JOINED BAND: 1958 - Co-Founder
POSITION: Rhythm Guitar, Lead Guitar, Song Writer
Donald Lee Wilson was born in Tacoma, Washington on February 10, 1933, the middle child between two sisters, Jacqueline and Sally. The family heritage was mixed -- his mother, Josie, was first generation Swedish, while his father was of Welsh and Irish extraction, though several generations of his family were born in the U.S.
Don"s early interest in music started with the big band sound and "Country and Western" music. When he was about 12 years of age, his mother showed him a few chords on the tipple (a 10-stringed instrument, tuned like a ukelele) which she knew how to play. When compared with a guitar, the tipple would be equivalent to a 12-string. Later he used to get together with neighborhood friends who knew some guitar chords, and played along with them.
Don always liked listening to the GIenn Miller Orchestra, but his idol was Tommy Dorsey because he enjoyed his mellow trombone sound. This inspired Don to take trombone lessons. In junior high school, he was still playing trombone and joined the school orchestra. In high school, however, his interest spread to sports and he was State Champion wrestler in his sophomore year at 112 lbs. Don didn"t pick up the trombone again until he went into the Army -- in the 169th Infantry, he played with the regimental band in Germany, where he was stationed for 19 months. During this time, he had an army buddy who had previously played guitar, from whom Don learned some more guitar chords.
On his return home from the army, Don went to work as a car salesman and, after meeting Bob Bogle, to whom he sold a car, they found they had a mutual interest in playing guitar, even though they only knew a few chords between them. Don began working with Bob in construction and their friendship grew. In late 1958, they bought instructional guitar books and began to practice on guitars they had purchased second-hand in a pawn shop.
After advancing their knowledge of chords and basic guitar playing, they bought two new Fender guitars (on time payments, because they couldn"t afford to buy them outright), and began playing club dates at night, while continuing to work in construction during the day. They were not first known as The Ventures, but used the name The Versatones for their early gigs. Don"s sound was heavily influenced by the styles of Les Paul, Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy.
With the help of Don"s mother, Josie Wilson, Don and Bob made a recording on their own record label, Blue Horizon, which was released locally in the Seattle/Tacoma area. They had heard a song called Walk, Don"t Run played by Chet Atkins and, using their own arrangement, they came up with the basis for what was later identified as The Ventures" sound. The tune started to get air play, and was then picked up for nationwide release by Dolton Records. Shortly thereafter, Walk Don"t Run became the #2 record in the country, selling over 2 million copies worldwide. The Ventures were on their way to becoming the world"s largest selling instrumental group of all time. Their popularity in Japan was such that, during the Beatles heyday in the 60s, The Ventures outsold them two-to-one.
JOINED BAND: 1958 - Co-Founder
POSITION: Bass Guitar, Lead Guitar, Song Writer
Robert Lenard Bogle, was born on January 16, 1934 at the rural residence of his family near Wagoner, Oklahoma. Bob lived in Oklahoma until the age of 6. His father was a farmer and the family lived on a small leased farm, with a few animals, and some basic farm equipment.
In about 1940, the family sold everything and relocated to the West Coast, first moving to California where they had a lot of difficulty finding work. They started migrating up and down the West coast doing various kinds of farm work. Bob was the second of 4 boys, and they all worked together in the fields every day, doing any kind of farm work available. During school months, they worked in the mornings before school and again in the evenings. After a few years, the family finally settled in Oregon near Portland, when Bob"s sister Sybil was born, the youngest of 5 children. Bob"s father found steady employment in a sawmill and the family was finally able to stop traveling around. By then, Bob was in his early teens.
When Bob was about 12, his older brother Clarence bought an acoustic lap-steel guitar. It had a large square neck and, as with all steel guitars, was played with a small hand-held steel bar. Bob learned to play chords almost immediately as, by holding the steel in one position and striking all the strings. it would make a perfect chord because of the way it was tuned. He soon learned to accompany himself, singing simple songs with only 3 chords, like most of the country songs of the time, and continued playing that instrument for a couple of years.
