Kings of the Rock Instrumental: The Ventures

All about the biggest instrumental band in music history

The Ventures
The Ventures.

Who are the Ventures?

They're arguably the most famous band to never sing a note, but while they became synonymous with the surf music that started to overtake America at the same time, their signature style applies to all different types of songs, making them the one band that can cover just about anything and make it their own

Where you might have heard them If you've heard the original version of TV's "Hawaii Five-O" theme, you're familiar with them, though their sound is usually more spare and rock-oriented. "Walk -- Don't Run" remains a surf-era classic, ironically used in American Pie as Finch tries to make it to the bathroom 

The Ventures' most popular songs:

  • "Hawaii Five-O"
  • "Walk -- Don't Run"
  • "Perfidia"
  • "Ram-Bunk-Shush"
  • "Yellow Jacket" 
  • "Perfidia"
  • "Night Drive"
  • "2000 Pound Bee, Pts. 1 & 2"
  • "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" 
  • "The Cruel Sea"

Formed 1959 (Tacoma, WA)

Styles Instrumental rock, Surf, Rock and roll

Principal Members:

Bob Bogle (b. Robert Lenard Bogle, January 16, 1934, Wagoner, OK; died June 14, 2009, Vancouver, WA): bass guitar, lead guitar
Don Wilson (b. February 10, 1933, Tacoma, WA): rhythm guitar
Nokie Edwards (b. Nole Floyd Edwards, May 9, 1935, Nahoma, OK): lead guitar, bass guitar
Mel Taylor (b. September 24, 1933, New York, NY (Brooklyn); died August 11, 1996, Tarzana, CA): drums

Claims to fame:

  • The world's most popular instrumental rock group of all time
  • One of the crucial elements in the development of and popularizing of surf music
  • Have covered thousands of songs from all areas of the modern musical landscape
  • Important in popularizing the guitars/bass/drums combo as the standard for rock music
  • Helped popularize the lead guitar as a crucial component of rock and roll
  • A major influence on surf, hard rock, punk, and metal guitarists

History of the Ventures

Early years

Seattle guitarists Bob Dogle and Don Wilson originally got together, ironically enough, to cut a vocal record, an ultra-rare 45 called "Cookies and Coke" that went nowhere in 1959. The next year, however, they recorded a version of Chet Atkins' album track "Walk Don't Run," done in the new surf-rock style, and pressed it on their own Blue Horizon label, started with money from Wilson's mother. It originally went nowhere, too, but they convinced DJ Pat O'Day, of local station KJR, to use "Walk" as a lead-in to news broadcasts. Before long, local Dolton Records -- which had turned down their vocal 45 -- picked it up.


The record was an instant national smash, and the Ventures began cranking out album after album of similar instrumentals, all built around popular fads and tunes of the day -- surfing, twisting, country, whatever. At their peak they recorded five or sis albums a year, and they all sold well: 1963 saw the group with five albums in the Billboard Hot 100 simultaneously. In 1962, Howie Johnson left the group due to injuries suffered from a car accident and was replaced by session man Mel Taylor, who'd played on Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash" and other big hits of the day. This solidified their '60s lineup.

Later years

In 1969, the group scored another huge single with their version of the "Hawaii Five-O" theme, which also got its initial notice when a radio station began using it as background music in commercials for the popular CBS detective show. But by the early Seventies, their style of music had begun to wane in popularity (albeit only in their homeland). Although recognized as masters by guitar aficionados, most of their touring today centers around Europe and Japan, where they remain a wildly popular draw, with Don and Nokie still leading the group after fifty years.

More About the Ventures

Other Ventures facts and trivia:

  • Other members have included: Skip Moore, drums (1960); Howie Johnson, drums (1960-1962); Gerry McGee, guitar (1968-1972, 1985-present); John Durrill, keyboards (1969-1973); Leon Taylor, drums (1996-present)
  • "Walk Don't Run" is the only song to hit the US Top 40 in two different versions by the same band
  • "The 2000 Lb. Bee" was the first recording to use a "fuzz box" on guitar, and was played at John Belushi's funeral
  • The group has sold over 40 million records in Japan, and sold twice as many records as the Beatles there in the Sixties
  • Made four "instructional" albums, each with a different member's instrument deleted

Ventures Awards and Honors: GRAMMY Hall of Fame (2006), Pacific Northwest Hall of Fame (1999), Guitar Player Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award (1993)

The Ventures hit singles and albums:

Top 10 hits
Pop "Walk -- Don't Run" (1960), "Walk-Don't Run '64 (1964), "Hawaii Five-0" (1969)

Top 10 albums
Pop The Ventures Play Telstar, The Lonely Bull (1963), The Ventures' Christmas Album (1965)

Notable covers The group's "Spudnik" (1962) was later made famous in surf circles as the Lively Ones' "Surf Rider"; popular instrumental rockers "Man or Astro-Man?" covered "War of the Satellites" in 1995; The Shadows, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, and Everclear have all taken on the Ventures' version of "Walk -- Don't Run"

Movies and TV The Ventures composed the theme song to an ill-fated live-action TV version of "Dick Tracy" in 1967; the band also appeared on a 1965 episode of ABC-TV's musical variety show "Shindig!"