Bob Spalding

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Bob Spalding
Bob Spalding photo courtesy of The Ventures.

More than 60 years since their inception, The Ventures are still a rockin’ band, featuring longtime guitarist/bassist Bob Spalding and drummer Leon Taylor (son of original drummer Mel Taylor) plus the guitar/bass team of Ian Spalding and Luke Griffin. Their latest is the cosmic concept album New Space, retaining their timeless “instro” sound. We checked in with Bob as lift-off approached.

People often confuse the Ventures instrumental rock with California surf rock.
The early Ventures recordings, from 1960 to ’62, predated surf – “Walk, Don’t Run,” “Perfidia” and “Ram-Bunk-Shush” – by a couple of years. That sound began with instrumental groups from Southern California; in response, the Ventures released Surfin’ with instrumentals like “Pipeline” and “The Ninth Wave,” but then moved on, stylistically, to concept albums – psychedelic, hard rock, easy listening, even classical and movie themes.

Did you discover The Ventures as a teenager?
Before The Ventures, I was mesmerized by the sound of Elvis guitarists Scotty Moore and Hank Garland. Also, my older brother had Link Wray’s “Raw-Hide.” When “Walk, Don’t Run” was released, I was really drawn to their playing and was fortunate to attend a rock-and-roll show with Bobby Vee, Jo Ann Campbell, and The Ventures. In my mind The Ventures stole the show even though it was just Don Wilson and Bob Bogle playing Jazzmasters. That was the moment I told myself, “That’s what I want to do.”

Which guitars, amps, and effects did you and Ian use on New Space?
We used Jazzmasters. Ian did some additional recording with a Fender baritone, tuned B to B. I also used my Hallmark signature guitar, a Recording King lap steel with C6 tuning, and a Washburn B-17 banjo in G tuning. I had an ancient DOD wah/volume pedal and Hallmark Fuzz Blender.

“Moon Base Drive” really nails that Ventures mojo. What’s the secret?
First and foremost is an attractive, engaging melody. Second, there’s the eighth notes for the rhythm guitar, to give it that “Ventures” drive. Third – and most-challenging – is making an arrangement that will keep listeners’ interest through the entire song.

Which effects do we hear on “The Alien”?
I became fascinated with the sound of Lonnie Mack some years ago. He used a combination of the vibrato arm on his Gibson Flying V and unique vibrato settings on a Magnatone amp. I figured out that vibrato was electronically different than tremolo. I wanted to get that vibrato kind of sound on “The Alien” because it had to sound like outer space – without being goofy. Luckily, I found a pedal we used for many leads and intros – a TC Electronic Shaker vibrato. I played the wah passage on the last verse using the DOD FX-17.

The Ventures have a rabid following in Japan. Without those fans, would The Ventures have survived?
That’s an interesting question. The only observation I can make is they influenced a whole generation of young people in the U.S., Canada, and Europe during the ’60s to play an electric guitar and form a band. In Japan, they did the same thing, which had a profound influence on the music culture there.

Touring in Japan is a real experience. We play cultural theaters that seat anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000.

When you played Ventures gigs with the late Nokie Edwards, you played guitar on “Walk, Don’t Run,” while Nokie played bass.
I’ve always been able to play in the style of Bob Bogle using the Jazzmaster vibrato. When we played live, Don wanted to keep the songs in their original form as much as possible, so I was drafted to play the Bob-style leads. Nokie was okay with playing bass on those songs. Also, at that time he was playing completely with a thumbpick, which is difficult to use for double, alternate picking.

How would you describe the guitar styles of Nokie, Bob, and Gerry McGee.
Bob was the most unique guitar player I’ve ever known, and had the most incredible sense of tone and expression. When I first heard “Walk, Don’t Run” I thought the lead was played on a steel guitar. Nokie had an uncanny ability to play guitar in ways that none of us today can understand or duplicate. Gerry was a gifted guitarist; his style was difficult to emulate, which kept him in demand as a studio musician. Gerry’s Southern-blues style also changed the character of the Ventures, though I believe my style gravitates toward Bob and Nokie. I’m most comfortable playing in their styles – perhaps that gives me my own style.

This article originally appeared in VG’s October 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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