At age 15, halfway through his ninth year of school, Bob left home and started work in the construction field. At 18, he became a journeyman Brick Mason, and joined the Bricklayers Union in Portland, Oregon. Around that time, his younger brother Dennis bought a regular acoustic guitar and thought Bob how to form a few chords. When Dennis joined the Air Force a couple of years later, he left his guitar with Bob who continued to learn more chords, still accompanying himself singing. He also started to develop some lead guitar skills.
At the age of about 23, Bob had the opportunity to take a job as foreman for a construction company in Seattle, Washington. After a few months, Bob met Don Wilson who was then working as a salesman in a car lot. Don expressed an interest in finding work in construction and asked if there were any jobs with the company where Bob was employed. The two began working together, and found they had a mutual interest in the guitar. On weekends, they began to practice together, and decided to purchase electric guitars, starting with used guitars they found in a pawn shop. As they gained more musical background, they began to think of music as a potential career, and looked for more professional equipment.
Bob"s first new guitar was a Fender Stratocaster, which came with 6 lessons, a half-hour a week for 6 weeks. At his first lesson, Bob told his teacher he wanted to learn chords, so for 6 weeks the instructor taught Bob all the chords he knew - this was to be all the formal training he needed. He began to listen to guitar records and soon became influenced and inspired by the "Big Three" -- his name for Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy and Les Paul. After finding Walk, Don"t Run on a Chet Atkins album, Bob and Don decided to record the song, which almost instantly became their first world-wide hit record. Although Bob continued to play lead guitar on some songs, he switched to bass guitar a short time after the Ventures became a hit group.
Bob Bogle passed away in Vancouver, WA on June 14th, 2009 after a long and courageous battle with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
JOINED BAND: 1960
POSITION: Lead Guitar, Song Writer
Nokie Edwards (born Nole Edwards 9 May 1935, in Lahoma, Oklahoma), started playing guitar at a very early age. By his teens, he was working with Country-Western bands, including the Buck Owens band. He relocated to the Pacific Northwest, where he met Don Wilson and Bob Bogle, founders of The Ventures.
Edwards was hired by The Ventures, at first playing bass and occasional lead guitar on their earliest recordings. In 1962 following an 8-month absence from The Ventures, he returned, this time as the band"s official Lead Guitarist. Not long afterwards, the group replaced their original drummer, Howie Johnson, with Mel Taylor. The resulting classic Ventures 4-piece line-up of Bogle, Wilson, Taylor and Edwards released best-selling albums throughout the 1960"s. In 1968, Nokie left the band for the second time to pursue business in his other passion - thoroughbred race horses.
In 1969, Edwards began a solo recording career with albums released from 1969 through 1972. He returned again to The Ventures" line-up in 1972, remaining with the band until 1985, when he left again to pursue a recording career in Nashville. Bob and Don asked him if he really thought the move was in his best interest, but Nokie was set on his course, and worked for some time with David Frizzell and other Nashville-based country artists.
Since the 1990"s, Nokie has been involved with a number of Country-Western influenced projects, including recordings with Art Greenhaw and The Light Crust Doughboys of Texas: one such recording received a Grammy Award.
Towards the end of the 1990"s, The Ventures" promoters in Japan added a short tour in January of each year, in addition to the regular long summer tour. Nokie was asked to appear with The Ventures as "special guest" on Lead Guitar. Now, this has become the standard format for the winter Japan tour. Some of these shows have been recorded both on CD and DVD, including the "45th Anniversary DVD", and an Instructional DVD featuring Nokie on lead.
Nokie has also appeared on many of The Ventures" new studio recordings, since 1999. He also plays on some of The Ventures" live dates in the U.S. and Canada, in addition to pursuing his own solo career.
In addition to live music performances and recordings, Nokie has also appeared in the acclaimed television series, "Deadwood".
To some critics and fans, Nokie Edwards" best and most successful years were those he spent with The Ventures: 1960-61; 1962-68; 1972-85. His playing style is notable for its effortless musicality, and varied technical approaches: flatpick, finger-picked, and a hybrid of both styles - sometimes all in the same musical number. He can play any style with success but the discerning listener can hear his "California/country" roots in all his playing.
