In 1960, a 12-year-old kid named Jeff Baxter was so enamored with the instrumental rock 'n' roll of the Ventures that he wrote a letter to the group's fan club in Seattle. As a budding guitarist about to buy his first instrument, Jeff wanted to know what type of guitar Nokie Edwards had used to play those sizzling, reverb-laden leads on such hits as "Walk--Don't Run" and "Perfidia."
The guitar was a Fender, Edwards answered, and the young fan rushed right out and bought one. Thus began the career of a man who, in the 1970s, became a key member of first Steely Dan and then the Doobie Brothers, two of the decade's most popular American rock groups.
Baxter, or "Skunk," as he's known to his friends, is just one of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of notable musicians inspired by the Ventures--harbingers, kingpins, and survivors of the so-called "surf rock" boom of the early 1960s. In a recent issue of Guitar Player magazine, the band was described as "the quintessential guitar combo of the pre-Beatles era (who) influenced not only styles, but a generation's choice of instruments."
The Ventures are now about to record their first album of new material in nearly 10 years, and will be joined in the studio by an all-star cast of their former disciples. Among them, such guitar luminaries as Ry Cooder, Albert Lee, David Lindley, Elliot Randall and Joe Walsh. And producing the album will be Jeff Baxter.
"Together with Jeff, we assembled a long list of well-known musicians who have said, at one time or another, that they've been influenced by our group," Ventures drummer Mel Taylor said by phone from his Los Angeles home. Along with the rest of the band, he'll be in town Thursday for a concert at the Bacchanal nightclub in Kearny Mesa.
"Jeff began contacting them a few months ago to see if they'd join us in the studio for our new album," Taylor said. "Several of them have already said yes, and we're still waiting for responses
from people like George Harrison, John Fogerty and Steve Miller--all of whom have mentioned the Ventures in newspaper, magazine or radio interviews."
Although musicians won't be able to pay homage to the Ventures until the recording sessions begin later this summer, the public has consistently done so from the early '60s. The group has sold more than 85 million records worldwide and it continues to wield considerable clout at the box office.
"We're hanging in there, pumping out all our old songs and some new ones, and people just seem to love it," Taylor said. "Not only are our fans from the 1960s coming out, they're bringing along their kids, and they all like what we're doing. We intend to keep on playing as long as we can and as long as they want us out there. And, right now, it looks as though we could go on for another hundred years."
Alligator Records of Chicago has just released the second album by San Diego's The Paladins, titled "Years Since Yesterday." Years since yesterday, indeed. By cleverly grafting the bud of rockabilly to the stem of blues, this back-to-basics trio has once again come up with an earthy hybrid of gut-slamming American "roots rock" certain to make you shake, rattle and roll the way teen-age sock-hoppers shook, rattled and rolled in the 1950s.
The album contains five originals and five covers--including Cornelius Green's "She's Fine" and Titus Turner's "Going Down to Big Mary's"--that showcase the piercing leads and scatting riffs of guitarist Dave Gonzales and the thumping rhythms of upright bassist Thomas Yearsley and drummer Scott Campbell.
The Paladins emerged in the late 1970s as a quartet, playing straight rockabilly and gradually building a sizable following in San Diego nightclubs. In 1984, they trimmed down to a trio and, a year later, took off for Texas. There, they caught the ears of Kim Wilson, singer and harmonica player with blues revivalists the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Wilson promptly took The Paladins into an Austin recording studio and steered them down a more bluesy path. He produced several tracks for the band, some of which found their way onto the group's 1987 debut album on Wrestler Records.
Since then, The Paladins have been touring relentlessly throughout the United States and Canada, either on their own or as openers for the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Los Lobos and Stevie Ray Vaughn. They return to San Diego for a concert July 22 at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.
TIME PASSAGES: Singer Mel Torme's concert Saturday night at Sea World's Nautilus Amphitheater is the only pop show in recent memory to offer a senior discount at the box office. The regular ticket price is $21; for those 55 and up, it's $18. Torme, by the way, is 62, and has been singing professionally since he was 4.
STUMBLIN' IN: British rhythm-and-blues guitarist Spencer Davis at the Belly Up Tavern, where he joined local tropical dance band Borracho y Loco for an encore version of "Gimme Some Lovin'," a big hit for the Spencer Davis Group (featuring singer Steve Winwood) in 1967.
BITS AND PIECES: Tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, a protege of the great Thelonious Monk, will be appearing Friday and Saturday nights at the Bella Via nightclub in Cardiff. . . . Tickets go on sale Saturday for pop vocal group Manhattan Transfer's Aug. 12 show at San Diego State University's Open Air Theater. . . . Just added to the OAT's summer concert line-up: ex-Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry, Sept. 16.