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Produced by Robert Silverstein for 
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ALIVE FIVE-0!

an interview with
DON WILSON
of THE VENTURES



 

 

Continued From Home Page


ALIVE FIVE-0!

an interview with
DON WILSON
of THE VENTURES


by Robert Silverstein

Just over fifty years ago, guitarist Johnny Smith was telling everyone about a song he wrote called “Walk Don’t Run.” Word has it that Smith even called Les Paul, thinking he’d pick the masters’ brains and inspire the song’s first cover, perhaps? Les was too busy mining his own gold on the charts with Mary Ford, but meanwhile up in Seattle, Don Wilson and Bob Bogle had crafted a fresh and unique version of “Walk Don’t Run,” taking it to new heights with their new band The Ventures. Aspiring guitarists who had no idea fame and fortune was around the corner, Wilson and Bogle forever immortalized that Johnny Smith track with a rocking Venture-ized instrumental version and during the summer of 1960, The Ventures finally took “Walk, Don’t Run” to the top of the charts. The trademark Ventures song, “Walk, Don’t Run” provided the liftoff point in the career of a classic guitar instrumental band that has now spanned five full decades. It’s been a long time since that historic summer of 1960, but The Ventures live on in the hearts and minds of instrumental music buffs and guitarists alike. Bringing the Ventures’ story up to date in 2008, the Rock And Roll Hall of fame is inducting the band on March 10, 2008—an honor that is long overdue in the minds of many fans. Ventures co-founder and rhythm guitarist Don Wilson, who just turned 75 years young, remains the perennial rock instrumental guitarist. In this February 20, 2008 interview—written and produced by MWE3.com publisher Robert Silverstein for 20th Century Guitar magazine—Don sounds totally upbeat about the rock hall induction, new Ventures recordings and tours coming in 2008, the guitar company that bears his imprint, Wilson Brothers Guitars and much more.

{The Ventures are without a doubt America's all time greatest instrumental rock and roll band. This interview with Don Wilson first appeared in the April 2008 issue of 20th Century Guitar magazine and the interview was also featured in the Winter 2008 issue of England's Pipeline magazine. MWE3.com now presents the interview with Don Wilson in it's entirety, complete with many of the classic vintage photos Don was kind enough to send for the magazine article. With the passing of Bob BogleDon Wilson's co-founding partner in The Ventureson Sunday, June 14, 2009, a piece of rock and roll history has changed forever. Bob will be missed but his legacy and fantastic guitar is always alive on the hundreds of song classics that have appeared on all those great Ventures albums over the years. For a good example of Bob Bogle's guitar prowess, take a listen to his final studio album with The Ventures. The all instrumental 16 track Rocky!, released by EMI in Japan in early 2008 finds Bogle sounding great, playing lead guitar on most of the tracks with added guitar leads taken by long time Ventures guitar aces Nokie Edwards, Gerry McGee and Bob Spalding with rhythm guitars handled by Don Wilson, and added rhythms and arrangements by Art Greenhaw. Rock on in heaven Bob! - editor July 4, 2009}


RS: Rock instrumental rock fans are looking forward to seeing The Ventures get inducted into the Rock n Roll hall of fame. Is there a story behind the hall finally inducting The Ventures?

DW: Well I don’t know. We’ve been passed by. (laughter) For 22 years we’ve been eligible and never been nominated. Well, if we’d have gotten in then we would have been forgotten about by now. It just could be it kind of worked to our advantage by getting in now. Because, believe it or not, and I’m sure you do, it’s our 50th anniversary on ‘09. The 50th anniversary since our very first first recording, which wasn’t a hit. But “Walk, Don’t Run” was our second attempt. So, it’s our 50th anniversary and I think getting into this now is pretty good timing because it’ll be fresh in people’s minds. And the other thing is that just last year “Walk, Don’t Run” got into the Grammy hall of fame as one of the most influential records ever pressed. By The Ventures. So that’s quite an honor too.

