Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Louie Leftovers: Ventures Guitars


Two of the most interesting booths at Louie Fest featured guitars attributed to the Ventures. I have a few of their old albums kicking around somewhere, but must admit I’ve never been a big fan, and don’t know much about them. This despite the fact they began as a Tacoma band, same as The Wailers. Both groups got their start playing the Northwest circuit, and both were primarily instrumental. And they weren’t the only ones. Up the road in Seattle were the Dave Lewis Combo (no relation other than spiritual), The Dynamics and The Viceroys. The thing is, The Ventures never moved me the way those other bands did, and still don’t.

I believe there are two reasons for this. First, they hit so big and so early (1960 or so) with Walk, Don’t Run, that by the time I started paying attention to Northwest rock (around 1963) they were no longer considered a Northwest band. But the other reason is probably the biggie: their music appears to have sprung from tamer roots. While The Wailers and the other guys were sneaking into rhythm & blues clubs for their inspiration, The Ventures were home listening to their Chet Atkins records. That’s where they first heard Walk, Don’t Run, and they’ve stuck with the clean-pickin’ Atkins style ever since.

So, compared to the raunchy, biting, often sax-driven instrumentals of the bands I revere, The Ventures are too smooth, too sweet, too twangy, too perfect. Aside from a few outstanding cuts, their stuff strikes me as great elevator music, but not great rock.

So, you say, if they ain’t that good, how come they’ve been more successful than all those other Northwest groups combined? Good question. Maybe smooth, sweet, twangy and perfect is what the world’s masses prefer. But I’d rather listen to Beat Guitar (Wailers), J.A.J. (Dynamics), Goin’ Back to Granny’s (Viceroys) and David’s Mood Pt. 2 (Dave Lewis) than Walk, Don’t Run and it’s progeny any day.

That said, The Ventures have now provided the world with some cool guitars, as we saw at Louie Fest. Most impressive was the Hitchhiker, on display at the Nokie Edwards booth. Nokie, The Ventures’ original lead player, was there to demonstrate, and along with his talented booth partner (whose name we never did learn) kept the hot licks flowing almost continuously. He also got on stage to play a few leads for the Elvis impersonator. In his hands, the Hitchhiker was an amazing instrument. It left Bob and I both wishing we had an extra $2100 in our pockets. If YOU are that lucky, check out
http://www.nokieedwards.org/customguitar.htm

On the other side of the hall was a booth run by the Wilson Bros., makers of the Ventures model guitars. According to the literature, these were designed by The Ventures themselves, and are now played by them exclusively. (Where this leaves Nokie, I’m not sure, because I get the feeling he’s still technically a member of the group.) Anyway, they offer some acoustics and a Strat lookalike, but the distinctive carved-top custom models the band uses (made in Japan, I believe) retail for about two grand. They also offer Korean versions with a list price of $699 (but offered by Music 123 for $559). It’s a cool looking-alternative to Strats and Les Pauls, but what the world really needs is a Wailers model guitar. More details at:
http://www.wilsonguitarventures.com/.

And finally, having thoroughly maligned the poor old Ventures, I offer this free plug. Their own official web site is at
http://www.theventures.com/.

3 Comments:

Blogger Cap'n Bob Napier said...

When I was a teen angel back east I had a friend who was a guitar prodigy who, at the age of 15, could play as well as most pros years older. He was a huge Ventures fan and played all their hits and some of their B sides. One of the first licks I learned was the bass part on Walk, Don't Run. I've always held The Ventures in high esteem even if I can't claim to have followed their careers after their early hits.
I'm not sure why the clean Chet Atkins sound is a negative. I'd give my left arm to play like him. Or Les Paul. Or Nokie Edwards, for that matter.
Then again, this is your blog and we tune in to hear your opinions, so go ahead and lay it on us. I'm really enjoying the discussions.

September 8, 2004 at 2:54 PM  
Blogger Dave Lewis said...

Spoken like a true East-Coaster. Maybe that's how I should think of The Ventures - closet East-Coasters itching to escape the wild and wooly world of Northwest rock.

September 8, 2004 at 6:28 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

From what I've heard, the Ventures are huge in Japan and in fact have been huge there since the 1960s. The Japanese must really like that slick pickin' style.

September 9, 2004 at 7:38 AM  

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