Nowadays, very few instrumental records are successful, but during the late Fifties and early Sixties there was a large following for instrumental groups. At first, they tended to feature saxophones (Johnny and the Hurricanes, the Champs), but then the classic beat group line-up of lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass and drums emerged. The bands that epitomised this were the Shadows in the UK and the Ventures in the US. Both had their biggest successes ("Apache" and "Walk, Don't Run" respectively) in that golden year for rock'n'roll instrumentals, 1960.
Bob Bogle, who was born in Wagoner, Oklahoma in 1934 but raised in Portland, Oregon, enjoyed playing football and motorcycle racing, but was resigned to working as a bricklayer. While working on a building site in Tacoma, Washington in 1958, he gave a lift home to another worker, Don Wilson. Wilson noted the guitar on the back seat of his car, and soon they were playing together.
Unable to interest a record company, they started their own Blue Horizon label with help from Wilson's mother, who named the group the Ventures. Their first single, "Cookies and Coke", amounted to nothing, but the second was "Walk, Don't Run". The tune had been written and recorded by the jazz guitarist Johnny Smith, but Bogle had heard it on the Chet Atkins album Hi Fi in Focus (1957). Upping the tempo and adding a bright, punchy beat, Bogle played lead guitar, making use of his vibrato, which gave a crisp twang to the end of his phrases. The single opened with torrid drumming from Skip Moore, who unwisely chose a $25 session fee over a share in the royalties.
A radio station in Seattle used "Walk, Don't Run" in the run-up to the news and it generated so much interest that it became a regional hit and was then distributed nationally by Liberty Records. "Walk, Don't Run" climbed to No 2 on the US chart and sold two million copies.
At the same time, "Apache" was a UK No 1 for the Shadows, and their bass guitarist, Jet Harris, recalls, "I always felt that we were more gutsy than the Ventures as they were very clean-cut and very precise. We were at the London Palladium for a summer season when "Apache" was No 1. We were sent a copy of "Walk, Don't Run" and were told it was coming out here in three weeks. If we were to cover it, we would have to do it straight away. We loved the tune, but we didn't want to do it as "Apache" was selling so well." In 1977, the Shadows did record "Walk, Don't Run" and, indeed, there are over 50 titles that both bands have recorded.
The Ventures' "Walk, Don't Run" made the UK Top 10, but their biggest UK hit was with the follow-up, "Perfidia", which made No 4. "Perfidia" had been a success for Xavier Cugat in 1941, but there was nothing Latin-American about their arrangement. It was effectively "Walk, Don't Run" revisited. The Ventures had further success in 1961 with "Ram-Bunk-Shush" and "Lullaby of the Leaves".
For many years, the band had a steady line-up. Bogle played lead guitar, Wilson played rhythm, Nokie Edwards was on bass and Howie Johnson, and later Mel Taylor, played the drums. As Bogle felt that Edwards was a more versatile guitarist, they swapped places, although Bogle returned to playing lead on The Ventures Latin Album (1979). Bogle wrote many instrumentals for the band, including seven on Super Psychedelics (1967), and he would label them as "Song One", "Song Two" etc, until he saw something, a "No Trespassing" sign for example, to spark off a title.
The group's policy must have been nothing ventured, nothing gained, because as soon as a trend was identified, the Ventures were on hand with an exploitative album. Their albums included Twist with the Ventures (1962), Surfing (1963), The Ventures in Space (1964), The Ventures A Go-Go (1965), Guitar Freakout (1967), Underground Fire (1968), Theme from Shaft (1972) and The Ventures Play the Classics (1972). They clearly welcomed imitators, as there are several albums in the series "Play Guitar Like the Ventures".
Following a tour of Japan with Bobby Vee, they made the album, Bobby Vee Meets the Ventures (1963) and they had a US hit with a more relaxed, surfing treatment of "Walk, Don't Run" the following year. In 1969, the Ventures had a US hit with the theme from the TV series Hawaii Five-O, which starred Jack Lord. There are so many musicians playing on the record, however, that it is hard to distinguish the Ventures' contribution.
The Ventures released over 20 live albums, but the first, On Stage (1965), claimed to have been made in the US, Japan and England when they had never been to the UK. However, they were to capitalise on their Japanese following and they had astonishing success. Their sitar-led instrumental, "Kyoto Doll", was a No 1 single, and they also topped the Japanese charts with "Hokkaido Skies" and "Reflections in a Palace Lake". When Japanese singers performed lyrics over their backing tracks, they became hits over again. Through constant touring and a high profile, the Ventures sold 10 million albums in Japan.
In 1962, some years before Jimi Hendrix, the Ventures experimented with fuzz guitar on "The 2000 Pound Bee". The record sold 50,000 in Chicago, but not elsewhere. However, it had one famous fan in the comedian John Belushi, and it was played at his funeral in 1982.
In 2008, John Fogerty inducted the Ventures into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Bogle, who was undergoing treatment for cancer, was unable to attend.
Robert Lenard Bogle, guitarist: born Wagoner, Oklahoma 16 January 1934; married Yumi (five sons, one daughter); died Vancouver, Washington 14 June 2009.