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MUSIC THE VENTURES : Run Don't Walk : The band may not be a household name, but they've been busy making albums since 1960.

February 27, 1992|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"And you'll never hear surf music again..."

--Jimi Hendrix

Wrong again, Jimi. Though long dead, you may still make the cover of Rolling Stone and your albums may continue to sell. But as a forecaster of musical trends, forget it. Surf music never really went away.

Hendrix was from Seattle, now the happening rock spot for at least this week. All you hear these days is Seattle-this, Seattle-that, how 'bout those Huskies and please don't move up here. While Hendrix is the ultimate Seattle alum, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Queensryche, Heart are all successful bands from the same neighborhood.

But what about those Ventures? They're from Seattle too, and they've released more than 90 albums and sold more than 80 million units, which is not bad for a band you've never heard of, although your dad probably has.

A long time ago, when Beaver Cleaver was cultivating his first really good crop of acne, before surf music, there was instrumental music, much of which came to be identified with surf music--particularly through all those awful beach-blanket movies.

Summer will mark the 32nd anniversary of the Ventures' first hit, "Walk Don't Run." Surf music hit it big a few years later and the Ventures did a bunch of surf songs, then a lot of other songs too, and have never really gone away, except maybe to Japan.

Remember that Vapors' song, "Turning Japanese," from about 10 years ago? The Ventures have been going to Japan annually for nearly 30 years and will do 100 dates in the Land of the Rising Sun this summer. But first they'll be stopping at Toe's Tavern in Santa Barbara for a gig Friday.

At a Ventures' gig there's no need to strain your brain trying to figure out what half-witticism the lead singer just sang. You can forget about those embarrassing moments when the singer forgets the words to "Louie, Louie" or "Born to Be Wild." The Ventures don't have a lead singer; they don't have any singer.

There are four guys, three of whom are original members, all playing instruments, mostly guitars. Mel Taylor is on drums, Don Wilson plays rhythm guitar and Bob Bogle plays bass. Gerry McGee, the new guy, is the lead guitarist.

The only thing they need to remember is to stop at the same time. And after more than 30 years together, the quartet has easily mastered that aspect of the rock 'n' roll biz.

Mel Taylor, the drummer, a Valley dude now, takes it from there:

How many Ventures albums are there?

Let's see, at last count there were about 90. Some of them have been deleted from the catalogue. Capitol has all the original masters and they're re-releasing some of them. But Toshiba in Japan has released about 20 of our CDs. In fact, we did two albums that were released in Japan only last year.

Ever played Santa Barbara before?

You bet. We played New Year's Eve there recently at Fess Parker's Red Lion Inn.

Do the Ventures play surf music?

The Ventures started in 1960, but surf music didn't really emerge until 1963. Even though "Walk Don't Run" was considered the first surf record, the band was not considered a surf band until we put out a surf album. Therefore, we were labeled a surf band, but we're more than that. We do everything from classical on up. We have one album that has songs on it by Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart.

Do the Ventures ever sing?

No, but we play a strong hour-and-a-half set. Since instrumentals can get a little old, we try to keep the excitement up with a lot of high-energy stuff. It's not a negative thing, but a tough thing for us in that we're missing two elements in our music. There's no vocalist and no lyrics.

How did the Ventures get started?

Bob Bogle and Dan Wilson met on a construction job in Seattle. Bob was a bricklayer and Dan was his hod carrier. Anyway, Bob gave Dan a ride home and Dan noticed a guitar in his car. Both of them were just learning to play and it turned out they both bought their guitars from the same pawn shop. They started gigging around town doing duets. They picked up "Walk Don't Run" because it was easy off a Chet Atkins album although it was a Johnny Smith song. A year and a half later, it was the No. 2 song in the nation. I joined the band in 1962, so I'm considered an original member.

Why have the Ventures survived so long?

We have always tried to stay with what the industry was doing, then stay ahead of it by taking it one step beyond.

What's the best thing about being a Venture?

We're still working and people still like what we do. We're almost--no, we are--a family. We wouldn't know what to do without each other.

How did the Japanese connection come about?

We've had the Japanese market for a long time. When we go over this summer, it'll be our 30th year. We went over there for the first time as part of a package tour with Bobby Vee and Connie Francis. When we came back in 1963, there were 15,000 people at the airport and we didn't have an advance man, nothing. It just went crazy.

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