RS: It’s amazing that the Dave Clark Five are also being inducted this year. They’ve been pretty low key for a long while.

DW: They have, yeah. But we’re still working. We work all the time and go to Japan. I just got back from Japan. I just turned 75, which I can’t believe. I mean, I don’t know where the time went to. But I’m fine. I feel like working. I can probably work another 2, 3 or 4 years if I want to. And the reason I do is because I don’t golf, I don’t fish, you know what I mean? It’s something that I enjoy doing. People say ‘Don’t you get tired of playing?’ Well, no I don’t. Do you ever get tired of playing “Walk, Don’t Run? You must.’ I say, (laughter) ‘No, I don’t!’ I don’t know how many times I’ve played but I never get tired of playing it. Anyway, we just got back from Japan. We did, believe it or not, seventeen shows in nine days without a day off. And me at my age, and people say how do you do it? I just have to say, I don’t know, I just do it. (laughter) I’ve been doing it for so long it’s just kind of a matter of pacing and not even thinking about it.

RS: Music must be a longevity career. I mean, look at Les Paul and even Segovia.

DW: Yeah, I guess he plays once a week in New York?

RS: Yeah Les is still playing in midtown Manhattan every Monday night.

DW: Yeah, that’s right. That’s what I heard. I’d love to go and see him.

RS: I’d like to be a fly on the wall to hear the stories you guys would tell.

DW: Oh, my god yeah! (laughter) Yeah, we have a new book coming out too, about The Ventures. It’s 400 pages and actually my mom, and a fan from Canada, which has become a friend of course and he’s been to my house a few times. He and my mom and Bob and I have been writing this book for eight years. Like I say, it’s 400 pages. It’s probably the size of an 8x10, it’s not a hardcover. But anyway, this should be out by spring. That’s another thing that I’m sure Venture people would really be interested in because it’s a lot about behind the scenes and what happened to us here and there. And a lot of pictures probably people have never scene, like Nokie when he was about 13, holding a guitar sitting on his front lawn. (laughter) Things like that so it should be very good.

RS: Who’s going to be with you when The Ventures get inducted to the rock hall of fame on March 10th, 2008?

DW: It’ll be the current lineup. Unfortunately, my partner Bob Bogle he’s not well. He’s not going to be able to make it. And it’s a shame because he played lead guitar on “Walk, Don’t Run.” But we have a guy that’s been with us for 25 years now, off and on, doing recording and going on the road. His name is Bob Spalding and he is actually considered to be, and he has a CD out, called The 5th Venture. And he’s a real utility man. I mean he can play rhythm, lead, bass. I guess he’ll be playing “Walk, Don’t Run.” Nobody can play it exactly like Bob Bogle because he has sound that is quite different. Anyway, he comes as close anybody. And then Nokie will be playing the bass on that. Then we’ll switch around and we’ll play “Hawaii Five-O” with Nokie playing lead, that he did on the original recording. And then we have a guitar ourselves. I don’t know if you know that. The Wilson brothers guitar.

RS: I want to get back to that. Who’s inducting The Ventures at the rock hall of fame? I hope it’s someone worthy of your status.

