If your Christmas Spirit wants a little rock ‘n’ roll crunch, dial up The Ventures‘ version of “Jingle Bell Rock” on YouTube. It’s a sweet blend of old-school holiday cheer and powerful electric-guitar chops.
The Ventures, founded in Tacoma in 1958, became the biggest-selling instrumental rock band of all time. Their claim to fame was fiery-yet-smooth virtuosity with no singer in the spotlight — just a tough, twangy guitar taking the lead on songs like “Walk, Don’t Run” and the “Hawaii 5-0” TV theme.
Now, a new documentary called “The Ventures: Stars on Guitars” retells the story of the band, which was begun by construction workers Don Wilson and Bob Bogle — guitar lovers whose stylish, wordless tunes took them to unlikely heights in the 1960s and 1970s.
Bogle moved to Vancouver in 1986 and died here in 2009; Wilson attended the local funeral and retold some of his favorite Ventures stories, like discovering their version of “Jingle Bell Rock” on a compilation album of Elton John’s favorite Christmas songs.
The Ventures were welcomed into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, but Bogle couldn’t be there to soak up the love that came from the later guitar heroes they influenced so heavily, like Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty, who made the induction speech.
“The sound … became ‘surf music’ and the audacity of it empowered guitar players everywhere,” Fogerty said at the time. “Every guitar player on this planet knows what I’m talking about.”
Fogerty described picking apart Ventures songs with his own fledgling band, trying to figure out what made them so magical.
Wilson, who still lives in Sammamish, recently told People magazine that the label “surf” doesn’t begin to do The Ventures justice. He said the band “Venturized” everything from classical music to disco during a career that saw the lineup change but the touring schedule never really slow down, especially in Japan, where the group really caught on and went back again and again.
The Ventures released an astonishing 250 albums — studio recordings, live concerts, compilations and even instructional videos for their guitar-playing worshippers. A touring version of the band still exists but none of the original members are part of it now.
“Bob Bogle, who started The Ventures with me, was like a brother to me,” Wilson told People. “They all were — Mel Taylor, Nokie Edwards, Gerry McGee. They’re all gone now, but we will always have that bond. Forever.”
You can rent “The Ventures: Stars on Guitars” now on most streaming services.