Surf Rock/Guitar Instrumentals Part 1 – The Ventures

September 14, 2007 at 1:50 pm 2 comments

For most Americans, surf-rock guitar instrumental music is most associated with the Ventures. Along with Hank Marvin and the Shadows in England, they pretty much set the standard in this genre. By the way, Swedish surf-rock fans, I have not forgotten about the Spotnicks, who I will also cover in a future post. The Ventures certainly owe a great deal to Dick Dale, who probably deserves credit for introducing surf rock, and other instrumental guitar pioneers like Link Wray, whose release Rumble was one of the first instrumental guitar hits, and Duane Eddy.

The Ventures had 14 hits in Billboard’s Hot 100, of which five made the top 40. Their best known release, Walk Don’t Run, penned by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith, charted twice in two difference versions. The first version charted in 1960, the revised version in 1964. Their second top-40 hit was Perfidia, written in 1939 by Alberto Domínguez , which also charted in 1960.

Here is a video of them performing The Cruel Sea:

Overall the Ventures released nearly 40 top-100 albums – sometimes as many as four in one year. They were enormously popular in Japan – so much so that they outsold the Beatles 2 to 1 in the 1960’s. There was even a Japanese Ventures tribute band – quite possibly the first tribute band ever. This is a video of the tribute band:

Here are the two Ventures selections that I have arranged and recorded:

Walk Don’t Run ‘64 Stream Mp3
Perfidia Stream Mp3

Should you be familiar with the original versions, you will hopefully note that these arrangements attempt to retain consdierable fidelity to the Ventures style. However, there are a few differences.

Applicable to both of these (and actually all of my vintage instrumental arrangements so far) is that I do not use a rhythm guitar. The instrumentation is simply guitar, bass and drums. I have done this for a number of reasons, but primarily it is my personal preference for the lean sonic texture this format allows in which each instrument can be heard very clearly.

The trio format has also been favored – at least live – by many of the guitarists I admire from all styles: Eric Clapton with Cream, Brian Setzer with Stray Cats, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Johnson, Kenny Burrell, and Joe Pass – just to name a few who came to mind immediately.

You might also note in the middle section of the arrangement of Walk Don’t Run that there is a brief interlude of Ray Charles’ Hit the Road Jack. This is one of my favorite arranging tricks – to quote another song with the same chord structure.

The arrangement of Perfidia is quite faithful to the original, with the only significant change (besides the elimination of the rhythm guitar) being one verse played in the relative minor.

I encourage everyone to check out the Ventures. There are plenty of classic and more recent videos on YouTube. They were enormously influential and represent a very important piece of our rock’n’roll heritage.


Entry filed under: Guitar, Music, Oldies, Ventures, Vintage Instrumentals.

British Invasion Songwriting Top-40 Jazz

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lucy Lawful  |  October 1, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    If you say so.

  • 2. shufflocity  |  October 1, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    Well, I certainly believe they were both influential and important. The Ventures are on the list of 2008 nominees for the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. They sold over 90 million albums worldwide. Plus, I like the music. 😀


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