's website hailed The Ventures as "the most
successful instrumental combo in rock and roll history." "Walk, Don't
Run" reached No. 2 on the Billboard chart in 1960, and a revised
version, "Walk, Don't Run '64," reached No. 8 in 1964. Among the
band's other hits were "Perfidia" and the theme from "Hawaii Five-O."
The band first got its start in 1958 in Tacoma. A native of Wagoner,
Oklahoma, Bogle was working as a bricklayer when he walked into a
Seattle used-car lot where Wilson was a salesman. "I said, 'Can you
get me a job?' '' Wilson recalled. "I was working on commission, and
I wasn't doing very well and wanted a weekly paying job.'' Wilson
quit the car lot to work as a hod carrier. They discovered that they
both had once owned guitars and could play a few chords. They bought
guitars at a pawnshop and while learning how to play, began entering
talent contests together. After four or five talent shows, they
started winning with Bogle initially playing lead and bass and Wilson
played rhythm guitar. They were soon joined by Nokie Edwards, another
guitarist, and drummer Howie Johnson, later replaced by Mel Taylor.
"Our aspirations were to pick up nothing heavier than a guitar,"
Wilson said last year. "But it just mushroomed into something where
we became internationally known."
The Ventures were particularly popular in Japan, where Wilson and
Bogle played as a duo during their first tour in 1962 because the
promoter couldn't afford to pay the other two band members. The two
Americans made such an impression, Wilson recalled last year, that
when the band came back in 1964, "there were 6,000 people at the
airport." He said he didn't realize at first the Japanese fans were
there to see The Ventures.
Needing a permanent drummer for the group, they hired Howie Johnson,
and, in the midst of a fast-paced touring schedule, they recorded an
album to capitalize on the success of the single. The lineup of
Bogle, Wilson, Edwards and Johnson remained intact until 1962. The
group found early success with a string of singles, but would quickly
become leaders in the album market. The Ventures were one of the
pioneers of the early concept album idea, where, starting with 1961's
The Colorful Ventures, each song on 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.
Later in '62, Johnson was injured in an auto crash, which caused
irreversible spinal damage. On doctor's orders, he quit the band.
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 had performed as
drummer on the Bobby "Boris" Pickett hit "Monster Mash", The
Hollywood Argyles' "Alley Oop" and "The Lonely Bull" by Herb Alpert
and The Tijuana Brass. Taylor was known for a very aggressive,
hard-hitting style of drumming. They invited him to some recording
sessions, which led to him becoming a permanent member of the Ventures.
The combination of Edwards on lead guitar, Taylor on drums, Bogle on
bass and Wilson on rhythm guitar created what many fans felt were The
Ventures at their very best. This lineup remained unchanged until
Edwards left the band in 1968, to be replaced by Gerry 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. Drummer
Mel Taylor remained with The Ventures until cancer took his life in
1996. His spot has since been filled by his son, Leon Taylor.
(Original drummer Howie Johnson had died in 1988).
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 to occasionally perform the
song. Their career was given another rejuvenating shot in the arm 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 approachthere 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. A recent Japanese pop music poll listed "Ginza
Lights" as the most popular song of all time; it was composed and
recorded for their 1966 LP Go With The Ventures.
In March 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-0", augmented on the latter by Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame
musical director Paul Shaffer and his band.
Bogle was one of the most influential guitarists of our generation.
His legacy and the music of The Ventures will surely live forever.
E. "Doc" Smith is a musician and recording engineer who has worked
with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Warren Zevon, Mickey Hart,
Jimmy Cliff, and Koko Taylor among others. He is also the inventor of
the musical instrument, the Drummstick. He can be reached via