The Ventures on Film
Bruce Von Stiers
The first time I really remember knowing about the band The Ventures was their theme song for the police drama, Hawaii Five-0. My family had the album that song was on. And later on, we came to possess several other The Ventures albums. So you might say I've been a fan of the band for a long time.
I am not alone in being a fan of The Ventures. Over the years, legions of people have bought records, heard their songs on the radio and attended the band's concerts.
Now there is a documentary that celebrates The Ventures. From the band's humble beginnings to their international stardom, the documentary provides a lot of information on The Ventures.
The title of the documentary is The Ventures: Stars on Guitars. The film was produced by Wilson Ventures LLC and Excessive Nuance.
The film was a labor of love for Staci Layne Wilson. Daughter of one of the band's founders, Don Wilson, Staci wrote, produced and directed the film. Tim Wilson and Jill Fairbanks also worked on producing the film.
Staci accumulated over thirty interviews with various music people and others who were either involved with the band or were influenced by their music. There is also footage from club dates, concerts and television performances of the band.
Interspersed with the interviews and footage is some animation. These animated bits act as both cut scenes and complements to whatever was being said. The person in charge of the animation was Nina Helene Hirten. She was also the editor for the film.
The story of The Ventures is mostly told from the perspective of Don Wilson. He is the sole remaining original member of the band. Other members of the band are interviewed as well.
The film starts out with some basic facts about the band. That is, they released over 450 albums and CD's worldwide. They recorded something like three thousand songs and wrote over a thousand.
One of the first interviews is with actor Eric Roberts, who reflects on how guys in his sixth-grade class all played Wipeout on their desktops.
Don Wilson provides a lot of information about how the band started up. He reflects on his early playing years, playing the trombone in school, then later in the Army band He then met a guy from a trio who taught him some guitar. But Don didn't start playing the guitar for real until sometime later.
Don meets Bob Bogle at Don's dad's car lot in Seattle. Bob wanted to buy a car and Don kept steering him away from certain models. Bob got Don a job in the bricklaying business. As it rains a lot in Seattle, the guys had a lot of time on their hands. They bought 2 guitars in 1959, learned how to play halfway decent. Then they tried out playing for audiences.
Another interview is with Shermy Freeman and Nicole Damoff of the Suffrajettes. They state that the lead guitar is usually more important than the rhythm guitar in band's music, but in The Ventures, both guitars were equally important. Later in the film the two provide some additional insight about how the band influenced their music and other artists.
During the course of the film we learn that the guys used things like the Whammy Bar to compensate for not having a drummer or keyboard player.
In another interview, Danny Amis of Los Straightjackets talks about the amp settings when Don played with the treble cranked all the way up and the bass turned all of the way down so that it becomes a percussive sound.
Jeff “Skunk” Baxter played with the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. He talks about the guitar playing.“it was straight ahead”. “That kind of rhythm was unheard of back then.”
Other interviews include one with Seymour Duncan, a pedal and pickup designer. And there is Jack De Franco, the band's tour manage, who added some of his own reflections and understanding of the band's music and how they played.
The band members reflect on some of their early gigs, specifically a place called The Blue Moon, and then a coffee house called the Java Jive. Basically they played anywhere that would have them, parties, clubs etc. That kind of reminded me of my junior high days. We had school dances called Teen Town. A few times, the older brother of one of my classmates had his band play for the dance. They weren't headliner material but, hey, it was a live band. So, I guess you might say that Don and Bob were polishing things up for when they hit the big time.
And the viewer learns the origin of the band's name and how they started up their own record company. We also learn how the band went from a duo to a trio and then, finally, a four person band. An interview with Leslita, Pamita and Laura Bethita of The Neptunas give insight on how influential Don's mom was for the band and how she paved the way for other women to become producers and other major players in the music industry.
Don talks about how the band's first hit, Walk Don't Run, came about. And we later learn that Nokie Edwards was recruited by Bob and Don after hearing him play with Buck Owens. And how a succession of drummers eventually led to the band hiring Mel Taylor.
