The Ventures are an American instrumental rock band formed in 1958 in Tacoma, Washington. The band, formed by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle, two masonry workers, has had an enduring impact on the development of music worldwide, having sold over 100 million records, and are to date the best-selling instrumental band of all time. In 2008, the Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Their music has been cited by many guitarists as an influence; their 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". They have also contributed to the surf music genre, though they are not, as popularly perceived, strictly a surf band. Though their popularity in the United States waned in the 1970s, the group remains revered in Japan, where they still tour regularly to this day.
Wilson and Bogle first met in 1958, when Bogle was looking to buy a car from a used car dealership owned by Wilson's father. Finding a common interest in guitars, the two decided to play together, while Wilson joined Bogle performing masonry work. Initially calling themselves The Versatones, the duo played small clubs, beer bars, and private parties throughout the Pacific Northwest. While Wilson played rhythm guitar, Bogle played lead.
After watching him play at a nightclub, they recruited Nokie Edwards as bass player. Bogle owned a Chet Atkins LP, Hi Fi in Focus, on which he heard the song "Walk Don't Run". Soon enough, 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.
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. In the early 1960s "golden age of hi-fi", and 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 cross-over (if any), enhancing the stereo effect to its fullest limits.
In 1962, Edwards (a very 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 1962, 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 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 through the late 1960s, but left in the 1970s when the Ventures became a funk/disco band. He returned in 1980 from his band Mel Taylor and The Dynamics. He remained with the Ventures until his death from cancer in 1996. His spot has since been filled by his son, Leon Taylor. (Original drummer Howie Johnson had died in 1988). None of the four individuals pictured on the cover of the Ventures' first album (Walk Don't Run, released in 1960) are the actual Ventures. They are employees of Liberty Records, who substituted for the band when they were unable to make the photo session in time due to touring commitments. That classic album was reissued later with a different cover.
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 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.
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.
During their first years (1958–1963), the Ventures played Fender guitars (typically a Jazzmaster, a Stratocaster, and a Precision Bass) for both their live performances and their recording sessions. These instruments are prominently visible on the covers of three early albums: "The Ventures", "Bobby Vee Meets the Ventures", and "The Colorful Ventures." Then, in the early 1960s, California guitar manufacturer Mosrite designed and marketed a uniquely styled, futuristic-looking electric guitar called "The Ventures Model." The band adopted these guitars (which included a bass model) and first used them on The Ventures in Space (1963), one of their most influential albums because of the unique, unworldly guitar sounds it contained. From 1963 through 1968, a statement on their album covers announced that The Ventures used Mosrite guitars "exclusively" (The Ventures and designer Semie Moseley were partners in the distribution of these instruments). After the expiration of their contract with Moseley, the Ventures returned to playing mainly Fender guitars. Only rarely have they used Mosrite guitars since that contract ended.
Aria Guitars and Wilson Brothers Guitars have subsequently issued Ventures Signature Model instruments. The Wilson Brothers guitar, in particular, is closely modeled physically on the original Mosrite design.
The Ventures enjoyed their greatest popularity and success in the US and Japan in the 1960s, but they continue to perform and record. With over 110 million albums sold worldwide, the group remains the best selling instrumental rock group of all time. Thirty-eight Ventures albums (including a seasonal Christmas album) charted in the US, and six of fourteen chart singles made it into the Top 40, with three making it into the Top 10. Of their 38 chart albums, 34 of them occurred in the 1960s, and The Ventures rank as the 6th best pop album performer for that decade, according to "Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Albums".
Among their achievements in America, in 1963 The Ventures had five LPs in the Billboard Top 100 of the albums chart at the same time. Additionally, they released a series of instructional LPs entitled Play Guitar with The Ventures and Play Electric Bass with The Ventures. Four LPs were released in this series, the first of which reached the Billboard Top 100 Album Chart—an achievement previously unheard of for an instructional LP. In a novelty achievement, The Ventures were the first act to place two different versions of the same song in the Top 10, those being "Walk Don't Run" (#2) and "Walk Don't Run '64" (#8).
While they predated the advent of the terms surf guitar and surf rock, and they do not consider themselves a surf rock group; they were a major building block of surf music, if not the first to play the style. Guitar Player, in an article titled "20 Essential Rock Albums", cited elements of their 1960 "Walk Don't Run" album which presaged the then-coming surf trend.
The Ventures pioneered the use of special effects on such songs as "2000 Pound Bee", recorded in late 1962, in which lead guitarist Nokie Edwards employed a fuzz distortion pedal. This unique effect predated the 1963 hit "Zipadee-Do-Dah" by Bob B. Soxx, which featured a 'fuzz' guitar instrumental break. Edwards' use of 'fuzz tone' also predated the "King of Fuzz Guitar", Davie Allan (The Arrows), by at least three years. In addition, Edwards was among the first to use the twelve string guitar in rock. The 1964 The Ventures In Space album was a primer in the use of special guitar effects, and made pioneering use of 'reverse-tracking', a technique used very effectively by The Beatles in the later 1960s. The Ventures In Space, because of its ethereal space-like effects, was deemed an influence on the later 1960s San Francisco psychedelic generation, as well as being cited as a favorite by Keith Moon (The Who).
The Ventures were among the first rock acts able to sell albums based on a style and sound without needing hit singles on the albums. They are also credited by The All Music Guide To Rock with the early formulation of the concept album.
The Encyclopedia Britannica on-line states that The Ventures "served as a prototype for guitar-based rock groups".
Over thirty major artists have identified The Ventures as an influence. George Harrison stated in a Guitar Player interview that The Beatles preferred the American guitar sound of The Ventures to British contemporaries. When asked to name the most influential rock guitar solos, Joe Walsh (James Gang and the Eagles) said he would have to include the entire song "Walk Don't Run" because it changed so many guitar players' lives. John Fogerty (Credence Clearwater Revival), during his introduction of The Ventures at their Hall of Fame induction, said of "Walk Don't Run", 'That song kicked open a whole movement in Rock and Roll..... The sound of it became 'surf music' and the audacity of it empowered guitarists everywhere.' Stephen Stills told Ventures guitarist Don Wilson that he learned to play on Ventures records. Jeff Baxter (Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers) and Gene Simmons (Kiss) were early members of the Ventures Fan Club.
Others identifying The Ventures as an influence include Terry Kath (Chicago), Carl Wilson (The Beach Boys), Jeff Cook (Alabama), Ricky Wilson (The B-52's), Roger Fisher (Heart), Keith Moon (The Who), Alan White (Yes), and Roger Glover (Deep Purple). Les Fradkin, a guitarist who specializes, as The Ventures do, in guitar based instrumental rock, has recorded with Nokie Edwards and performed with The Ventures live on stage. Art Greenhaw, Grammy Award-Winning artist-producer and leader of The Light Crust Doughboys, often identifies The Ventures as a major influence, and he has recorded and co-produced with The Ventures and performed with The Ventures live on stage. Allen "Puddler" Harris, a pianist originally from Louisiana, also recorded with The Ventures.