DW: I hope so too. I don’t know who. It’s undecided at this point. They wanted to get Eddie Van Halen but he’s not available at that time. I guess he’s on the road or something. But I read something about him at one time. He said the first song he ever learned was “Walk, Don’t Run.” But I’m thinking maybe Joe Perry is possible. Or Steven Tyler. I know they’re big Venture people. Just to give you an example. We were playing The House Of Blues in Los Angeles. The place was packed. I mean there was no seats. Those people like Billy Bob Thornton was there. Anyway, the Aerosmith group came in late. They wanted to see The Ventures and they came in late. And my family and friends had two tables. And so the manager walked around with them he said, ‘Gee, I’m sorry, there just is no place.’ And so he just happened to say right by our relatives’ table. And they said, ‘Well, we have two tables, why don’t we move over to one and you can take this table?’ So they did and they could hear every word they were saying. Of course, the chairs were back to back. We start playing something, maybe “Perfidia” or one of our originals and they say, ‘Oh my god! It’s the first song I ever learned.” And then somebody came up to them and said, ‘Boy, you guys are legends.’ And Steven Tyler pointed down to the stage and he says, ‘No, those guys are legends.’ (laughter) And then I met them again in Japan. They were playing the Tokyo Dome. We were waiting on the platform for a train and I see a couple of foreigners over there and they looked like musician types. And a guy comes up to me and says, ‘Aren’t you with The Ventures?’ And I said yeah and he said ‘I’m Joe Perry with Aerosmith.’ And I said, ‘Nice to meet you.’ And he said, ‘Can I have my picture taken with you?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, sure come on.’ So we all line up there with him and he says to his manager, ‘Come on, get up here! This is history.’ (laughter) So then, he invited us, we happened to have night off, which is rare, which just happened to be on the night they were playing at the Tokyo Dome. So they invited us and we were back stage and this is word for word. Steven Tyler comes out of his dressing room and he comes right up to me and he said, ‘Do you know what an honor it is for me to be standing here talking to you?’ And (laughter) and I’m thinking, ‘Really?’ (laughter) That’s great and you don’t know, you just don’t know. I wouldn’t know that. Somebody did say that they had a book out and mentioned the Ventures. And then my daughter called me and she said, ‘Something in Starbucks, they’re selling, has the Ventures name on it.’ So I go down to Starbucks and I look for it and I can’t find a thing that says Ventures. So I do see Elton John’s favorite Christmas songs. So, he had all different artists, not him. And he had one song by The Ventures Christmas Album. He had a booklet in there that said “Walk, Don’t Run” and “Perfidia” and The Ventures were a big part of my growing up. I would never know that!

RS: I would think every guitar player playing today was influenced by The Ventures. I know the Ventures also just played at the NAMM show in L.A. What was that like?

DW: That was fun. The time before, they were hanging from the rafters out there because it was in the afternoon. But when we played this last time in the lobby, which is a monster lobby there as you know, we played real late and a lot of people had already left. But then the next day we played for the Fender company. Because when we started with Fenders, I don’t know how many Fender guitars we must have sold for the Fender company. Anyway, we did get a half hour there. Because it’s their 50th anniversary of the Jazzmaster. And Bob and I both played the Jazzmaster. It’s got a different sound. And I love it. I mean, I’ve always loved it. And I did a whole interview with that guitar saying, ‘You have a lot of your best friends. And this guitar right here is one of my best friends.’ Ands that’s the way it comes out. It’s a ‘68 and it used to be beautiful but (laughter) it’s beautiful in a different way now. It’s pretty much worn but it’s still a lovely guitar.

RS: I heard you’re putting that Jazzmaster guitar into the rock hall of fame.

DW: Yes I am. And then my partner Bob Bogle, he gave a guitar...of course, you don’t know at that time and he’s okay with it...he gave that guitar that’s on The Colorful Ventures album...he gave that guitar to a friend of his just about a couple years after that. And he still has it! He said, ‘I wouldn’t part with that guitar for a million dollars!’ And it might be worth that. I don’t know! (laughter) Anyway, so he’s going to put that in that rock and roll hall of fame too. So there’s going to be two different guitars. One Jazzmaster and one Strat. And then a bunch of old shiny jackets that we used to wear. A lot of things like that. Posters from the ‘60s. The original posters. It’s going to be very interesting. And getting back what to you said, somebody once told me if they didn’t learn from Ventures right? Playing guitar? They learned from somebody that did learn from The Ventures. (laughter) So it’s kind of a trickle down thing.


RS: It’s just amazing that next year is the 50th anniversary of The Ventures forming. After the rock hall induction, what plans are being made to honor that anniversary?