In addition to his solo career, Nokie once again tours with The Ventures today.
More information on Nokie can be found in his website:
JOINED BAND: 1968
POSITION: Lead Guitar, Song Writer
Gerald James McGee, known as Gerry McGee, was born in Eunice, Louisiana on November 17, 1937, into a very musical Cajun family. His father, Dennis McGee, was a pioneer of Cajun music, and was making records as a Cajun fiddler as far back as the 1920"s and 1930"s. He continued playing until shortly before his death, well into his 90"s.
In his early teens, Gerry began to play guitar. He lists his influences as Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Snow, Chet Atkins, Lefty Frizzel, Guitar Slim and B.B. King. He developed his own style influenced by his Cajun roots.
Gerry moved to Los Angeles in 1960 and began working on recording sessions shortly thereafter. He spent some time in the early 1960s doing studio work in New York City, but returned to Los Angeles in 1965. During this time, he worked with Mel Taylor"s brother, Larry Taylor (the Mole from Canned Heat). Gerry was a very sought-after musician for recordings at that time, and has an impressive list of credits. He played guitar on many of the early Monkees" albums, did sessions with Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, and others.
Gerry"s work also includes movie and TV credits, appearing in "A Star is Born" with Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand, "Heaven"s Gate", and "Convoy". On TV, he has appeared in a number of shows, including the miniseries "North and South", and the long- running show "L.A. Law". Gerry has also scored music for movies, as well as appearing in them as an actor and musician.
In 1968, Gerry joined The Ventures and toured with them in the U.S. and Japan. For the next 5 years, he also participated in writing and composing some of the most popular and acclaimed Ventures" original songs that achieved huge success in Japan, most notably "Kyoto Doll", "Reflections in a Palace Lake" and "Strangers in Midosuji". The Ventures were given the Japanese Grand Prix award for their contribution to Japanese music, based on the tremendous popularity with these hits (which are still found in almost every karaoke bar in Japan).
Gerry left the group in 1972 and, during the next decade or so, continued his career recording and touring with John Mayall, Kris Kristofferson and Dwight Yoakum among other artists. In 1985, he returned to The Ventures and has been touring and recording with them ever since, in addition to his acting and writing activities.
Since 1990, Gerry has recorded over 20 studio CDs with The Ventures, as well as numerous live albums and DVDs. He has also released several solo albums in Japan and continues to compose and score film music.
JOINED BAND: 1962
POSITION: Percussion, Song Writer
Mel Taylor was born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 24, 1933, the first child of Grace and Lawrence Taylor. His mother"s family was Russian/Eastern European Jewish, and his father"s family was from the Tennessee/North Carolina area, with English, German, Dutch and Cherokee roots. His early years were spent in Brooklyn but, in the summer of 1939, his father took him back to the family home in Johnson City, TN, for the first of many visits. His father, grandfather and uncles all played guitar or banjo, and Mel became used to music being an integral part of his life. Back in New York, he joined the Police Athletic League and excelled in the 100-yard dash. He also developed a lifelong passion for the Dodgers baseball team.
Mel"s interest in the drums began early, too. His mother remembered him banging on pots and pans with knitting needles, then drumsticks. In school, he joined the drum and bugle corps, and marched in the Macy"s parade. His inspiration came from big bands and especially Gene Krupa, whom he heard on the radio and whose style he began to copy.
In his early teens, Mel moved permanently to Tennessee where he attended high school. After trying out for the football team, he found he preferred marching in the band instead. He joined the Navy at the age of 17 and, after basic training in the Great Lakes region, was posted to Pensacola where he was assigned to a crash crew for the Navy pilots" training facility.
After leaving the Navy, Mel returned to Tennessee where he started playing music on local radio and TV shows. His younger brother, Larry Taylor (later bass player with Canned Heat), remembers that Mel played rhythm guitar and sang back-up on a rockabilly TV show in Johnson City with Eddie Skelton. He later played drums with Joe Franklin"s group, and even appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show -- or rather his arm did, as that was all anyone could see of him when the show aired! He also played guitar and sang on his own (very) early morning radio show, as "Mel Taylor and the Twilight Ramblers".
