The HISTORY of THE VENTURES


"Mosrite Ventures Model - The T-Bird of Axes"


Who would have thought that Don Wilson’s job at his father’s used car lot in Tacoma, Washington would lead to the formation of

The Ventures?

   Not many, probably, but that’s the way it happened. Don’s honest sales pitch to customer Bob Bogle would lead to a friendship that would last over 40 years.

   Bob was born in Oklahoma but grew up in Portland Oregon. It was there that he worked for a construction company, and was eventually transferred to the main branch in Tacoma. As a result of the used car deal, Don and Bob hit it off almost immediately. They shared an interest in the guitar and taught themselves to play.

   They decided to hone their skills by playing small places in Washington, and across the border in Idaho. They would pick up a drummer occasionally and perform a few hours of current hits mixed with a little country music. Their sets were primarily instrumental, but Don threw in a few vocals as well.

   They met Nokie Edwards while doing a local TV show in Tacoma and invited him to come down and see them play. During a recent interview with the group, Bob Bogle remembered the incident:

   "He started coming into the clubs where we were working. It was just Don on rhythm and myself on lead. Nokie brought a bass along, so we invited him on stage to join us. He got up, plugged it in, and played bass along with us. One night he said, ‘Why don’t you let me play lead?’

   "I said, ‘What would I play?’

   "He said, ‘Play this bass!’

   "‘But’, I said, ‘I’ve never had a bass in my hands-I don’t even know how it works!’

   "‘Its easy’, he replied, "the strings are like the third, fourth, fifth and sixth strings of a guitar, except instead of hitting a chord, you just hit a single note.’

   "So, the first time I ever played a bass was on stage."

   Eventually, they met drummer Howie Johnston at a local night spot and the group was soon complete. They saw promise in their musical career and felt that they were "venturing" into a new business, so they dubbed themselves "The Ventures".

   At the time, they were working construction jobs 8 to 10 hours a day, and then they’d work 4 nights a week ( Monday through Thursday) at a club until 2:00 in the morning. For a good two months or so, they had about 4 hours sleep every night and just slept the weekend away.

   They recorded a poor quality demo tape and brought it to Bob Reisdorff at Dolton Records in Seattle. Bob had had hits on his label with The Fleetwoods and already had an instrumental group, The Frantics. He wasn’t impressed with the tape and turned them away.

   The Ventures, however, had confidence in their material and decided to start their own label. They sought advice from a local distributor and formed Blue Horizon Records. The first 45, "Cookies and Coke" backed with "The Real McCoy", both vocals, didn’t do too well.

   They released the instrumental "Walk-Don’t Run" next and got a lucky break. They took it to radio station KJR, the biggest rock and roll station in Seattle at the time. The Ventures had befriended one of their disc jockeys when he held a position at a smaller station, so he decided to return the favor by using his influence to make "Walk-Don’t Run" a "newskicker" at KJR, playing the tune unannounced up until newstime. The song made a sudden impact and the studios of KJR were flooded with calls from listeners asking, "Who’s that-it’s different-it’s unique." So, the song was added to the playlist.

   Bob Reisdorff from Dolton Records heard it on KJR as well and liked it so much, he too called the station to find out what it was. He didn’t know it was a local group, and when he found out who it was, he didn’t remember meeting them previously. Bob felt ‘Walk-Don’t Run" could be a national hit and sent a copy down to Liberty Records, the label that distributed Dolton. The president of the company wasn’t as impressed, so Bob offered to cover all losses if it bombed. It went on to be #2 for a month in 1960, being kept out of #l by "It’s Now Or Never" (Elvis Presley), "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini" (Brian Hyland) and "The Twist" (Chubby Checker).

   Bob and Don remember how the legendary song came about: "We found that on a Chet Atkins album. When we staked learning how to play, we started buying guitar records to listen to. It was on an album called "Hi-Fi In Focus". A jazz guitarist named Johnny Smith wrote it but we had never heard his version. He said he got the title from a sign he saw in the New York subway. If you put Chet Atkins version of the tune right next to ours, you wouldn’t recognize it as being the same song. He played it in a finger style, very advanced."

   "When we went to record it, we went to the only studio in Seattle at the time (it was in the guy’s basement). It was considered a commercial studio and he had 2-track Ampex equipment. His name was Joe Boles and it was called Boles Studio. We put the rhythm and drums on one track, and bass and lead on the other-and that’s the one you got!"

Walk-Don't Run   With a hit record to their credit, the guys went back into the studio to record their first album, aptly titled "Walk Don’t Run". It was a mix of hit titles and original material, a formula they’d use throughout their career. One of said originals was "No Trespassing", a song later used as the flip of "Perfidia". The title stems from a "No Trespassing" sign the boys passed on the road. "You don’t know how many songs we have that are ‘Original No. 1’ or ‘Original No. 2’, "laughs Don. "A lot of times we’d write 4 or 5 songs for an album", adds Bob, "and wind up getting some of the girls who worked at Liberty to help us title them. "Nokie Edwards handled the lead chores on "No Trespassing", and Bob switched to bass.

