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More on the Ventures

Matt Schudel

I put up an earlier post about Bob Bogle, the guitarist and bass player who was one of the founders of the Ventures, the quintessential rock-and-roll guitar band.

The obituary of Bogle appears today, and if you have a second, I want to point out one interesting sidelight concerning the photo accompanying our obituary. This photo from 1959 captures an early incarnation of the Ventures, with its two founding members Don Wilson (third from right) and Bob Bogle (second from right) on guitar. The three other fellows in the photo didn't last long with the band, but I do want to draw your attention to the young drummer sitting at the back of the stage. His name is George Babbitt, and he was a 16-year-old high school student who lived in the same neighborhood in Tacoma, Wash., as some of the other guys in the Ventures.

Babbitt was the first drummer to play the Ventures' big hit "Walk, Don't Run," but he left the band after nine months to go to college. He had a rather illustrious career after music ....

and became a four-star general in the U.S. Air Force.

In 1998, when the Ventures were performing at DAR Constitution Hall here in Washington, Gen. Babbitt sat in with the band and played "Walk, Don't Run" with the band, and the old song fit like a glove.
"It's surprising how little changes," the general said in a 2008 interview with a paper in Washington state. "I mean, the little way we played "Walk Don't Run" is exactly as I used to play it with them ... It didn't feel to me like things changed too much."

While preparing the obituary of Bogle, I e-mailed Deke Dickerson, a California guitarist, singer and writer who is also a historian of guitars, rockabilly, surf music and such oddities as one-armed musicians and one-man bands. He graciously took time to answer a lot of questions about Bob Bogle and the Ventures. Here's the Q&A:

Q: Can you comment on the importance and originality of the Ventures? Before them, had there been any strictly instrumental groups in rock-and-roll?


A: There were instrumental hits before the Ventures, with acts like Duane Eddy and Link Wray and even bands like the Champs, but the Ventures really started a revolution with their first hit, "Walk Don't Run." Suddenly there were thousands of groups all over the country playing instrumentals, and the Ventures were their template. If you need a soundbite--there had been small fires in the bushes before, but the Ventures "Walk Don't Run" was like an out of control forest fire--it changed everything.

Q: What made their sound unique? Did they use any special effects or other technical wizardry that made them sound unlike any other group up to that time?


A: Not at first. Later, the Ventures would go on to pioneer a lot of sounds like fuzz and wah-wah, but the early hits were just clean, simple, but imaginative guitar records, and that's exactly why appealed to 15-year old aspiring musicians all over the country. "Hey, I could play this!"

The early recordings feature the clean twangy tones of Bob Bogle playing a Fender Jazzmaster. The later recordings feature the distorted and violent tones of Nokie Edwards playing a Mosrite "Ventures Model" guitar.

The Ventures were also one of the first, if not THE first, acts promoted strictly as a "BAND" as opposed to single artists or nameless orchestras. The Ventures first album cover showed the actual band members themselves posing with guitars. That imagery burned a hole in tens of thousands of young kids minds.

Q: What was Bob Bogle's role in the group? He was a co-founder, with Don Wilson, and played lead guitar on Walk, Don't Run. Do you have any other thoughts on his importance to the group's sound or to music history?

A: Bob Bogle was the original lead guitarist for the Ventures. When the act first formed it was just Bob Bogle on Lead Guitar and Don Wilson on rhythm guitar. Later they were augmented by Nokie Edwards on bass, and Howie Johnson on drums. This was the lineup that recorded the first ten or so Ventures albums. [Note: Drummer Skip Moore actually played on the original recording of "Walk, Don't Run" before Howie Johnson joined the Ventures.]

What made Bob Bogle's role unique in rock and roll history is that around 1963 he turned over the lead guitar spot to Nokie Edwards, and took over the bass position. Bogle played bass with the band for the next 45 years. The band also changed drummers roughly around the same time, and the band with Nokie Edwards on guitar and new drummer Mel Taylor on drums was literally a completely different band.

Q: Did Bob completely give over the lead guitar duties to Nokie Edwards after Nokie joined the band?

A: Yes, pretty much. There was one album, "The Ventures Twist Party" that marked the changeover, and both Nokie and Bob appear on different tracks as lead guitarists. Though, if you read the band's giant biographical book that came out last year, they sometimes used session musicians, even session men lead guitarists, on their albums throughout the 60's. So basically what you could say is that Bob and Nokie didn't appear to have huge egos!

Q: Would you say the Ventures created or helped create the "surf sound" of the 1960s? If not, how did they differ from the Surfaris, Dick Dale and other guitar bands that are identified with the surf sound?


A: The Ventures played a role in creating the Surf phenomenon., but technically they only played surf music on their album entitled "Surfing With The Ventures." Otherwise, the Ventures had their own style and it wasn't really surf, it was instrumental rock & roll with no boundaries.

Q: Can you comment on the importance of the bass and drums to the Ventures' sound?


A: One thing that was very important to the Ventures sound after Bob switched to bass--he played the bass in a "LEAD BASS" style--like a lead guitarist who had switched to the bass! I know this sounds obvious, but his playing was very "busy" and that contributed heavily to the style and the sound of the Ventures.

Q: I know that Bob Bogle became interested in "Walk, Don't Run" after hearing it on an earlier Chet Atkins recording. Can you cite any other influences (guitarists, especially) on Bogle or on the Ventures as a whole?

A: You can tell that they were listening to a lot of Duane Eddy, Chet Atkins, and other instrumental acts like Link Wray.

Q: Please feel free to add any other thoughts about Bogle and the Ventures that you would like


A: Bob Bogle was never the loud one or the guy to toot his own horn, but he was one of the cornerstones of rock and roll guitar playing in this country. Without his lead guitar playing on "Walk, Don't Run" by the Ventures the history of rock and roll music might very well have turned out much differently.


Thank you for very much.


By Matt Schudel |  June 17, 2009; 11:28 AM ET  | Category:  Matt Schudel , Musicians
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Very good commentary from Deke Dickerson. But let me point out one little curiosity.

Quote:
"The Ventures were also one of the first, if not THE first, acts promoted strictly as a "BAND" as opposed to single artists or nameless orchestras. The Ventures first album cover showed the actual band members themselves posing with guitars. That imagery burned a hole in tens of thousands of young kids minds."

That’s not quite correct. teens thought it was the Ventures and thus the band-marketing concept started to be developed, but it was office boys and passers by pulled into the photo studio for the shooting as the actual band members weren’t available, I hope I remember correctly they said they were touring at the time.

However, the same shot was re-created for the Walk Don’t Run ’64 LP and that featured the real Ventures on the cover, now sporting colorful Mosrites.

Posted by: kawentzmann | June 17, 2009 3:41 PM

In the early 80's the Ventures had a new fan base because of punk era, and because of their regional hit "Surfing and Spying" which was written by the Go-Go's. Back then, they were still an institution in California, and whenever you mentioned anything about going to LA, everyone said "Oh, you've got to go see the Ventures!!"

But the Ventures did play DC shows back then at Desperado's and the old 9:30 club. They were amazing shows, with lots of dumbstruck local guitarists in the audience. I remember one show where Bogle and Edwards swapped instruments, so that Bogle could play lead on Walk Don't Run, as he did on the original recording. It was one of those rare magical concert moments. Not to knock Nokie Edwards, who is virtually peerless, but for that seminal riff on Walk Don't Run, Bogle was the master.

Jim Mich
Chevy Chase, MD

Posted by: tmdenning | June 17, 2009 7:38 PM

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