January 10, 2020

A Magical Night…Venturized

The first songs I ever learned on guitar were all by instrumental bands (even if I could sing I didn’t have a microphone or PA system) so my best friend and I played local parties as a duo featuring mostly songs by The Ventures. So you could imagine what an honor it was for me and my partner here at Amplify, Bob Lundblad, to help create an exhibit at the Grammy Museum on a retrospect of 60 years of The Ventures.

The official launch party at the Museum was Thursday January 9, 2020, and rarely have I felt such love and emotion at an event as we did that night. The outpouring was for the family members of the band and of course, the last original member, Don Wilson. Don will turn 87 this year and is still going strong.

The event kicked off with a panel discussion led by Grammy Museum Artistic Director, Scott Goldman, one of the best interviewers in the industry. Fiona Taylor, the band’s manager and widow of drummer Mel Taylor, gave insight into the history of the band while Jeff “Skunk” Baxter eloquently described what set them apart from so many other bands and why they are the greatest selling instrumental band in history. Baxter then played some unreleased tracks he had recorded with the band in the 1980’s at the peak of their talent – a lovely rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” with lead guitar by Nokie Edwards that was on par with Jeff Beck’s guitar artistry, and a version of “Runaway” with Don Wilson on lead vocals (yes they did sing occasionally) that surprised Don who happily sang along.  Runaway also featured a masterful guitar solo by Gerry McGee.

Another surprise was a heartfelt tribute on video sent by Billy Bob Thornton, not as the actor/musician, but as a true fan.

From there, the panel turned to the current touring lineup led by Bob Spalding and drummer Leon Taylor, son of Mel. They treated the audience to a performance of some of the top Ventures songs including “Hawaii 5-O” and, you guessed it, “Walk Don’t Run.”

I started working with the original Ventures exactly 25 years ago when I produced a NAMM Show event to raise money for Bonnie Raitt’s Boys & Girls Clubs music education initiative for girls. With Bonnie as the headliner, The Ventures rocked the house, and even Bonnie asked for an autograph afterwards! Joe Carducci, who brought The Ventures signature guitar and bass program to Fender that NAMM show, was also in attendance, so we came full circle. (NOTE: Don Wilson will be honored at the 2020 NAMM Show TEC Awards on Saturday night and Baxter will lead an all-star band in tribute).

Thanks to the Wilson family, Judy Edwards, Bob Bogle’s daughter Kathy Rodriguez, Fiona Taylor, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Billy Bob Thornton, the staff of the Grammy Museum, and of course, the Ventures now and then, for making this a truly once-in-a-lifetime event!

-Del Breckenfeld

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