   Incidentally, that’s not The Ventures on the cover of that first LP. "When we did the first album, they didn’t have any pictures of us because we went on the road right away. In our place they used a picture of the guys who worked in the stock room downstairs at Liberty. They put dark glasses on them and had them falling over the drums and stuff. They put some pretty model walking by in the forefront so no one would notice their faces." In 1964, they parodied the cover with their "Walk-Don’t Run, Volume 2" LP and that is, in fact, them on the cover.

   The "Walk-Don’t Run" hit was followed by the similarly arranged "Perfidia". "We had ‘Perfidia’ worked out before we even released Walk-Don’t Run"‘, tells Bob. "It was part of our original repertoire, as was most of the material from our first two albums. I played lead on those things because Don and I already had those things worked out."

   "Perfidia" reached #15 and was soon followed by their 1961 top 30 entry, "Ram-Bunk-Shush" a remake of the Bill Doggett classic that featured Nokie’s lead. "Lullaby of the Leaves" came next. "That was another song from Chet Atkins’ ‘Hi-Fi In Focus’ LP and was also part of our original repertoire."

The Colorful Ventures   Towards the end of the year the group conceived a concept album called "The Colorful Ventures". The LP featured songs with a color mentioned in the title, like "Silver City" or "Blue Moon". One of the songs they wrote for the album was "Yellow Jacket" . "We wrote so many songs in those days. We started writing right away because Reisdorff said we should build up the publishing by writing. The studio people would take off for lunch and we’d stay behind and write a song. By the time they came back, a new song was written."

Twist With The Ventures   "Driving Guitars (Ventures Twist)" is a featured song on the "Twist With The Ventures" LP. "By the end of 1961, the ‘twist’ was just beginning to happen, so we did a twist album or two. We’d write some songs with ‘twist’ in the title and use twist tempos. Once again we used the format established earlier in our career by taking current vocals that were coming up on the charts at the time, do them instrumentally and put about six or seven of them on the album for title strength. Then we’d write songs that had the same feel for the rest of the LP. We’d release maybe four or five albums a year doing that."

   One of the cover versions on the album was "Road Runner", originally a hit for The Wailers. "They were a Tacoma group. We really looked up to them. We thought they were absolute stars-thought they were all millionaires. We were starting out in the same town but they were a little ahead of us. They had some pretty big local hits."

Twist Party, Volume 2   It was in the midst of the sessions for "The Ventures’ Twist Party, Volume 2" that Howie Johnston left the group. "He had been in an accident in which he had broken his neck. This was before we even started recording. His neck was in a cast when we met him. Once we started having hits, we were on the road, driving four or five hundred miles a day for three or four months at a time. All this driving really bothered his neck a lot, plus he really missed being away from home. So he just decided to resign."

   His place was taken by drummer Mel Taylor, who remembers the occasion well: "I was doing recording with Gary Paxton (‘Cherry Pie’ by Skip & Flip, ‘Alley Oop’ by The Hollywood Argyles, ‘Monster Mash’ by Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett), Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass (‘Lonely Bull’), and Buck Owens. I was also the house drummer in a club in North Hollywood called the Palomino. One day the guys came into the club from doing ‘The Wink Martindale Show’. The three of them came in with these sparkling jackets on. I didn’t know who they were, obviously, but somebody recognized them as being The Ventures. They were asked to get up and sit in. They said, ‘Our drummer isn’t here.’ I said, ‘I know the song that’s a hit right now-I can play with you guys.’ So they got up. Don did two or three vocals, then went into ‘Walk-Don’t Run’. When they got off Bob asked me if I would like to do some recording with them, and I said ‘Sure.’ A few months later I was in the studio doing ‘Twist, Vol. 2’."

   "The Ventures’ Twist Party, Volume 2" was the one I came in on. Half the songs were from the "Twist, Vol. 1’ sessions and were done by the time I joined. The new ones were ‘Besame Mucho’, ‘Swanee River, ‘My Bonnie Lies’, and a couple of originals, one of which was ‘Twisted’." The two twist albums were later renamed "Dance!" and "Dance With The Ventures" respectively.

Mashed Potatoes And Gravy   The Ventures recorded a song Nokie Edwards wrote, called "Nokie’s Tune". When they put together their album "Mashed Potatoes And Gravy" the song was cleverly rechristened "Spudnik". "Some group recorded it under the name ‘Surf Rider’ and claimed the writing. Our attorneys wrote them a letter and asked them to cease and desist, which they did." When the "Mashed Potatoes" album was renamed "The Ventures’ Beach Party", the "Surf Rider" name stuck even more. "These days, when someone requests the song, its always ‘Surf Rider’, never ‘Spudnik’."

