This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is album retro-review number 109 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!
With Summer coming toward an end, it’s time to think back to those glorious hot summer days of our youth, where climate change had not affected the weather and the wild swings had not started.
Allied with summer in my world, was, the music that accompanied Summer. For those of us born in the Baby Boomer Generation, this might have meant – Surf Music!
The group is The Ventures and the album is the Australian 1992 compilation release – The Very Best Of. Released by EMI its code is 8298112.
It’s a 20 track Cd of what the compilers considered as the very best of the music by this group.
Whether all twenty tracks are in reality deserving to be considered among the very best, is somewhat debatable, but, it most certainly does consist of many of their best and most memorable tracks.
In what was a relatively short period of time when “Surf Music” dominated, there really were many one-hit wonders, such as Pipeline by the Chantays.
Then there were the few but long lasting “real things” such as Dick Dale and the Deltones and the vocal “surf group”, the Beachboys, as well as Seattle’s Ventures who we are looking at in this review.
Yes, there is an Australian group worth mentioning – Sydney’s Atlantics, and I will feature an album by them during my summer retro-reviews.
Back to The Ventures.
During their career from 1960 – 2010 they have released a whopping sixty six studio albums, thirty live albums, five instructional albums, one hundred and thirty four compilation albums [that’s correct – 134!!), thirteen boxed sets and sixty two singles including EP’s. That is impressive!
So how did it all start?
The Ventures were formed in 1958, by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle. In many ways they were unlikely guitar hero’s.
Both came from Tacoma, Washington and were 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.
Skip was given the choice of $25 or 25% of the money the record would make for playing on the session. He took the $25 and probably lives to regret it to this day!
The initial version is often regarded as one of the first surf songs to make the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at #2 and reaching #3 on the Cash Box magazine chart. It stayed in there for five weeks in August and September 1960.
The group would later re-record the song in 1964 , giving it a different feel, very much like Dick Dale’s Misirlou, and they would become the first band to score two top ten hits with two versions of the same song.
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 realise 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.
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 each playing the instruments they started with until 1962, or roughly the release of their 8th album.
Around this time, Nokie Edwards, a budding guitar virtuoso in his own right, suggested that Bogle’s lead guitar abilities were being stretched, and he should take over 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 modernise 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.
He was replaced by Mel Taylor and although the group has continued on with various line-up changes, in my mind when Howie Johnson left, it was the end of The Ventures as I certainly remember them.
Mind you there was another major factor in them being relegated toward the back of the record collections by 1965, and that was the rapid change of taste by audiences, largely due to the exploding British Pop Scene.
There will forever remain a sentimental favorite in my Crate. They were, along with Dick Dale and the Deltones, were among the first albums I ever bought and certainly were largely responsible for me becoming enamoured with the electric guitar, even before my eyes and ears were really opened u, to the music of the early Beatles and Stones in 1963.
Principal Members for the majority of the Ventures music career:
Bob Bogle (b. Robert Lenard Bogle, January 16, 1934, Wagoner, OK): bass guitar and lead guitar: Don Wilson (b. February 10, 1933, Tacoma, WA) – rhythm guitar: Nokie Edwards (b. Nole Floyd Edwards, May 9, 1935, Nahoma, OK) – lead guitar and bass guitar: Mel Taylor (b. September 24, 1933, New York, NY (Brooklyn); died. August 11, 1996, Tarzana, CA) – drums
So let’s see what music delights await on this Cd.
Track number 1 – Walk Don’t Run.
This is probably the most well known track by this group. it was indeed a track much copied in both recordings and live by a myriad of young groups, both ‘surf” music orientated and groups looking for the necessary “instrumental fills” in their repertoire.
It is often referred to as a “cadence” which is a one off progression so really as this track repeats that progression that description is really not accurate.
BUT, what it did mean was that any group just learning its chops, could easily play the chord progression and the lead line is also very straight forward and not complex.
This really is the nub of most of the surf music that came out of the early 60’s. Yet what made it really come live was not it’s complexity (or lack of), but the enthusiasm of the playing by guitarists and the fact that the musicians experimented with early guitar effects.
These “effects” were used to suggest the crashing waves, the effects that the pipeline had on the ears of the surfer and, the brightness of the beach.
A new freedom that was beginning to sweep the USA, particularly the west coast, as the world moved out of the dreariness of the 1950’s.
