The Ventures are a surf instrumental rock band formed in 1958, by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle, two construction workers, who learned of a mutual interest in playing guitar, and started jamming together. They recorded and released two vocal tunes, "The Real McCoy" and "Cookies and Coke" in 1959, but neither record went anywhere. They met and recruited Nokie Edwards as bass player, and later recorded "Walk Don't Run" with Bogle on lead, Wilson on rhythm, Edwards on bass, and Skip Moore, (brought in just for the recording session) on drums. They aproached several record labels, none of whom showed any interest in signing them. With support from Don Wilson's mother, Josie, they started their own record company, calling it "Blue Horizon Records" They self-produced the 45 RPM single of "Walk Don't Run" and promoted it themselves.
They were successful in getting a local Seattle, WA DJ, to use the song as a news trailer, and Bob Reisdorf, owner of Dolton Records, heard it on the radio, contacted and signed The Ventures, and the rest is history. Walk Don't Run climbed to #2 on the Billboard Charts Nationwide, in Summer/Autumn 1960, being prevented from being #1 song of the year by Elvis' "It's Now Or Never", the novelty song, "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini", and partially, "The Twist" by Chubby Checker.
The story behind their selection of "Walk Don't Run" bears telling, as it provides some insight into the difference between a technical virtuouso, versus, a wildly successful Pop-Music hit. Bob Bogle, original lead guitarist, has stated that Chet Atkins was one of his main influences. Bogle bought the Chet Atkins LP, "Hi Fi Guitar" which featured Atkins' fingerstyle rendition of a song originally written by the great jazz guitarist, Johnny Smith. This was "Walk Don't Run" and within Atkins' elaborate and laid-back delivery of "Walk Don't Run", Bogle found inspiration. He stated years later that there was no way his "pedestrian" guitar skills would allow him to play it the same as Chet Atkins did, so he and Wilson worked out a highly energized, very much simplified arrangement, and a Rock & Roll Classic was born!
The Ventures were mainly active in the 1960s but they continue to perform and record right up to the present (2005). With at least 90 million albums sold, the group remains the best selling instrumental rock group of ALL TIME. In the US almost 40 Ventures' albums charted, and 17 of their singles made it into the Top 40. By the mid-1970's the group had nearly no audience in America, but they continued to have an enormous influence on pop culture globally. The Ventures became one of the most popular world-wide groups ever and are still the most popular American rock group in Japan. They produced dozens of albums exclusively for the Japanese and European markets and have regularly toured Japan from the 60's up through and including 2005! -- influencing Japanese pop music in Japan far more than any other Western artist. In fact, according to a recent Japanese pop music poll, the most popular song of all time, in Japan, is a song The Ventures first recorded for their 1966 LP, "Go With The Ventures", the song, "Ginza Lights".
Among their achievements in America, there were times when The Ventures had as many as SIX LP's ALL in the Billboard Top 100 AT THE SAME TIME! The only other 1960's Rock act capable of similar performance was The Beatles. Additionally, The Ventures released a series of insructional LP's, entitled "Play Guitar with The Ventures" and "Play Bass with The Ventures". There were perhaps 8-10 LP's released in this series, and EVERY ONE charted in the Billboard Top 100 Album Sales - a commercial achievement previously UNHEARD OF in an instructional LP!
Although The Ventures (who first called themselves The Versatones) consisted of just Bob Bogle and Don Wilson, right up to the time they recorded "Walk Don't Run", they needed a bass and drums to have a full combo. The lack of bass and drums during their first two years, caused them to develop a unique rhythm-heavy style, in which Don Wilson basically tried to be "an orchestra on six strings". It was this strong "in the pocket" interplay between lead and rhythm guitar which gave The Ventures their trademark sound, one which captivated huge audiences. When they added Nokie Edwards on bass, and Howie Johnson on drums, right after being signed by Dolton Records, they maintained this strong lead/rhythm interplay, so that even with Johnson's very much jazz/swing-influenced drum style, their sound carried an aggressive "drive" that was very influential on the sound of guitar-based combos that followed.
The Ventures lineup underwent some key changes, which caused them to become a stronger performing unit, which undoubtedly enhanced their "staying power" from one year or less, (which was average for a charting rock band of the 1960's) to a career that has spanned 45 years and is still going strong in Japan.
The lineup of Bogle, Wilson, Edwards and Johnson remained intact until 1962, or roughly the release of their 8th album. Around this time, Nokie Edwards, a budding guitar virtuouso in his own right, suggested that Bogle's lead guitar abilities were being stretched, and that they were in essence wasting Nokie's talents by keeping him on bass. Bogle agreed, and rapidly learned the bass parts to all their songs, allowing Nokie to take over the lead guitar chores, which helped modernize the sound of the band, and helped to keep them current-sounding into the late 1960's. Also, Howie Johnson had been involved in a serious traffic accident, which apparently caused lingering damage and pain to his neck and back. At first he tried to keep up with the band's then-hectic recording and touring schedule, but finally, was forced by his pain and fatigue to resign as drummer.
One night, Don and Bob, wearing a matching set of very loud green and gold fabric jackets, went into their favorite club, The Palomino, in North Hollywood, (the same venue where they would play numerous shows during their resurgence in the 1980's). At the time, The Palomino's house band had a young, well-regarded studio drummer named Mel Taylor. Taylor had provided the drum backing on the Bobby Boris Pickett hit, "Monster Mash" and was known for a very aggressive, hard-hitting, Rock And Roll style of drumming. He saw Bob and Don, and invited them up on the stage to play a few songs. They were quite impressed at how well Taylor's drumming sounded on songs like "Walk Don't Run", "Perfidia", and "Lullaby Of The Leaves". They quickly invited Taylor to do some recording work with them, which ultimately led to them making him a permanent part of The Ventures.
The combined effect of putting Nokie Edwards on lead guitar, and bringing Mel Taylor in on drums, created what many fans feel was The Ventures at their very best, a lineup that remained unchanged until Edwards left the band in 1968, to be replaced by Gerry McGee. Edwards came back in 1974, and remained with them until 1984, although he has toured and gigged with them dozens of times in the last 21 years. Mel Taylor remained the heartbeat of The Ventures, on drums, until cancer took his life in 1996. His spot has since been quite capably filled by his son, Leon Taylor.
Some of The Ventures' more famous tunes are "Walk, Don't Run" (1960), "Perfidia" and "Lullaby of the Leaves" (1961), "Telstar" (1963), "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue" (1964), "Walk Don't Run '64" (1964), and the "Theme from Hawaii Five-O" (1969). In the late 1970's and into the 1980's the Punk/New Wave audience discovered and reincarnated The Ventures as a viable American band. The Go Go's, a highly popular all-female band of the era, wrote and dedicated a song to The Ventures, "Surfin' And Spyin'", of which The Ventures recorded their own version later.
The Ventures pioneered the use of guitar special effects on such songs as "2000 Pound Bee" (1963), in which guitarist Nokie Edwards employed a fuzz box, and on the landmark Ventures in Space album (1965), which included the hit single "Penetration". Their commercial fortunes in the US sharply declined after 1965 due to changing musical trends. They enjoyed a minor comeback in America as a live attraction in the 1980s, with the resurgence of interest in surf music.