For years, it gnawed at Don Wilson, this thing with The Ventures being ignored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He took it personally...
For years, it gnawed at Don Wilson, this thing with The Ventures being ignored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He took it personally, having co-founded the group in Seattle in 1959 with his friend, Bob Bogle.
They were two construction guys who bought $15 guitars at a pawnshop, taught themselves to play and evolved into a four-man band.
The rest was rock history resulting in an astounding 250 albums — that’s right, 250 albums — with sales of 100 million copies.
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The group still records and various members still tour. Wilson is 75. Bogle is 74 and lives in Vancouver, Wash.; he records but doesn’t tour.
Last December, the announcement finally came: After 22 years of being eligible, The Ventures will be inducted tonight into the Hall of Fame, located in Cleveland. The Hall of Fame calls the group the most successful instrumental rock band in history.
The ceremony will take place in New York City. Also inducted will be the Dave Clark Five, Madonna, John Mellencamp and Leonard Cohen.
The Ventures will be introduced by one of their longtime fans, John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame.
Numerous other artists, including George Harrison, Aerosmith, Elton John and Ted Nugent, have expressed their admiration for The Ventures.
But truth be told, despite the acclaim, it still gnaws at Wilson, this thing with the Hall of Fame.
Why did the acknowledgment take so long?
“We’re like the Rodney Dangerfields of the rock world,” he said last week at his home in Sammamish. “I don’t think they realize or understand what The Ventures have done.”
In just about every room of the home, there are posters, blowup photos of the group and its adoring fans, guitars and gold records. A storage room next to the garage has boxes filled with hundreds of more memorabilia items.
Wilson can pull out reference books that attest to the group’s impact.
Here is Joel Whitburn’s “Top Pop Albums,” compiled from Billboard magazine data.
Wilson opened to Page 481, which listed each decade’s Top 20 artists.
“Look,” he said, pointing to who was No. 7 for the 1960s.
It was The Ventures, surpassed by the Beatles and Elvis Presley, but beating out the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys.
Wilson can cite from memory the statistics, such as how in 1963, the group had a remarkable five LPs on the Billboard Top 100 at the same time.
So why so long? It gnawed and gnawed at Wilson.
“All we did was quietly sell millions of records,” he said.
Over the years, their devoted fans have had various theories as to why The Ventures were snubbed by the Hall of Fame.
In an April 2007 article in www.ink19.com, a music site, Ventures fan Steve Stav theorized that maybe The Ventures were overlooked because “while hardly a collection of ugly mugs, the group isn’t a gang of guitar-toting pretty boys, either — and image has always been at least half of the game.”
The Hall of Fame says selections are voted on by rock historians and rock experts.
It’s the nature of such voting that it is subjective. The historians and experts also have snubbed other eligible rock legends such as Alice Cooper, Mitch Ryder, Kool & the Gang, Heart and Lou Reed. There is an entire Web site, www.futurerockhall.com, devoted to listing rockers on the wait list.
The Ventures could have been voted into the Hall of Fame as early as 1985. Artists become eligible 25 years after the release of their first record, which for The Ventures would have been in 1960.
Blue-collar jobs to tavern gigs
Of course, it had been only two years earlier that they bought those $15 pawnshop guitars and learned to play them.
The two worked at Sahara Waterproofing. Doing masonry restoration. Bogle earned $4.50 an hour as a bricklayer. Wilson made $1.85 an hour as a hod carrier, carrying cement-filled buckets.
They learned their guitar-playing on long drives to various construction sites and during overnight stays at motels for out-of-town jobs.
Keeping their day jobs, they eventually landed gigs playing at taverns, splitting pay of $15 a night for playing four sets.
Wilson remembered one place, the Britannia in Tacoma.
“It was rough. I remember beer bottles flying around, and a paddy wagon parked right outside. You had a lot of soldiers and a lot of Air Force guys coming, getting totally wasted,” he said.
That was not the rock future they wanted. They wanted to record but found no interest from the labels.
It was Wilson’s mother, Josie Wilson, who for about $100 formed the label Blue Horizon Records to market The Ventures.
The Ventures actually were quite lucky.
They hit the jackpot with their second recording, a rock version of “Walk, Don’t Run,” an instrumental they had heard on a Chet Atkins record.
When they’d play it at taverns, the audience would keep asking them to keep playing it again — and they would, four or five times a night.
But when they began taking “Walk, Don’t Run,” to local radio stations, there wasn’t any interest.
Breaking into radio; idols in Japan
Not until Pat O’Day, the legendary KJR-AM disc jockey, put it on the air.
The station had five minutes of news that began exactly at five minutes before the hour. But there always were one or two minutes to fill before the news.
“So we had something called a ‘news kicker,’ an instrumental to fill that time,” O’Day remembered.
He began using “Walk, Don’t Run.” The phone began ringing.
It would become the group’s signature tune, a classic that rocketed to No. 2 on the charts.
The band, which by 1960 had grown to become a foursome (the “classic” lineup also including lead guitarist Nokie Edwards and the late Mel Taylor at drums), began its long string of recording LPs, usually made up of covers of current hits.
But their original tune “Surf Rider” was memorable in Quentin Tarantino’s movie “Pulp Fiction.” Their many singles that made the charts included “Hawaii Five-O,” “Walk, Don’t Run ’64” and “The 2,000 Pound Bee.”
The latter recording is cited as one of the first uses of a fuzz-guitar in a song. It also was a favorite of the late comedian John Belushi and his friend, Dan Aykroyd, who held up a tape recorder to a microphone and played it to a startled audience at Belushi’s memorial service. The story is that whoever died first, the other would play the tune at the service.
And then there is Japan.
A lot of 1960s groups went by the wayside as American rock tastes changed.
Not The Ventures.
They had started touring Japan in 1962, then opening for pop singer Bobby Vee.
The Ventures became idols in that country.
According to the Web site musicianguide.com, “Their instrumentals bypassed any language barrier, and before long, the group had established a popularity in Japan that rivaled the Beatles.”
The group has released 50 LPs just for Japanese market. It makes an annual tour and has had 20 No. 1 hits there, said Wilson.
“Unfortunately, Japan is like Las Vegas. What happens in Japan, stays in Japan,” he said.
Fans join campaign for Hall of Fame
Still, somehow it all eventually registered with the rock experts and rock historians.
In Seattle, Mark Christopher, a midday disc jockey at the oldies station KBSG-FM (now going by B97.3), collected some 10,000 signatures over the past three years to send to the Hall of Fame in support of The Ventures.
Washington state Lt. Gov. Brad Owen got the state Senate to pass Resolution 8645, asking the Hall of Fame to induct The Ventures.
On the Internet, Arnold van Beverhoudt Jr., of the U.S. Virgin Islands, spent eight years beginning in 1997 uniting Ventures fans worldwide at his www.sandcastlevi.com site.
“In all, I received a total of 5,900 petition e-mails from Ventures fans in all 50 states and 60 other countries. All together, the petition packages made up a stack of paper at least 3 feet tall!” he said.
So maybe after tonight, Don Wilson will finally not let frustration gnaw at him. He always knew The Ventures deserved to be in the Hall of Fame, but now it will be official.
“They say The Ventures launched 1,000 garage bands,” said Wilson.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or email@example.com