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The band was formed in 1958, by
Don Wilson and Bob Bogle,
two Tacoma, Washington masonry
construction workers, who learned of
a mutual interest in playing guitar, and started jamming together.
Initially calling themselves "The Versatones", Bogle and Wilson
played small clubs and beer bars in the Northwest.
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.
Bob and Don recorded and released two vocal tunes, "The Real McCoy" and "Cookies and Coke" in 1959, but neither record went anywhere. Soon 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.
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 has stated that Chet Atkins was one of his main influences. Bogle bought the Chet Atkins LP, Hi Fi in Focus which featured Atkins' fingerstyle rendition of a song originally written by the great jazz guitarist, Johnny Smith. 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! Another Chet Atkins inspired guitarist, Steve Howe of Yes, covered Walk Don't Run on his 1998 album Quantum Guitar.
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 succeeded in getting a local Seattle DJ, Pat O'Day, to use the song as a news "kicker" (lead-in); Bob Reisdorf, owner of Dolton Records, heard it on the radio, contacted and signed The Ventures. Walk Don't Run climbed to #2 for a week on the Billboard Top 100, in September 1960.
Encouraged by the success of "Walk, Don't Run," The Ventures (now with Howie Johnson as their regular drummer) recorded their first album, which was also called Walk, Don't Run. It contained a mix of instrumental versions of popular tunes of the day and some originals. Like the single, the Walk, Don't Run album was a huge success. By the way, few people realize that the musicians in the background of the album cover are not The Ventures. They were on the road the day the album cover was shot, so some studio hands stood in for the group.
With Nokie Edwards on bass, and Howie Johnson on drums the band maintained 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 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.
At about this time Johnson was injured in an auto crash which 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 the Ventures songs so 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. Hits kept coming with versions of "The Lonely Bull" and "I Walk the Line" in 1963 and a top ten surf remake of "Walk Don't Run" in 1964. In 1965 they released what was one of the first instructional records, Play Guitar with the Ventures. and Play Bass with The Ventures series and every LP charted in the Billboard Top 100 Album Sales - a commercial achievement previously unheard in an instructional LP!
During the 1960s, a California guitar manufacturer, Mosrite, developed and marketed a uniquely styled futuristic-looking electric guitar, "The Ventures Model Mosrite". Legend has it that guitar designer Semie Mosley flipped over a Stratocaster and traced around it to produce the now-classic Mosrite body design.
It was probably Nokie who made the Mosrite name famous. Nokie was the lead guitarist for the Ventures, an instrumental group, and b By 1962 the entire band was playing Mosrites, That was enough to start the ball rolling and soon Mosrite had substantial orders from dealers, which signaled the start of Mosrite's heyday. Initially building 20-30 guitars a month, the orders kept coming in and Mosrite was on its way to becoming a credible American guitar manufacturer. The originals have become so popular among vintage instrument collectors that several companies internationally are still manufacturing copies that, in some cases, are nearly impossible to spot as reproductions.
The back of one of their albums read, "Guitars courtesy of Mosrite Distributing Corporation". The landmark album Ventures in Space (1963) included their first use of the then-new Mosrite Ventures Model guitars. That album, because of its etherial spacey effects, was deemed an influence on the later sixties San Francisco movement. The album was also identified as a favorite by Who drummer Keith Moon.
Nokie Edwards left the Ventures in 1968 to pursue his interest in horse racing for a time, and was replaced by Gerry McGee. By that time keyboardist Johnny Durrill had expanded the Ventures to a quintet and the group had delved into fuzz-tone and wah-wah guitar modification as well blues, calypso, and Latin material. McGee left in 1970 to record with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett. The Ventures continued to work with session guitarist until Nokie Edwards returned in 1972. Mel Taylor left the group that year for a solo career, to be replaced by Joe Barile, but Taylor returned also in 1979.
By the early 1980s the Ventures' core quartet of Wilson, Bogle, Edwards and Taylor could boast of playing together for over 20 years. Edwards left the band for good in 1984 (replaced again by Gerry McGee), although he has toured and gigged with the band 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 and the Ventures continued to pack venues around the world.
The Ventures continue to perform and record right up to the present. 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.
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.
On December 13, 2007, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced that The Ventures would be among the five nominees who had been selected for induction into the Hall of Fame in March 2008. Thousands of Ventures fans participated in campaign to have them inducted. Congratulations to The Ventures on this milestone in their 50-year career. Their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been a long time coming, but it helps to validate their standing as the No. 1 Instrumental Rock and Roll Band in the World.
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