Deke Dickerson of the Ecco-Fonics talks about how Nokie first played bass and Bob was on lead. Then at some point they changed positions and the sound of the band changed as well.
Paul Warren, who played with Rod Stewart and Rare Earth, also gave his perspective on that early band sound. Joe Rosignolo, a former tour manager for the band, talked about the style of guitar playing as well.
Billy Bob Thornton gave his input at various points in the film. I had forgotten that Thornton had his own band, The Boxmasters. So, not only did Thornton respond as a fan, he provided some musical and technical observances too.
Robert Reisdorff, the president of Dolton Records, is interviewed as was Bill Englehart of Little Bill & The Blue Notes.
I learned things like that Walk Don't Run got its initial radio play as the lead-in to the news on Seattle area radio. The song ended up climbing the charts to the number two spot in the nation.
Waddy Wachel from the Stevie Nicks Band and the Warren Zevon Band gave some input. Also talking about Walk Don't Run was Denny Sarokin, of the band Every Mother's Son. And Roger Fisher, formerly of Heart, provided some insight as well. Then there was the guy who invented the Wah Pedal. Giddle Partridge gives her own little bit of insight. Liz Brasher, an upcoming singer / songwriter talks some about how the music and instruments sounded so different than was out there at the time and how influential it was for other artists.
Other artists from the rock archives to be interviewed included Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad fame, Randy Bachman of Bachman Turner Overdrive, someone from the band Boston, and John Fogerty.
The band members talk about touring on the road. The trials of not seeing their families, trying to send money back home, paying their own expenses and sometimes getting stiffed by the venues, agents or event promoters.
Then there is a segment on the band using Mosrite guitars. And it then goes on to the how and when of the band having their own line of guitars. The film then provides some information on the various technical aspects and electronic gadgetry of the band's music. We learn about things like whammy bars and other gizmos that made up the band's unique guitar sounds.
The film tells how in the sixties, bands would record four or more albums a year. The band had five albums in the top one hundred at the same time. I learned that the band crossed a lot of genres with their music. They did a country album, a classical album and they even did a disco album. Apparently that last one didn't go over well with the diehard fans.
Sandi Lee Gornicki played keyboards for the band for a bit. Carol Kaye played the bass for them one time and even Glen Campbell played with the band a couple of times. Josie Cotton sang with the band on their anniversary television special. The film covers these things along with Gerry McGee joining the band on guitar when Noki left on some sort of sabbatical.
People such as Pleasant Gehman talked about the unique way the band did cover songs.
Don talks about Hawaii Five-0 and how that was basically the band's last hurrah in the U.S. Their music had been top sellers in other countries such as Japan and would continue to do so after the decline in the interest of the band's music in the U.S. Their fan base in Japan never wavered. In fact, at one time, the band outsold The Beatles.
Don reflects on while in the 70's the band's popularity waned somewhat, it picked back up in the 80's by legions of punk rock musicians and fans who were discovering The Ventures for the first time. And apparently genres like thrash metal had their roots set deeply in the music of The Ventures.
The film also shows the push by fans to get the band into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. There is footage from the night that that they were inducted in to the Hall of Fame.
The film concludes with portraying the type of funny, caring individuals the members of the band were and gave the dates of birth and death of some of the principle people that were mentioned, shown footage of or interviewed in the film. Nokie and Bob have died and Bob has retired. There is a new a new iteration of the band and it is introduced at the end of the film.
What I covered is only a portion of the material on the film. There is a lot of information and insights on the band than what I wrote about. Even though I've been a fan of the band since I was a kid, I knew virtually nothing about them. I now know a lot more about The Ventures from watching the film. It was a fun experience, not only learning the history of the band, but getting to hear some of the music again and finding out how they made some of the incredible sounds on their songs.
If you are a fan of The Ventures, a lover of surf music or just a fan of rock history, The Ventures: Stars on Guitars is a must have for your film collection.
The Ventures: Stars on Guitars will be available beginning December 8 th , 2020 on several platforms including streaming and DVD.
To learn more, visit https://www.stacilaynewilson.com/starsonguitars
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© 2020 Bruce E Von Stiers