Obituaries: Mel Taylor

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The Independent Online
Mel Taylor was a pioneer rock 'n' roll drummer, and a vital member of the Ven- tures throughout most of their career as America's foremost instrumental rock group.

Although Taylor was not a founder member of the Ventures, he played on many of their greatest hits, including the 1964 re-make of "Walk Don't Run" and their version of "Hawaii Five-O", the television theme-tune notable for its dramatic drum introduction.

The art of pop drumming was liberated and given a great boost by the advent of Surf music during the early Sixties. Instrumental groups like the Chantays, who hit with "Pipeline" in 1963, and the Surfaris, whose "Wipe Out" charted the same year, made heavy use of a compelling new tom-tom rhythm that reached its apogee on "Hawaii Five-O". Rock 'n' roll until then had relied on a tightly knit shuffle beat, derived mainly from Rhythm and Blues.

It was the strong blend of dynamic drumming and echoing guitars that gave the Ventures their special sound and appeal and made them one of the most influential bands of the Sixties, although they in turn were influenced by the surfing craze.

They were formed in Seattle in 1959 by Bob Bogle and Don Wilson (guitars), with Nokie Edwards on bass and Howie Johnson on drums. Their first single, "Walk Don't Run", was recorded for Blue Horizon in 1959, a label formed by Don Wilson's mother. Copies were mailed to DJs, but the record only became a Top Ten hit and a million- seller, when it was released on the Dolton label in America and on Top Rank in Britain. It was the same year the Shadows scored their big instrumental hit with "Apache".

The Ventures developed the policy of giving a guitar treatment to familiar themes and they had hit with "Perfidia" in 1960 followed by "Ram-Bunk-Shush" in 1961. The same year Howie Johnson was injured in a car crash and was replaced by Mel Taylor.

Thereafter Taylor recorded and toured extensively with the Ventures and was heard on "Walk Don't Run '64", a re-working of their original 1960 hit. Although fashions changed and the Ventures' popularity waned during the Beatles era, the group scored one of their biggest hits in 1969 with their version of "Hawaii Five-O" which got to No 4 in the US Billboard chart.

Bob Henrit, the Kinks' drummer and author of a forth-coming book on percussion history, says Taylor was an important figure and an excellent performer. He acknowledges that the early Ventures records made considerable impact on British groups:

We'd never heard anything like those 16th-note beats on "Walk Don't Run" on a pop record before. As far as we know Mel Taylor was the drummer on the second version, but there is never enough evidence about these things. It could easily have been Sandy Nelson! And it's a moot point about who played that very complicated run on the original TV soundtrack version of "Hawaii Five-O". Many believe it to be the work of session drummer Hal Blaine.

In 1973 Mel Taylor left the Ventures to form Mel Taylor and the Dynamics but returned to the fold in 1978 and remained with the band for the next 18 years. They continued to record a stream of albums, many solely for the Japanese market and usually featuring instrumental versions of the hits of the day. As their own hits dried up in Britain and the United States, the band increasingly turned its attention to Japan where they became hugely popular and toured every year. By the mid-Nineties their clangy guitar sound had become fashionable once more, thanks to the inclusion of their classic "Surf Rider" in the 1994 Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction when it was performed on the soundtrack by the Lively Ones.

In 1996 the Fender musical instrumental makers issued a line of Ventures model electric guitars, as a tribute to the veteran group's contribution to rock music.

Mel Taylor, drummer: born New York City 1934; married (three sons, three daughters); died Los Angeles 11 August 1996.