Going To The Ventures' Dancy Party   Another dance album finished out 1962, "Going To The Ventures’ Dance Party!". It featured the popular "Lolita Ya-Ya" and the original "Night Drive". "We went to Japan for the first time that year. We were largely unknown and were there on a package tour with Bobby Vee and JoAnn Campbell. The Japanese promoter we were working for had some good connections there with Toshiba, the company that was leasing masters from Liberty. He urged Toshiba to really push the Ventures’ records because he felt they would be really good for the Japanese market. The combination of us being there and them releasing all of our records really caught on with the kids. Thousands of bands sprang up playing our songs. We started a whole guitar boom. When we went back the second time, a few years later, we were really well-known. There were about 10,000 people at the airport waiting for us. It was just pandemonium. They called it ‘Venturemania’!"

   The two-part single "The 2,000 Pound Bee" has become sort of a cult song, being more popular now than ever before. Mel explains: "I wrote one side, and Don wrote the other. The two melodies go together well. It was our first fuzztone record. They played it at John Belushi’s funeral. They heard it when he and Dan Aykroyd were riding in the car in Martha’s Vineyard. At the time they were doing the ‘Killer Bee’ sketches on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and thought it was the damnedest thing. So Belushi and Aykroyd said whoever dies first will have the song played at their funeral. Aykroyd held up a portable cassette player at the services and St. John The Divine rang out with the sounds of The Ventures." Part 2 makes its commercial stereo debut in this country. The original multi-track master for Part 1 could not be located and remains mono.

   Another single-only song from 1963 is "The Savage". It was originally recorded by The Ventures’ UK counterparts, The Shadows, and was a top ten smash for them in England at the end of 1961. "I think Liberty brought that one to our attention. Every once in a while they’d come up with something that they’d throw at us and say, ‘Hey, I think you guys should do this.’ Most of the time we’d say, ‘Okay let’s go for it’." ‘The Savage" makes its first stereo debut anywhere right here on this package.

Ventures In Space   1964 kicked off with another concept album, "(The) Ventures in Space". Julius Wechter, marimba player for Martin Denny and later a leader of his own Baja Marimba Band, wrote a song for the group called "Moon Child". "We used to use outside musicians on our sessions: Leon Russell, Glen Campbell, even Hal Blaine. Sometimes we needed a percussionist or a vibes player, people like that. We used to hire Julius Wechter once in a while for a session. When we were caught for material we used to ask these people if they had any kind of original material. Sometimes they’d just submit material to us on their own."

   One of the most well-known Ventures originals is "Journey To The Stars". "We really liked that song once we wrote it. It was recorded for the ‘Space’ album (hence, the title) but we didn’t put it on the album. We thought it was good enough to hold for a single. That’s what I think happened."

Fabulous Ventures   "Journey To The Stars" wound up on the "Fabulous Ventures" LP, along with a song called "Fugitive". "Fugitive" was originally recorded by Jam Davis on Herb Alpert’s A&M label. Mel Taylor played drums on the Davis session and felt the tune would be a good one for The Ventures to record. It was.

   In the summer of 1964 The Ventures did something very unorthodox for the time. They re-recorded their biggest hit as their new single. "When we first recorded that, surfing had never been heard of. When surfing came in, people would say, ‘You guys invented surfing music.’ So we decided to re-do ‘Walk-Don’t Run’ surfing-style, kind of like ‘Pipeline’. The president of Liberty didn’t want to put that one out either. He was wrong again."

   "Walk-Don’t Run ‘64" returned The Ventures to the top ten on the Hot 100, attaining a high of #8. "I remember watching ‘America’s Top Ten’ with Casey Kasem a few years ago, and he asked this trivia question: ‘What was the first artist to have the same song make the top ten in different versions?’ He went to a commercial and I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I wonder who the hell that is?’ He comes back and he says, ‘It was The Ventures with ‘walk Don’t Run" in 1960 and "Walk Don’t Run ‘64" in 1964’. I’d forgotten. We’ve also been in the Trivia Pursuit game with ‘Hawaii Five-O’ and have been featured many times on ‘Jeopardy’."

Walk Don't Run, Volume 2   The hit single was followed by the "Walk Don’t Run, Volume 2" album, whose cover was discussed earlier. One of the tunes on the album was an original called "Pedal Pusher". "We recorded it when volume pedals just came out. It was the first song that Nokie use the pedal on, so we called it ‘Pedal Pusher’."