Mel moved his family, including 4 small children, out to California in 1958. During the day, Mel worked LA Grand Central Market, as a meat cutter – a trade he had learned in Tennessee. By night however, he played drums in clubs around the L.A. area and became quite sought after. Soon he was able to quit his day job, and graduate to session work in the recording studios. His early credits include "The Monster Mash" with Bobby "Boris" Pickett, "The Lonely Bull" with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (for which he was paid $10!), various cuts with Buck Owens, and many more. He also became house drummer at the famous Palomino Club in North Hollywood.
In the late 1950"s and early 1960"s everyone in the music business frequented the Palomino – and often sat in with the house band, so Mel had the opportunity to meet and play with many hit artists. One night in 1962, The Ventures came to the Palomino after doing a TV show in Hollywood, but without their drummer, so Mel obliged and played "Walk Don"t Run" with the group. Later, The Ventures asked him if he would be interested in joining them, as their original drummer was unable to travel. Shortly thereafter, they called Mel in to do some recording and, a few months later, to go on the road with them. From 1963 on, Mel became known as The Ventures" drummer, recording and performing with them for more than 32 years, traveling all over the US, to Europe and to Japan, where The Ventures" annual tour is considered a major cultural event.
In July 1996, while on tour in Japan with The Ventures, Mel was diagnosed with pneumonia, but subsequently a malignant tumor was found in his lungs. He continued to play until August 1, so that a replacement drummer could be found for the balance of the tour. On August 2, Mel returned to Los Angeles for further testing but the cancer was so fast-moving that, after less than 10 days at home, he died very suddenly on August 11. He leaves a legacy of hundreds of recordings that continue to be enjoyed by millions of fans.
JOINED BAND: 1997
POSITION: Percussion, Song Writer
Melvin Leon Taylor, known to all as Leon Taylor, was born on September 23, 1955 in Johnson City, Tennessee. When Leon was three, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Leon has lived ever since. With father Mel Taylor as mentor and teacher, Leon grew up listening to, and ultimately playing, many styles of music including The Ventures. Other influences include uncle Larry Taylor, the original bass player with Canned Heat.
Throughout his teenage years and early 20"s, Leon played with all types of bands, listening to artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Iron Butterfly, Styx and Kansas among many others, which led to his ability to adapt to any situation -- studio work, live gigs with other musician friends -- music being a huge part of his life. Leon gained experience during the 1970s playing private parties and dances, then working with Top 40 bands in the 1980s, later forming an original roots rock band, Restless Society, to play at clubs in the L.A. area. When this band reorganized, Leon"s younger brother, Michael, joined as bass player -- obviously, with the same early influences and love of music.
Over the next few years, into the early 1990s, Leon worked with his brother, recording and playing in the group IXL, further polishing his talents. He gained more insights into performing through the many dates he played, keeping his goals fixed on the future. His father, Mel, followed Leon"s career closely. In the mid-1990s, Mel mentioned that he was thinking of retiring some time in the future to work on recordings and producing other artists – he said he hoped that Leon would take over for him as drummer for The Ventures. The time came sooner than expected when Mel passed away in August 1996.
Don and Bob asked Leon if he would come into the group and, before the end of the 1996 tour in Japan, Leon traveled to Tokyo and appeared on stage with The Ventures for the last few songs of the concert, being introduced as their new drummer. The response from the packed 2600-seat house was electrifying – they took Leon to their hearts immediately! When Leon did his drum solo and even Mel"s signature tattoo on the bass guitar – the applause was unbelievable. Don remembers thinking that, when Leon started to play that evening, he had to turn around to make sure it was not Mel!