DW: I really don’t know. What they’re trying to do in Japan...as you know we’re very popular there. We started a guitar boom over there. When Bob and I first went over there, they could not afford all four of us, so it was just he and I. And we just played two guitars. They had a Japanese guy playing the drums and a standup bass for the simple reason they didn’t have an electric bass in the country. And that was in 1962. Anyway, at rehearsal, they were playing Glenn Miller stuff for god’s sake. They didn’t know anything about rock and roll. So during the rehearsal we had the interpreter say, ‘I think maybe you guys ought to sit down, and just Bob and I will play.’ Because they’re slowing the beat down and it just didn’t work. So that’s how that happened and then the next time we came, which was ‘64, we fly into the airport and there’s like people on top of the airport roof and all around waving things. I’m going, ‘I wonder who’s on the plane?’ And we got closer and it said welcome The Ventures. There must have been six, seven thousand people. They had been playing our music, I guess all that time. And when we got off the plane and started going around and everything, we were like The Beatles. You couldn’t even go out of your hotel room. There were people outside that, you couldn’t do it. We had to have things brought to our room and catered and all that. And actually we outsold The Beatles two to one in their first couple years that they came out. In Japan, not here. And I know that for a fact for the simple reason that Toshiba Records had both The Beatles and The Ventures. And they said, ‘You not only outsold them, you outsold them two to one for their first couple years.’ Which was quite a thing. We had twenty number one hits in Japan. Unfortunately, Japan is like Las Vegas. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. And generally what happens in Japan, stays in Japan too, so a lot of people don’t know what we’ve done there. They’re trying to put together a Ventures 50th anniversary TV special for Japan. Hopefully that’ll come about. It wouldn’t do that much good here because it’ll be all their very famous Japanese artists that we have done concerts with or that have talked The Ventures when we first came over, and how they learned to play from the Ventures. It’ll be strictly Japanese and in that language. It would be nice to have something like that here too. I might work work on it.

RS: One way fans can celebrate the 50th anniversary is with the appropriately titled Alive Five-0. That was recorded over the years in Japan and there’s some great playing on there too.

DW: Yeah, thank you very much. I’m pretty proud of the things we do live. “Hawaii Five-0” without all the backing still sounds like “Hawaii Five-0” and it sounds good, I think. As a matter of fact, a disc jockey that called me. He’s been retired for quite a while but he said, ‘That’s your comeback album. You should get that out here. Release it.’ Well, of course, we did. (laughter) We’re always recording. Japan wants two or three CDs a year still. And so we’re working on one now. It will be released here. I don’t know when but it’s a more or less inspirational album. We’ve done so many different kinds of albums, you gotta do something different. So we’re kind of inspirational. Songs like “Oh, Happy Day” is on it and “He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother,” those kind of things. And we’re having a good time doing it.

RS: Can you say something about the latest Ventures album Rocky, which came out in Japan?

DW: Oh, yeah well that’s what the Japanese wanted. We did the theme from Rocky, because it hadn’t been released. So they called us from EMI Japan and they said ‘We want you to record the Rocky theme and “Eye Of The Tiger.” So, we did and we sent it to them and they put it on their web site and it had fifty thousand downloads in the first two weeks! (laughter) That was the Rocky theme, yeah. So we’re still going in Japan.

RS: So there’ll be another Ventures album out in Japan this year?

DW: Yeah, that would be that one. The inspirational thing. What they wanted to do was to try to be current. So what they wanted us to do was do the “Rocky” theme, “Eye Of The Tiger,” an updated version of “Diamond Head,” which was one of the biggest selling records we had in Japan. And something else that we did called “Little Green Bag,” or something like that. I don’t know if you’re aware of that song. And that was a huge commercial in Japan. I don’t know what group it was but they wanted us to do it. And so we did it. But they wanted to stay ahead of everything and record four songs and then four songs a little bit later when something else came up for downloads. Then four more and four more. Now, we’ve done twelve, so we have four more to do and I think we’re going to be doing that very soon.

RS: So what brought about the Wilson Guitar company? You’ve got some mighty cool looking guitars there.