The Ventures Knock Me Out   For the follow-up single to "Walk Don’t Run ‘64", The Ventures Recorded "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue. The song was from the 1939 stage show "On Your Toes" and had been a hit previously for Lennie Hayton in 1949 and Ray Anthony in 1952. "It was done in the same session as ‘Walk-Don’t Run ‘64" and the thing that sounds like an organ is actually Steve Douglas playing a saxophone over a Leslie speaker." "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue" reached #35 and became a Ventures standard. It was featured in "The Ventures Knock Me Out!" LP that soon followed.

   The next single release was "Diamond Head", a song they had to go back to the "Walk-Don’t Run, Volume 2" album for. "I think we popped it out as a single because it was a giant, giant hit for us in Japan. It was written for us by a friend of ours, Danny Hamilton. He was one of the T-Bones and eventually became one of Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds. ‘Diamond Head’ became the theme song for the local Gene Weed TV show, ‘Groovy’. It was one of those dance shows."

Where The Action Is   Taking advantage of the success of Dick Clark’s TV show, The Ventures released an album called "Where The Action Is", titled after the show, and featured their version of the theme, "Action". It was the usual mix of originals and covers. The Ventures never did record an LP of all originals. "What Liberty did on their Sunset budget label was that they took two or three originals from different older albums and put them together on a reissue LP. Unfortunately they renamed songs and when fans bought it they found out they were getting the same songs with different titles. The fans didn’t appreciate it. It was called to our attention after the fact. It was too late by then." "Action Plus" from the "Where The Action Is" album was retitled "Wild Action"; "Journey To The Stars" was renamed "Moon Journey", and so on.

   One of the tracks on this package appears for the first time in this country in any form: "Dick Tracy". "Our management company told us that William Dozier was doing a spin-off of the ‘Batman’ TV series. ‘Batman’ was an enormous success at the time. They were going to do ‘Dick Tracy’ and they wanted us to put together a song for it, which is what we did. We wrote a melody and vocals were added later, saying: ‘Dick Tracy, he’s a good cop.’ It appeared in the pilot episode but that was as far as the show went." Deja vu! "Dick Tracy" appears in the movie theaters once again on the heels of "Batman’s" enormous success. Who would have thought!

Super Psychedelics   Time marches on and 1967 brings in the psychedelic era. The Ventures recorded an album called "Super Psychedelics" to grace the occasion. One of the songs, "Psyched-Out", was selected as a potential single but was treated to a healthy dose of phasing before 45 release. The song was redubbed "Flights Of Fantasy" and was included in an album of the same title.

   Nokie Edwards was building outside interests and left the band in 1968 to pursue a career in the race horse business. His place was taken by Jerry McGee, a popular session guitarist who played on the first two Monkees LPs (with pre-Canned Heat bassist Larry Taylor, Mel’s brother). Jerry has also played on sessions for Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.

Underground Fire   Times continued to change. Acid rock made its music felt, and The Ventures tried their hand at this as well. They recorded an album called "Underground Fire", from which the title tune is a stand-out. "This time, instead of mixing hit titles with originals, we decided to devote a side to each. We tried to get into sounds by Cream and Steppenwolf. We changed our style and our sound. A lot of people, when they heard it, said, ‘That’s not The Ventures’. In a way, that was good "

Hawaii Five-O   The Ventures were destined to return to the top ten one more time before the sixties ended, this time with "Hawaii Five-O". Mel remembers: "That came down from a guy who used to be an engineer at Liberty Records, Ted Keep. At the time, he was a sound engineer for CBS, and he called me up one day to tell me that they were doing a theme for a television show called ‘Hawaii Five-O’. I’d been doing some outside projects with Ted, and when he asked if we wanted to hear it, I said, ‘Sure, lay it on us!’"

   "So we listened to it, we liked it, and we went in to record it. We did it in conjunction with the shows producers and had to have the record done prior to the fall season premiere. We used 28 musicians on that song, including all The Ventures. When it first aired the show was a bomb. It was on opposite ‘Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and was dying. In desperation CBS took out radio ads to help promote the show, but they had no music in the background. Hawaii DJ, Prince Aku Aku, may he rest in peace, decided to use The Ventures’ song behind the ad. The switchboard lit up. Thousands called wanting to know who it was by and where they could buy it-it was ‘Walk-Don’t Run’ all over again. "The song helped the show in its ratings (the show became the longest-running crime series ever) and the show helped the song (The Ventures reached #4). They recorded the song in April 1968 and it broke big in April 1969, a full year later.

   The Ventures remained with Liberty/U.A. until the mid-70s. They then started their own Tri-Dex record label and have had successful releases on Tri-Dex and Award, not to mention Toshiba in Japan. The Ventures have had an extraordinary 37 chart albums and are ranked the 26th biggest recording act in album history-a remarkable achievement they will be holding for quite a while.

-Steve Kolanjian

 

 

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