Leon has now performed with The Ventures for over 10 years, and has made the drum platform his own. He has played well over 600 shows in Japan alone, as well as dozens of concerts in the U.S., Canada, Hong Kong, and The Ventures" "Surfin" to Baja" cruise to Mexico in 2003. He is also no stranger to recordings: he has played on almost 20 studio CDs, as well as half a dozen live CDs for the Japanese market. Several of these CDs have been released in the U.S. He is also co-writer on several of the more recent Ventures" original songs.
In Japan, Leon has his own signature drumsticks, manufactured by Canopus Drums, who also build customs snare drums for Leon, as they did for Mel in the past
BOB "ZONK" SPALDING
JOINED BAND: 1981
POSITION: Bass Guitar, Lead Guitar, Song Writer
Bob Spalding"s interest in the guitar stems back to the fifties when, like most other teenagers, his ear was caught by the early rock"n"roll performances of country guitarists such as Scotty Moore and Hank Garland. It was, however, the venomous power chords and more sinister sound of Link Wray in 1959 that first made the guitar really meaningful for him. By 1961 he was playing in a local band named The Delphies with his brother Perry and a couple of friends, performing mostly Duane Eddy instrumentals – "without the key changes" – he now confesses, but it was to be the arrival of The Ventures with their rather more sophisticated approach that really provided the spark and inspiration that fuelled his dreams and ambitions.
In 1962 Bob"s family was stationed in Japan with the US military and he was lucky enough to be one of few westerners to witness The Ventures" first tour of Japan as they appeared alongside Bobby Vee and Jo Ann Campbell. I don"t think they knew it then, but Don and Bob were the real headliners of that tour even though they appeared sandwiched between Campbell and Vee."
In Japan he struggled with a few short-lived lessons on classical guitar, avidly listening and watching other guitarists to learn as much as he possibly could and making good progress. Towards the end of 1962 the family moved to Austin, Texas and Bob soon began playing professionally in the R&B bands that proliferated in that area. He would, however, always try to persuade them to play his preferred Ventures material. After a spell in Southern California while Bob undertook some college work, he returned to Austin in 1966 and then re-activated The Nomads, achieving considerable regional success with the band in central Texas.
In 1968, after military service, he returned to California to continue his college work. By night though he would be playing guitar, composing, and making demos using a small sound-on-sound recorder that allowed him to produce full-band tracks on his own. These brought him to the attention of a Hollywood publisher and producer who invited him to become part of a band that was just about to sign a record deal with Liberty. The band was Sweet Pain, a Crosby, Stills & Nash style group with fairly sophisticated vocal harmonies and instrumental arrangements. After recording two albums and one single with this band with an eponymous album released on Capitol Records during 1973, Sweet Pain disbanded and Bob returned to college to complete his degree course.
In 1972 Bob was working at a radio station when he received a call from Mel. Would he be interested in working with him on a solo album he was making for Don and Bob"s production company, and would he like to tour Japan as one of his backing band, The Dynamics? Bob"s response was "When do we leave?" Bob recorded two albums with Mel Taylor & The Dynamics, who included Gerry McGee on lead, Johnny Durrill on keys, and Bill Lincoln on bass. He also worked with Mel on some unreleased material recorded in 1973. When The Ventures began touring in the US again in 1979. As they passed through Austin during 1981, Bob was delighted to be able to re-new his friendship with the guys. The tour continued on, but midway through the dates an ailing Nokie Edwards was forced into the hospital for urgent treatment. Bob received a desperate telephone call from the band at two in the morning asking if he could fill the void. Don Wilson described it as "trial by fire" and Bob not only survived the ordeal but has been pretty much a fixture in The Ventures camp ever since.
In 1982 Bob moved back to Southern California so that he could concentrate on his work with The Ventures. Recording and occasionally touring with the band, as well as writing and arranging for them, has taken up much of the last twenty odd years. Check out the small print on those Ventures CDs and you will see that Bob has made significant contributions to Stars On Guitars, Southern All Stars 1 & 2, Seaside Story, At The Movies, Say Yes, Flying High, Mega Hits, New Depths, Walk Don"t Run 2000, Acoustic Album, Christmas Joy, and the recently released Your Hit Parade.
More information on Bob Spalding can be found at his web site: