- Don Wilson, born 10 February 1933, Tacoma, Washington
The Ventures were one of the first, most lasting and influential of the instrumental guitar-based rock combos. With over 110 million records sold, the group is the best-selling instrumental band of all time. The story of the Ventures starts in 1958, when Bob Bogle met Don Wilson in Seattle, where they worked together on construction sites. They started practicing the guitar together, formed a group called the Versatones and in 1959 they began to play local clubs and private parties in the Seattle area. Bob was a Chet Atkins fan and had heard a song called "Walk Don't Run" on a 1957 Atkins album. They sent a demo of the song to various record companies, but no one was interested. Undeterred, they set up their own record label, Blue Horizon, with the help of Don's mother, Josie Wilson, who would co-produce many of the group's early singles and LP's. After changing their name to The Ventures, they made their first record in late 1959, "Cookies & Coke"/ "The Real McCoy" (Blue Horizon 100), with vocals by Don. Next they recruited bass player Nokie Edwards (from Buck Owens's band) and drummer Skip Moore for a new recording of "Walk Don't Run" (Blue Horizon 101). Soon the tune started to get airplay and was picked up for nationwide release by Dolton Records. It went on to become a big national hit, peaking at # 2 on the charts in the summer of 1960, being kept from the top spot by Chubby Checker's "The Twist".
Unlike Duane Eddy and Link Wray, the Ventures didn't create a startling new guitar sound. Instead they consolidated what other musicians had done before them, from Les Paul to James Burton, and put it all together in a four-man band that was to be the quintessential rock n roll guitar group. Although technically sophisticated, their sound could be more easily imitated than Eddy's elaborate studio product, and legions of teens rushed out to buy electric guitars and form their own groups. Skip Moore was quickly replaced by drummer Howie Johnson, who was involved in a car accident in 1962. His injuries forced him to leave the group. Mel Taylor became the new drummer and a permanent member of the Ventures. Howie Johnson died on May 5, 1987.
In 1961, the group moved to Hollywood. Fortunately, their producer at Dolton, Bob Reisdorff, went along to look after their interests, and over time he helped them establish a niche in the West Coast's highly competitive music market. "We were bricklayers", Bob Bogle has said. "We came to Hollywood and we were in awe and intimidated".
"Walk Don't Run" was followed in the charts by "Perfidia" (# 15 US, # 4 UK), "Ram-Bunk-Shush" (# 29, a 1957 hit for Bill Doggett), "Lullaby Of the Leaves" (# 69), "Silver City" (# 83) and "Blue Moon" (# 54). But soon album sales would become more important than singles. Between 1960 and 1972 the Ventures released no less than 37 charting LP's. Bogle and Wilson wrote the occasional song together, but most of the album content was filled with covers. Their highest charting album, "The Ventures Play Telstar And The Lonely Bull" (# 8, 1963) was entirely made up of covers of some of the biggest rock instrumentals of 1960-62. The group was also quick to capitalize on new musical trends (like the twist and other dance crazes, surfing, later psychedelics and acid rock), proving their ability to change with the times.
Having recycled everybody else's hits, they started updating their own in 1964. "Walk Don't Run '64", done in the then-current surf style, returned them to the Top 10 (#8), a feat that they would repeat with "Hawaii Five-O" (# 4). Recorded with a 28-piece orchestra and released in September 1968, this TV theme didn't enter the charts until March 1969, but gave a new boost to the Ventures' sales (the "Hawaii Five-O" LP went to # 11 on the album charts). Interestingly, their last charting 45 was their version of "Theme from A Summer Place" (# 83, 1969), the instrumental that had topped the charts in 1960, the same year "Walk Don't Run" debuted. The decade had come full circle.
Guest session players in the 1960s have included David Gates, Billy Strange, Leon Russell and Evelyn Freeman (on organ, Ernie Freeman's sister), among many others. Dolton Records was discontinued in 1967 and its artists were transferred to the parent label, Liberty.
The commercial fortunes of the Ventures in the US declined in the 1970s due to changing musical trends. But since they first toured Japan in 1962, they have been an overnight sensation in that country and currently, 50 years on, the Ventures are still the most popular American rock group in Japan, the world's second largest record market. They claim to have sold 45 million records there, including many albums recorded exclusively for the Japanese market.
Nokie Edwards (who had switched to lead guitar in 1961) left the group in 1968, to be replaced by Gerry McGee. Edwards returned in 1973 and remained until 1984, although he has toured and gigged with the Ventures dozens of times in subsequent years. Drummer Mel Taylor died in 1996 ; his spot has since been filled by his son, Leon Taylor. Since Bob Bogle's death in 2009, the line-up has been : Don Wilson (rhythm guitar), Gerry McGee (lead and bass guitar), Bob Spalding (lead and bass guitar) and Leon Taylor (drums). Nokie Edwards still joins them on selected dates. The Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2008.
- More info : http://www.sandcastlevi.com/ventures/intro.html
CD recommendations :
Acknowledgements : Steve Otfinoski, Dave Burke & Alan Taylor, Gerald Woodage, Wikipedia.
Dik, December 2012
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