The Ventures Biography

This pivotal instrumental group was formed in Tacoma, Washington, USA, in 1958 when work mates Don Wilson (10 February 1937, USA; rhythm guitar) and Bob Bogle (b. 16 January 1937, USA; lead guitar) discovered a mutual interest in music. They began performing together as the Impacts, using a pick-up rhythm section, before Nokie Edwards (b. Nole Edwards, 9 May 1935, Lahoma, Oklahoma, USA; bass) and Skip Moore (drums) completed a line-up redubbed the Ventures. The quartet made its debut with ‘Cookies And Coke’, released on their own Blue Horizon label, before discovering Johnny Smith’s ‘Walk, Don’t Run’ on Chet Atkins’ Hi-Fi In Focus album. Initially a jazz instrumental, it nonetheless lent itself to a simplified chord structure and by emphasizing its beat, the Ventures constructed a powerful, compulsive sound that not only became their trademark, but was echoed in the concurrent surfing style. The single, re-released on the Dolton Records label, reached number 2 in the US charts (number 8 UK) in September 1960 with sales in excess of one million copies, a distinction matched by its follow-up, ‘Perfidia’. At this point Moore had been replaced by Howie Johnson (d. 1988), who in turn retired following a major car accident. Drummer Mel Taylor (b. 24 September 1933, New York City, New York, USA, d. 11 August 1996, Los Angeles, California, USA) was then added to the group.

Other notable Ventures singles included ‘The 2, 000 Pound Bee (Part 2)’ (1962), which featured the then revolutionary fuzz-guitar, ‘The Savage’ (1963), originally recorded by the Shadows, and ‘Diamond Head’ (1965), later immortalized by the Beach Boys. The Ventures’ continued appeal lay in an ability to embrace contemporary fashion, as evinced on Play The “Batman” Theme (1966), Super Psychedelics (1967) and Underground Fire (1969), without straying too far from their established format. They also survived several personnel changes; Edwards traded roles with Bogle in 1963 before leaving altogether five years later. He was replaced by session guitarist Gerry McGee, whose numerous credits include Elvis Presley, the Monkees and Kris Kristofferson, and organist Sandy Lee, although the latter was in turn supplanted by Johnny Durrill, formerly of the Five Americans. In 1969 the Ventures had their last major US hit when ‘Hawaii Five-O’, the theme tune to a popular detective series, reached number 4.

The Ventures remained a popular attraction, particularly in Japan, where the group is the subject of almost fanatical reverence and they are among the Top 10 composers in Japanese history. Annual tours throughout the 70s were supplemented by many exclusive recordings, and several tracks were hits twice: once as instrumentals and again with lyrics courtesy of local composers and singers. The group withstood the loss of Taylor, McGee and Durrill (Edwards returned to the line-up in 1972); the remaining trio added new drummer Joe Barile, and, buoyed by a succession of keyboard players and vocalists, they continued their highly lucrative career. Musically, the Ventures continued to court contemporary trends, including disco and reggae, while assuming greater artistic control with the founding of their Tridex label. Mel Taylor rejoined Bogle, Wilson and Edwards in 1979 as the unit attempted to rekindle their reputation at home. The latter stayed five years before being replaced by the returning McGee. They continued to attract loyal support in Europe and Japan (where they have released over 200 albums), and during the 90s the UK label See For Miles Records launched an excellent reissue series. The death of Taylor from cancer in 1996 led to his son, Leon, joining Bogle, McGee and Wilson in the new line-up. Founding member Bogle retired in 2005 and was replaced by Bob Spalding.

The Ventures remain one of the world’s most respected instrumental units, and in March 2008 the band was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.