ARCHIVE: Ventures are ALIVE at Asbury Lanes

bogle_loOriginally published in the Asbury Park Press, March 24, 2006

There’s classic rock — and then there’s The Ventures.

A band that dropped its first record when Ike was still using the Oval Office as a putting green, The Ventures hail from a time when instrumental pop combos were not uncommon on the jukeboxes of a still-young nation; an era when a wordlessly workshopped single like “Walk, Don’t Run” could pick up a head of regional steam and seemingly come from left field to take the country (or, in this case, the world) by storm. With most of its pedigreed lineup intact, the only band to have ever landed an instructional album on the Billboard charts is approaching a jaw-dropping fifty years as a touring, recording, boundary-busting force of musical nature — a fact that adds an extra layer of meaning to the title of their latest release, “A-Live Five-O” (on the classically-inclined Varese Sarabande label).

There’s Big In Japan — and then there’s The Ventures.

With an instantly familiar guitar-based sound that crosses cultures as effortlessly as it does continents, The Ventures have a special something that never gets lost in translation — witness Japan, where the band first played in 1961 (and to whose shores they’re said to have introduced the electric guitar). Boasting over 50 million records sold to a fanbase that spans three generations — and an official tribute band based in every city — the group has made the land of the rising sun their own “Venture Capital” away from home; writing and releasing songs geared specifically to the Nippon market (where, with Japanese lyrics added, several have gone on to become absolute “standards” in every karaoke bar in the country), touring and issuing releases twice a year, and being honored by Japan’s Foreign Ministry for their important contributions to Japanese-American relations (the only pop performers so recognized).

There’s trend versus tradition — and then there’s The Ventures.

A pop-cultural institution that simply renders moot any notion of Hip or Square — with a massive catalog that not only features titles like “Ventures Play the Carpenters” and “Hollywood Metal Dynamic 3000;” but includes “Joy” (an album of classics by Bach, Beethoven and company) and “Rocky Road” (a disco platter that they’d probably like to erase from history) — The Ventures have kept their famous chops razor-sharp by investigating and mastering every fad, every flavor, every fleeting permutation of the rock blueprint; turning it around into something timeless by dint of their own indisputable imprimatur. They’re the guys that rightfully proclaim themselves “America’s musical ambassadors to the non-English speaking world;” the traveling kings of a seemingly never-ending road — a road that takes them back to New Jersey for the first time in eight years, for a weekend whistle-stop at the Asbury Lanes.

It’s the first jaunt to the Shore in some time for these popularizers of the surf sound (their last Jersey gig took place at Sayreville’s now-defunct Club Bene), and, according to rhythm guitarist Don Wilson, “ We don’t want to get too far from our Sixties thing…we’re out to prove to the younger crowd that Sixties music is always fun; always enjoyable.”

At 73 years young, California-bred, Seattle-based Wilson is one of two septuagenarian founding Ventures playing on the current domestic mini-tour (the other is legendary lead guitarist Nokie Edwards). With fellow charter member Bob Bogle having retired from touring, longtime “fifth Venture” Bob Spalding — himself a vital part of the band for over thirty years — anchors the rhythm section on bass and provides the much-needed “Bob” factor. At a mere 50 years of age, drummer Leon Taylor would seem to be the odd man out — until you consider that he assumed his place at the kit from his father, original Venture Mel Taylor; thereby carrying the group’s proud bloodline in a world that’s too full of impostor “oldies” acts.

Declaring that “we like to diversify…not just for the audience’s sake but for ourselves,” Wilson imparts that fans can expect to hear the hits (including the aforementioned “Walk,” “Pipeline,” “Apache” and the theme from “Hawaii Five-O,” now newly familiar to fans of “Madagascar”) along with some surprises during Saturday night’s show at the Lanes — which, by the way, is one of the last major events booked by Meldon Von Riper Stultz (who recently resigned as manager at the 60’s-vintage circuitside bowl-o-drome) since the venue’s transformation into an atom-age alternative cultural center.

No stranger to bowling alley bandstands, the frequent flyer recalls the early days of drive-ins, Moose lodges and other golden-age gigs as a genuine proving ground for the combo that “launched five thousand garage bands.”

“You tend to remember the tours when you had car trouble,” the guitarist laughs. “Six guys in a car, pulling a trailer for 400 miles…still, with over 400 albums out there, we must be doing something right.”

Another thing they’ve done right across the decades is maintain a solid friendship and professional partnership that Wilson maintains is based on a policy of “no bickering…we don’t step on each other’s toes, we don’t push each other’s buttons…although after 47 years, we know where all the buttons are!”