DW: Yeah, they are. We get more accolades from people that have bought those and just say, ‘That guitar just plays like butter and it sounds great.' And it looks great. How it started was, Aria guitars in Japan wanted to us to put the Ventures name on some guitar that they had and we said, ‘Well we just don’t want it on any guitar.’ I said, let’s come up with a different design than you’re used to and then we’ll talk about what we want. The hardware and how it plays, neck size, all those things. That guitar actually, I don’t know how many times we sent it back to them. They’d give it to us and say, ‘How’s this?’ ‘No, you gotta take it back and make that right.’ So that guitar is two years in the making actually, by Ventures standards. It’s my son’s company actually. So that’s how that guitar got started was in Japan. Then he wanted to sell it here in the United States, so we did. And now we have a different one. It’s been going on for about five years. We’re in Costco in Canada and talking about Costco here and possibly QVC. The guitars are doing very well actually.

RS: They’re really beautiful looking guitars. Are they still all made in Japan?

DW: Some of them are made in Japan, yeah. And some are made in Korea, which is okay. And of course, China is coming around. It used to be kind of a bad word, China? Made in China? Yeah, okay. But the Chinese are catching up now and doing very well about making guitars. Our more inexpensive models are made in China. But they’re still a real good guitar. Don’t get me wrong. Even though they’re not as expensive. The one from the Japan, which was our 40th anniversary of coming to Japan. That’s why they call it the 40th anniversary. That sells for three thousand dollars in Japan. And we sell it here for I think $1995.oo but we have down to like $299 guitars. That’s reasonable. Anybody should be able to afford that. And they’re still very good guitars.

RS: How do the Wilson Guitars compare with the legendary guitars you’ve played like the Fenders and Mosrites? Are they modeled after those guitars?

DW: Yeah, they’re kind of. That’s what we’re used to. That’s all we know. Especially Fender. I wanted it to sound like a Fender. We’re going to come out with a guitar that it is going to be different. We just keep trying to work on it. My son Tim Wilson is the president of the company. What we’re going to do now, our next project is to come out with a guitar called Surf Pro. Fender calls a guitar a Jazzmaster but you don’t play jazz on it, only. You know what I mean? If we come out with a Surf Pro of course you can play anything on it. I think it’s going to be unique and very appealing to a lot of guitar players.

RS: What a great way to spread the Venture’s guitar legacy. First in music and now with your guitars.

DW: Well wouldn’t put our name on anything that’s inferior. We just won’t do it. One reason we’re not with Mosrite is because Semie Mosley, who made the guitar, we did the same thing with him that we did with Aria guitars in Japan. Things weren’t right. The neck was a little bit to fast for us and we wanted him to change it. It took a couple years. That’s why we played it that long. Because he always promised to change it and do this and do that. Not that is was an inferior guitar. It wasn’t. So then we just gave up and said, ‘No, if you’re not going to change it then we don’t want our name on it.’ So that’s how that happened.

RS: The Ventures signed early on with Dolton Records and then with EMI / Liberty Records in the U.S.

DW: Dolton was an independent label actually. When we first started we went in and did a song, recording two songs. Took us a long time to save that much money to go in and do some recording in Seattle. What happened was it didn’t do anything. But it took us a long time to save enough money to go ahead and do it. And we thought we needed a gimmick. I used to do an impersonation of a TV show with Walter Brennon called The Real McCoy's, where I did an impersonation of him (imitates Brennon). (laughter) One of the those and then go back in to the rock beat. Of course, locally it went to number one around here. (laughter) And in the small towns around here but it never did spread out. And then we had an idea to do a song called “Walk, Don’t Run”. A guy named Johnny Smith, who was a jazz guitarist wrote it the mid ‘50s. And my partner Bob Bogle had... Chet Atkins had recorded it and put it on an album called Hi-Fi In Focus. And of course Bob and I were just learning how to play the guitar. I didn’t learn how to play the guitar till I was 25. (laughter) Both of us. So we bought two guitars in a pawn shop for about 15 bucks a piece and I know guitar players from that era, or maybe even now, would know. One I think was called a Stella and the other was a Harmony. And we paid about 15 dollars a piece for each one of them. And we thought we were getting pretty good so we went in on hock and bought ourselves a down payment on a couple Fender guitars and then we recorded “Walk, Don’t Run” but anyway... We couldn’t play it like Chet Atkins played it. He used finger style and kind of jazzy. So it evolved after a year or so of playing it on stage. And people would come and say, ‘What’s that song you just played? It’s really good.’ I said, it’s called “Walk, Don’t Run,” and they said, ‘Can you play it again?’ So we did and you know that’s how we got started with that.

