The first electric guitar I can remember having caught my ear (at the age of 5) was the theme to the TV show Bonanza. Research tells me the song was written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, orchestrated by David Rose, and arranged by Billy May. The guitar part was played by the ubiquitous Hollywood session player Tommy Tedesco – but there’s no doubt that it was directly inspired by the then-newly-popular sound of Duane Eddy.
The next electric guitar I remember hearing was The Ventures. I wasn’t being analytical at the time, but we can hear the clear stylistic and historic connections between Duane Eddy-inspired single-note twang and the surf approach of The Ventures.
Though surf and twang were obscured for me by the British invasion and the rock that followed it, they remain the deepest part of my own guitar DNA, and have become more important to me as I’ve dug into the roots of our music.
All of which means that I was interested to hear The Ventures. I’ve had the opportunity of hearing Nokie Edwards (at NAMM and the Chet Atkins convention) – but never with a whole band, and/or not playing the music for which The Ventures are known. So I was looking forward to the band’s set at Viva.
Given my data mission to the room, and the Pool Party detour, we were late getting to The Ventures party. My first surprise, as we came into earshot of the Car Show stage, was hearing vocals. (The song was “Secret Agent Man,” which did make sense.) Other surprises? The band was downright raucous, with freely improvised leads thrown in between hooky verses, crunchy distortion in Nokie’s and bassist Bob Foley’s tone, and a way-younger-than-their-years rock attitude. This was a noisy band (in the best of ways), with genuine rock-n-roll energy.
(Disclaimer: I have no way of knowing if the aforementioned distortion was intentional, or if the band would prefer to have been ultra-clean.)
Nokie was playing the best I’ve ever heard him live; he puts a magically smooth and fluid touch into service of a deep bag of tricks, apparently effortlessly delivering leads as musically coherent and composed as the hooks of the songs. His trademark tone stood out.
Guitarist (and band spokesman) Don Wilson wielded a Jazzmaster, with a throaty gutsy jangle that fills a lot of textural space in the band. From his energy and appearance, I would have guessed him to be his 60s; I’m told he’s actually over 80. Rock and roll prematurely ages some people; it’s apparently keeping Wilson young!
Surf is nothing without great drums, and Leon Taylor (son of long-time Ventures drummer Mel Taylor) demonstrated why. Muscular, energetic, controlled, and inventive, Mel was featured not only on “Wipeout” and in innumerable short breaks, but a positively jam-band extended version of “Caravan.” (Complete with crowd-pleasing touches like a walking tour around the drum set, a cymbal-only section, and pounding out a groove with drumsticks on the the strings of Foley’s bass). Mel’s huge drum sound combined with Foley’s fat crunchy tone to create a mighty foundation.
But enough enthusiasm on my part. Check out the set and see what you think.
(Note that as my press credentials expired after Duane’s set, my location in the crowd was less than ideal for either audio or video recording, and that I missed at least half the set.)
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