In March 2008, the Ventures will finally be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In January 2006, the Grammy Hall of Fame added The Ventures’ “Walk, Don’t Run” to its list of the most influential songs in the history of music.
“Walk, Don’t Run” was a smash hit single in 1960, reaching #2, just behind Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never,” and over the last 48 years, Ventures’ co-founders/guitarists Don Wilson and his partner Bob Bogle have subsequently recorded 250 albums and sold 90 million records, 50 million of them in Japan alone.
In 1959, the two Seattle, Wash.-based guitarists decided to play together at local sock hops, initially as the Versatones. The duo then added a rhythm section and became the Impacts for a very short stint. Finally settling on the name “The Ventures,” with Bogle now playing bass as well, they recorded two songs that Don Wilson’s mother Josie released on her Blue Horizon Records label. The Ventures self-pressed a second single, a cover of Johnny Smith’s “Walk, Don’t Run,” a song that Don and Bob had discovered on a Chet Atkins album.
The Ventures subsequently emerged as the kings of instrumental rock, influencing scores of musicians around the world to pick up electric guitars and strum along to the nearest TV theme or dance craze; many kids bought one of their important instructional LPs called Play Guitar with the Ventures. The group recorded five of those, which became the only instructional albums ever to appear on the U.S. national Billboard charts.
Here’s a surprising, little-known anecdote about the Ventures’ guitar influence and how their chord changes impacted other pop hits of the day. When John Phillips brought the 1966 Mamas & Papas breakout hit, “California Dreamin’,” into the studio, the verses were laid out in a basic, A minor to E minor folk dirge. Then,when Phillips and the session players began work on the instrumental track, P.F. Sloan suggested an arrangement that grafted The Venture’s “Walk, Don’t Run,” with it’s rock-solid ascending/descending bass and guitar pattern, over and between the chord changes. It gave the song its vague pop/surf groove and (not to belittle the Mamas & Papas’ delicious vocal performance) was the song’s secret ingredient.
The current 2008 Ventures’ studio lineup includes Wilson on guitar, bassist Bogle — now retired from the road, but who may re-join for a projected 50th anniversary tour now discussed for 2009 — drummer Leon Taylor, and rotating lead guitarists Nokie Edwards and Gerry McGee, along with longtime pal and musical associate guitarist Bob Spalding.
The late, legendary drummer Mel Taylor (Leon’s father), who started out playing and recording with Buck Owens and also anchored the rhythm section on the seminal hits “Monster Mash” (Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers) and “The Lonely Bull” (Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass) drove the Ventures beat from 1962 until his untimely passing in 1996.
A plethora of contemporary musicians credit the Ventures with helping them learn their instrument, or introducing them to instrumental and/or surf music. They include George Harrison, Anthrax, the B-52s, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Dire Straits, Dave Edmunds, Marco Paroni (Adam Ant), the Pretenders,