RS: The Ventures really turned the beat around on that song, because before The Ventures there wasn’t that much attention to the beat.

DW: I know. Or guitars! Really. You had guitars but people are saying, ‘You’re going to go in and record with just two guitars, a bass and a drum without a saxophone or a piano keyboard? And we’re saying, ‘Uh-yeah...’ (laughter) So we were among the very first. I don’t know if we were the very first to get a hit with just two guitars, a bass and a drum. Because we didn’t know a saxophone player or a piano player. Probably, it’s a good thing that we didn’t because it made it unique.

RS: “Walk, Don’t Run” was a serendipitous start to the West Coast rock instro sound.

DW: Really. I don’t know how things work out but by god, they sure do. And I don’t know if its fate or whatever you want to call it. Or somebody’s looking down on you, and favorably. But yeah, things like that just seem to happen. And there’s so many things that have to happen. Anybody that goes in and records something would know. First of all, you gotta have a song. Second of all, it's an instrumental, which is really tough...you gotta have a great arrangement. You gotta have a great sound. And when you go into the studio and it doesn’t turn out right... This just happened to turn out great. And we did it in Seattle on two track. Bass and drum on one track and rhythm and lead on the other. And the guy here in Seattle that had a studio. There were others, rinky dink studios, but he had a great studio in his basement that was fixed up with the carpet and whole thing. And he did this on two track Ampex. And he was very clever. He had a microphone hanging from his shower head in his shower to get echo. (laughter) And then he would use delay. That’s how we got that sound on Bob’s guitar. And then he said, ‘There’s something I want to try.’ And I never really heard it once the thing worked, but it could be there... ‘I want to mic your picks. You know, when you’re picking the strings? I want to put a microphone right next to that,’ which he did. So he was a pretty clever guy. And then we did our first two albums there it turned out so good. Our first couple albums are all just two track. Anyway, we went down to Los Angeles and they had a three track! We were saying, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ And then not long after that, they had four track and we’re saying, ‘Oh! We can put each instrument on one track and work with it!’ (laughter) So now it’s infinity of course. You can put as many tracks as you could ever want. Technology has changed so rapidly in the the last even five years, ten years. My god it goes so fast as to make your head spin.

RS: The sound of the albums The Ventures made in the ‘60s sound so much better then recordings today.

DW: It’s analog too you know? As opposed to digital. A lot of people still have turntables. It’s the warmth of it. It’s hard to explain but I think that’s a true statement, yeah.

RS: Do you prefer the early Ventures mono mixes or the stereo? “Walk, Don’t Run” was recorded in mono originally right?

DW: Absolutely. Stereo, it was called Hi-Fi. High Fidelity. (laughter) And that’s why that Chet Atkins’ album was like Hi-Fi in focus. Anyway when we started stereo was not heard of yet. I mean, it just didn’t sell. Nobody had a stereo machine to play it on. And so eventually it got into stereo and then they took “Walk, Don’t Run” I suppose. Because it was on two track, they’d take the bass and drum and put it on kind of one side or move it over to about three quarters, in the middle or whatever they did in kind of a pseudo stereo. But they had to do it. I prefer coming right out of the middle. It’s the way you recorded it. And that’s just basic hi-fidelity.

RS: Back in the ‘90s One Way Records put out a bunch of Ventures album on two-fer discs. Those are out of print so will there be definitive U.S. reissues of the Ventures catalog?

