The Ventures are an American instrumental rock band formed in 1958 in Tacoma, Washington. Founded by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle, the group in its various incarnations has had an enduring impact on the development of music worldwide. With over 100 million records sold, the group is the best-selling instrumental band of all time. In 2008, the Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Their instrumental virtuosity, experimentation with guitar effects, and unique sound laid the groundwork for innumerable groups, earning them the moniker “The Band that Launched a Thousand Bands”. While their popularity in the United States waned in the 1970s, the group remains revered in Japan, where they tour regularly to this day.
WIPEOUT by THE VENTURES
Don Wilson and Bob Bogle first met in 1958, when Bogle was looking to buy a car from a used car dealership owned by Wilson’s father. Finding a common interest in guitars, the two decided to play together, while Wilson joined Bogle performing masonry work. Initially calling themselves the Versatones, the duo played small clubs, beer bars, and private parties throughout the Pacific Northwest. Wilson played rhythm guitar, Bogle lead.
After watching Nokie Edwards play at a nightclub, they recruited him as bass player. Bogle owned a Chet Atkins LP, Hi-Fi in Focus, on which he heard the song “Walk, Don’t Run”. Soon, the group was in a recording studio playing the new song, with Bogle on lead, Wilson on rhythm, Edwards on bass, and Skip Moore on drums. They pressed a number of 45s, which they distributed to several record companies. Later, Skip Moore opted out of the group to work at his family’s gas station. When “Walk, Don’t Run” was recorded, he also opted out of the royalties from the recording, taking $25 for the session instead. He later sued to collect royalties but failed because of his prior opt-out.
WALK, DON’T RUN by THE VENTURES
Needing a permanent drummer for the group after George T. Babbitt, Jr. dropped out because he was not old enough to play night clubs and bars, they hired Howie Johnson and, in the midst of a fast-paced touring schedule, recorded an album to capitalize on the success of the single. The lineup of Bogle, Wilson, Edwards and Johnson remained intact until 1962. The group found early success with a string of singles, but quickly became leaders in the album market. The Ventures were among the pioneers of concept albums (starting with 1961’s The Colorful Ventures) where each song on several of their albums was chosen to fit a specific theme. Some of the Ventures’ most popular albums at the time were a series of records of dance music. In the early 1960s “golden age of hi-fi”, with the novelty of stereo still in its experimental stages, the Ventures found their characteristic style of recording each instrument in either the extreme left or right channel, with little (if any) cross-over, enhancing the stereo effect to its fullest limits.
In 1961, Edwards, a talented guitarist in his own right, suggested that Bogle’s lead guitar abilities were being stretched, and that they were in essence wasting Edwards’ talents by keeping him on bass. Bogle agreed, and rapidly learned the bass parts to all their tunes, allowing Edwards to take lead guitar. This move would prove vital in modernizing the band’s sound, ensuring success in an ever-changing market well into the late 1960s.
PIPELINE by THE VENTURES
In the fall of 1957, Johnson was injured in an auto crash, which caused irreversible spinal damage. This forced him to play with a neckbrace. Johnson played on the first four LPs and did about half of the tracks on the fifth LP (Twist with the Ventures/Dance!). He did not like spending so much time away from his new family (second marriage), and, because of that, he quit the band. Johnson continued to play locally in the Washington area with local groups until his death on May 5, 1987, at age 54.
At the time Johnson quit the Ventures, Bogle and Wilson already knew Mel Taylor, house drummer at The Palomino in North Hollywood (the venue where they would play numerous shows during their resurgence in the 1980s). Taylor was known for a hard-hitting style of drumming. The group invited him to some recording sessions, which led Taylor to becoming a permanent member of the Ventures.