The Ventures really were at the cutting edge so as you listen to this track, try to put yourself in the feet of the young folk of that period of the change-over of the 1950’s to the 1960’s – and you might just get it!
Incidentally, Rolling Stone magazine rated the Ventures’ “Walk, Don’t Run” as number 82 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.
Walk Don’t Run
Track number 7 – Wipeout
This one is possibly one of the most recognised instrumentals from the early 1960’s and was originally recorded and made successful by the Surfaris, another well known surf music group of the day.
However West Coast surf music and the scene was a very “in-scene” and the groups all knew each other well, despite being pretty territorial about their sections of the coast.
The “surf scene’ didn’t really take to “outsiders”, but the groups like the Ventures who “serviced” the surf music scene often had similar tracks in their repertoire, and if one had a hit, the others would cover it.
Why? well, because the audiences wanted to hear those tracks which were hitting the airwaves.
Apart from the manic laugh and cry of “Wipeout”! the track was well known for it’s (then) extensive drum solo.
The term “wipeout”, for the “non-surfers”, refers to the crash-out that happens when a surfer is dumped by a wave.
Wipeout by the Ventures kicks off with a great example of that embryonic “guitar effects”, which now would be frowned upon as being so basic as to be embarrassing, but at the time these “effects” were considered as wild and cutting edge.
A 1960 “hit” for the Ventures was Perfidia – track number 13.
It somewhat mirrors the chord construction for the popular Walk Don’t Run. Four chords in a repeating progression, this time rotating between C – Em – Dm – G and C – Am – Dm – G.
Again a simple construction which lead to many groups using it and that including the first group I was a member of – The Sound –1963.
Track number 14 is Sleep Walk
This is quite a different track in style. It really is very down tempo, probably played late at night when “snuggling” or close dancing was called for.
It actually has some very, very nice Hawaiian guitar – very tastefully played.
The track was originally played by Santo & Johnny Farina who turned it into a classic instrumental hit in 1959.
Interestingly it is often featured in surf music albums and compilations, yet these two guys came from Brooklyn on the East Coast and it is unlikely they ever saw a surf wave. However, for all of that the track has been covered by many artists.
I can’t go past at least mentioning Pipeline, a track made famous by another West Coast surf band – the Chantays.
While I think the Chantays have the better version, the Ventures do succeed in putting their own mark on it.
Many of the tracks by the Ventures were written by others, including their first hit “Walk Don’t Run“.
However track number 18 – The Ninth Wave is an original composition.
It features a heavily played and processed bass line. Again we need to remember that processing guitars was in its infancy, and processing a bass was almost unheard of. Featuring Bob Bogle on bass, it was a good hit for them in 1963.
Incidentally, the ninth wave is the legendary unexpected colossal wave that Surfers dream of.
The Ninth Wave
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.
In attendance were original members Don Wilson and Nokie Edwards, late 1960s member John Durrill, current guitarist Bob Spalding, and current drummer Leon Taylor who, along with Mel Taylor’s widow, Fiona, accepted on behalf of the Ventures’ late drummer.
Bob Bogle was unable to attend the ceremony.
Fiona Taylor gave special mention to her husband’s predecessor drummers Skip Moore and Howie Johnson. Thousands of Ventures fans participated in campaign to have them inducted.
It was a case of 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.
“The Very Best Of The Ventures” is well worth getting – it has many of their best known hits although a major omission is Slaughter On Tenth Avenue.
For anyone not familiar with The Ventures, this album represents a great introduction to them! The album shows the great talent these guys have in playing their guitars, before everything got ‘teched-out’ by just pushing a few buttons to get whatever sound or effect one wants.
These guys mastered it by as few effects and mostly by creatively doing it by hand effects on the guitar-strings!
So, the heat is on its way, the beaches await restlessly and, surf’s up! C
elebrate the “surf culture” of the 60’s with a dose of the Ventures!
This Australian release can be picked up on Ebay for around $16.00, but really, there any number of great compilations, so unless you are collecting “rare” Australian releases go for the best deal.
But, summer cannot be summer, without some surf music, and these guys are among the best at their craft!
Once again a quick raid on Youtube turned up some classic vids. While Walk Don’t Run is mimed and do check out Wipeout – played “live” a rare video of them live from those early days!
I have also included a 2006 performance which shows nothing has been lost and finally, an amazing 10 minute live performance of Caravan from 1966.
Walk Don’t Run
Walk Don’t Run/Perfidia live medley – 2006
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward:
#108: Paul Simon – Graceland