DW: I hope there will be. You know what we did anyway? While all of us were still alive, for god’s sakes, we went in and re-recorded everything that were the original players to begin with. And so we went in re-recorded everything we could think of. We were in the studio for about five months doing 63 songs from the ‘60s that we did. With the four original players, it sounds like The Ventures! And the reason you do that is because once you sign up with a company like we did, and every artist knows this, they have those masters. They own them in perpetuity, which I never thought was fair. I mean, there must be some time limit. But no, there isn’t. They own them forever. So there’s a lot of artists that are going in and doing their own....especially singers. They sound the same and they can get the same arrangement and backing from whoever. But like I said, the four of us went in and did these songs and I think they turned out very well. And with the new technology, I gotta tell you, it’s a real good sound. It’s not even released. We haven’t done anything with them yet. We did this ten years ago, for god’s sakes. We have an album or CD coming out. It’s a whole package, a box set. And it has DVD’s of some different things that we’ve done. Some in Japan, some here. And then they put a CD in there, which is called The Ventures Greatest Hits - Single And Album Hits. Now I don’t want to pop anybody’s bubble. We’re not the original version of “Wipe Out,” we’re not the original version of “Pipeline,” but our albums probably outsold their singles. Mel Taylor, our drummer, played the drums on Herb Alpert’s “Lonely Bull.”

RS: What was it about the 1960’s for you, that you’ll always remember? I can’t remember a decade where there were so many brilliant melodies written.

DW: Absolutely. To me the ‘60s, there’ll never be another ‘60s or anything like it. Even getting up into the ‘70s everything changed. “Walk, Don’t Run” went to number two. This is kind of connected to your question or your statement. And the reason it only went to number two, it would have went to number one in a heartbeat if it hadn’t been for the timing. Our competition in the top five at that time was “The Twist” - Chubby Checker, “Only The Lonely” - Roy Orbison, “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” and “It’s Now Or Never” - Elvis Presley. We’d go and get the Billboard, couldn’t wait till it came it to see if we ever went to number one, which we never did. (laughter) We stayed at number two for about two months. And they kept switching. “The Twist” was number one and then Elvis Presley’s number one and then “Itsy Bitsy.” And so to me the ‘60s were just the greatest. We didn’t make a lot of money. If you wanna know, we got four percent royalty and we split it four ways. And it sold a million records. We got ten thousand dollars a piece. (laughter) We were fortunate to get four percent. And get paid.

RS: I always mention The Ventures and The Shadows as the definitive ‘60s instrumental groups. Did you have any contact with The Shadows and Hank Marvin back then?

DW: One time we were in Japan and they were over there too. This was 1966 or ‘65 and I met Bruce Welch. We were all staying at the Hilton. I don’t know where the rest of the group was but he and I went down to the bar and had a drink together. And we were talking about, ‘We’re probably the highest paid rhythm guitarists in the whole world!’ you know the two of us, and he said, ‘yeah, you’re probably right.’ So I did meet him but I never met the other. I haven’t met Hank Marvin.

RS: It amazes me that “Walk, Don't Run” hit Billboard's Singles chart on July 18, 1960 which was the same time The Shadows were number one with “Apache” in England and each of those band’s first two songs are always thought of as the signature songs of each band. And The Ventures and The Shadows were on the same label, EMI, essentially. Seems like 1960 was the maiden voyage of rock instrumentals.

