One of my jobs at my college radio station was to listen to new albums as they came in, pick the top tracks, and decide if we wanted to keep them. One day a new album came in from a group I had thought was washed up years ago. But playing it, I discovered that, even though they seemed to be relics of the past, they were still able to put out some excellent stuff, and I immediately gained a new respect for them. That group, of course, was the Ventures.
The group was formed by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle in 1958. Wilson and Bogle were both guitarists; they added Nokie Edwards as bass, and Howie Johnson as their drummer. Edwards later switched to lead guitar, with Bogle picking up the bass.
Their first single, “Walk Don’t Run” was a major hit. Like most of the Ventures’ work, it was an instrumental and a cover, but it put the group on the map. The Ventures helped to develop the “surf music” sound that the Beach Boys made their own.
After getting hurt in a car accident, Howie Johnson stepped out, and Mel Taylor replaced him to form the longest lived lineup of the group.
The Ventures were nothing if not prolific. They did dozens of studio albums in the 60s, 3-5 a year. It probably helped that they were a cover band, which allowed them to keep up that sort of pace. But they didn’t remain in the public consciousness. Their albums* did OK, but they had very little success on the singles charts. They fell out of consciousness until 1969, when they were tapped to play the theme song for a new TV show. “The Hawaii 5-0 Theme” was their biggest hit and what they’re best known for today.
The group is known for pioneering new musical ideas. They created concept albums, with The Colorful Ventures in 1961** and were one of the first to use a fuzzbox.
Though the group stopped making the charts with “Hawaii 5-0,” the continued to perform and record and were especially popular in Japan.***
The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. They continue to tour today (mostly in Japan), with Don Wilson still taking part.
*They were primarily an album band, unusual for the early 60s.
**Each song had a color in the title.
*** Since they mainly did instrumentals, the language barrier isn’t an issue.