DW: Instrumentals, yeah definitely. Because the sound of guitars were getting very popular. Duane Eddy in the late ‘50s. I don’t know how many number one hits he had. Three or four. Instrumental. That’s amazing! To tell you the truth, I learned to play from Duane Eddy’s stuff. It’s simple but so effective. And I love that sound. Getting back to what happens with The Shadows. They recorded “Apache.” And then when it came in the U.S. it was Jorgen Ingman. And he recorded it later. And he’s from Sweden or somewhere and that was the big hit here. I’d never heard of The Shadows, never heard of them. And then you know what happened with “Walk, Don’t Run” is we had it here and they sent it over to England to a company called Top Rank Records. And they were late putting it out. I don’t know why, but it got covered immediately by The John Barry Seven. He’s a big orchestra leader. And they knocked it down to seven pieces and played “Walk, Don’t Run” and covered us. And they went higher on the charts then we did. They went to number five and we went to number eight. That’s the record business. You gotta watch it. We took “Walk, Don’t Run” around to different stations here and they all turned us down. One guy said it was pretty run of the mill. What do you mean run of the mill? It’s not run of the mill. It’s different and it’s unique. So finally a guy named Bob Reisdorf heard it on the radio here. He had Dolton Records. He had a group called The Fleetwoods who he had two number one hits with, which was “Come Softly” and then “Mr. Blue.” And he heard it on the radio, “Walk, Don’t Run,” had no idea who it was. It happened to be a local group, right here in Seattle and that’s where he was. And he was shocked that it was a local group. He called the radio station and said, ‘Who is that? That’s a natural hit.’ He had a good ear. And they said, ‘It’s a local group here in Seattle and if you want to get a hold of them I can give you their number.’ So he did call us. He sent it down to Liberty Records in Los Angeles, who had distributed for him, the Fleetwoods stuff. And the president of Liberty Records says, ‘No, that’s not a hit. We don’t want it.’ And Bob Reisdorf said, ‘I’ll tell you what. You put it out, if it loses any money, I’ll pay it.’ And so, that’s what you got to go through in this business. You gotta hang in there. If you’re gonna make something out of yourself, you gotta hang in. Stars overnight? No, give me a break. We’d been working for ten years to be stars overnight. I think perseverance is a little bit more important than talent. Perseverance will overcome. That’s my theory.

RS: So The Ventures have the box set. Any other plans for touring?

DW: We can work all we want here in this country but we just don’t want to do that much, because we’re three months in the summer in Japan and three weeks in the winter. So, we’ll take a job once in a while. We played B.B. King’s there in New York, a couple of times and we played three different places on Long Island. Now, the next gig that we have is in Disney World in Florida and that’s in April. Anybody can go to our web site and find out where we’re going to be, what we’re doing and it’s updated constantly. We have a new webmaster that just is amazing. So everything is very informative on it. And it’s just TheVentures.com That’s all.

RS: I’m hoping the reissues of the ‘60s albums will come around again, especially the out of print two-fer CDs.

DW: Yeah, I’d love it. Actually, the original versions in the early days that were analog, to me they’re just wonderful. When I said that we rerecorded them, we came as close as we possibly could at having the four original people that did it to begin with. It’s just modern technology has made a pretty darn good sound. So in order for us get it out there to the public...because the record companies from the old recordings, they’re not really releasing them.

RS: What do you think about all this downloading stuff. It’s different.

DW: Totally different. But anyway, if we can go back to people learning on our records... We had an instruction album out, we had three of them, and it was a phenomenon. All three of those that we had out hit the top 100 charts, as albums. Never happened before that an instruction album would hit the top 100 and never has happened since. That’s quite an honor right there. A lot of people said that they had bought that and had learned to play on that. So that was good.

RS: Can you say something about the Ventures store which I think is ran by Mel Taylor’s wife Fiona.

DW: Yeah, she’s our manager. I mean Mel passed away, you know that in ‘96, so actually all these recordings we did were before ‘96, I guess that we had all four originals. Anyway, his son took over. Leon Taylor, and he had played the drums. He learned everything from his dad and then he had a top 40 thing of his own. And Mel used to manage us. We didn’t really need a manager and give him fifteen percent or twenty percent because we could do it ourselves. And so we had Mel doing it and of course his wife Fiona, she helped him with everything. So she was the obvious one to take over when he passed away. So she’s been our manager now since about eleven, twelve years almost.

Special thanks to Don Wilson of The Ventures and to Fiona Taylor @ www.TheVentures.com






 
 
 
 
 

 

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