BOB SPALDING – THE FIFTH VENTURE
They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps and, if that is so, then Bob Spalding is a musician whose credentials have been established at the very highest level. Bob's association with The Ventures stretches back some thirty years, during which time he has developed the chameleon-like ability to play unerringly in the style of Nokie Edwards, Gerry McGee, Bob Bogle and Don Wilson as and when required. In fact he has deputised for them all, both in the studio and out on the road, and Don Wilson affectionately refers to him as the Fifth Venture. Bob Bogle also wryly observes that, given sufficient rehearsal time, he may be able to stand-in for Leon Taylor on the drums too!
Bob’s interest in the guitar stems back to the fifties when, like most other teenagers, his ear was caught by the early rock’n’roll performances of country guitarists such as Scotty Moore and Hank Garland. It was, however, the venomous power chords and more sinister sound of Link Wray in 1959 that first made the guitar really meaningful for him. By 1961 he was playing in a local band named The Delphies with his brother Perry and a couple of friends, performing mostly Duane Eddy instrumentals – “without the key changes” – he now confesses! Another early guitar influence was Dave Yorko of Johnny & The Hurricanes, but it was to be the arrival of The Ventures with their rather more sophisticated approach that really provided the spark and inspiration that fuelled his dreams and ambitions.
In 1962 Bob’s family was stationed in Japan with the US military and he was lucky enough to be one of very few westerners to witness The Ventures’ first tour of Japan as they appeared alongside Bobby Vee and Jo Ann Campbell. “I remember Don and Bob marching out on stage in their grey shark-skin suits and completely mesmerising the crowd with Walk Don’t Run” Bob recalled. “They also did The McCoy, Yellow Bird, Hats Off To Larry and finished with Perfidia which drove the audience crazy again. What struck me most was that they played perfectly, and even though there were only two of them they sounded just like their records. I don’t think they knew it then, but Don and Bob were the real headliners of that tour even though they appeared sandwiched between Campbell and Vee.”
In Japan he struggled with a few short-lived lessons on classical guitar, avidly listening and watching other guitarists to learn as much as he possibly could and making good progress. Towards the end of 1962 the family moved to Austin, Texas and Bob soon began playing professionally in the R&B bands that proliferated in that area. He would, however, always try to persuade them to play his preferred Ventures material. In 1964 he made his first recordings with The Nomads, a band he formed with his brother Perry on drums and two school friends. They cut several demos in a small two-track studio in downtown Austin but unfortunately none saw commercial release. After a spell in Southern California while Bob undertook some college work, he returned to Austin in 1966 and then re-activated The Nomads, achieving considerable regional success with the band in central Texas.
In 1968, after military service, he returned to California to continue his college work. By night though he would be playing guitar, composing, and making demos using a small sound-on-sound recorder that allowed him to produce full-band tracks on his own. These brought him to the attention of a Hollywood publisher and producer who invited him to become part of a band who were then just about to sign a record deal with Liberty. The band was Sweet Pain, a Crosby, Stills & Nash style group with fairly sophisticated vocal harmonies and instrumental arrangements. Bob recorded two albums and one single, titled Timber Gibbs, with this band and an eponymous album was released on Capitol Records during 1970. Shortly afterwards, in 1972, Sweet Pain disbanded and Bob returned to college to complete his degree course.
Whilst resident in California he also undertook a wide variety of session jobs which really broadened his experience, including playing back-up guitar for Chuck Berry, bass for country fiddler Doug Kershaw, backup for jazz guitarist Gabor Zabo, as well as working with producers such as Nick Venet and Frank Slay. His most significant liaison though was with Mel Taylor and Bob Bogle at the old Liberty offices on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard. Billy Roberts, head of album projects at United Artists, had made The Ventures aware that one of the members of their hot new signing, Sweet Pain, was a major Ventures fan. With this introduction, Mel went to see Sweet Pain play a couple of times and, in response, Bob was invited along to the studio to see The Ventures at work. He was lucky enough to attend some rehearsals, and even participate in arrangement ideas for a few of the tracks that would end up on the Shaft album.
In fact Bob had met Nokie Edwards before. During his army days he had been stationed at Fort Lewis which was located just outside of Tacoma. He was playing in a small band when he heard on the musicians’ grapevine that there was a legendary guitarist playing at the nearby Circle Club. When he discovered that it was Nokie Edwards he and his now wife Artie got straight down there. Much to their frustration they wouldn’t let them in because twenty year old Artie was judged to be underage. Bob recalled, “I said we were just there to see Nokie and, much to my amazement, they went and got him! He came out and we introduced ourselves and he took us in as his guests. He was very nice to us and we watched two sets of his incredible guitar playing. Even though he was with a group that was doing covers of hits and country songs, his playing was mesmerising and he sounded just like he did on The Ventures records. It was an incredible experience.”
In 1972 Bob was working at a radio station when he received a call from Mel. Would he be interested in working with him on a solo album he was making for Don and Bob’s production company, and would he like to tour Japan as one of his backing band, The Dynamics? Bob’s response was “When do we leave?” Bob recorded two albums with Mel Taylor & The Dynamics, who included Gerry McGee on lead, Johnny Durrill on keys, and Bill Lincoln on bass. He also worked with Mel on some unreleased material cut in 1973.
In 1974 Bob temporarily dropped out of the music business and moved back to Texas. However, Mel and he kept in touch and, when The Ventures were re-activated in 1979 and passed through Austin on tour during 1981, Bob was delighted to be able to re-new his friendship with the guys. The tour continued on, but midway through the dates an ailing Nokie Edwards was forced into hospital for urgent treatment. Bob received a desperate telephone call from the band at two in the morning asking if he could fill the void. Don Wilson described it as “trial by fire” and Bob not only survived the ordeal but has been pretty much a fixture in The Ventures camp ever since.
In 1982 Bob moved back to Southern California so that he could concentrate on his work with The Ventures. Recording and occasionally touring with the band, as well as writing and arranging for them, has taken up much of the last twenty odd years. Check out the small print on those Ventures CDs and you will see that Bob has made significant contributions to Stars On Guitars, Southern All Stars 1 & 2, Seaside Story, At The Movies, Say Yes, Flying High, Mega Hits, New Depths, Walk Don’t Run 2000, Acoustic Album, Christmas Joy, and the recently released Your Hit Parade. Bob is actively involved in the recording process and is variously featured on lead, rhythm and bass. So that nice Nokie or Gerry lick, pulsing bass line from Bob, or dextrous rhythm from Don that you so much admired, may well have actually been Bob Spalding.
Much of the material featured on his 5th Venture CD was recorded in 1990’s and first released on cassette under the title of “The World Is A Curious Place”. I think that most of us who have been here for a while can testify to the truth of that. Here Bob plays all of the instruments, including keyboards, and also co-produces along with Greg Kirk. It’s a real delight for us Ventures fans as Bob works in a succession of affectionate nods to our heroes in his skilful arrangements. Try Stormy Weather with its borrowed introductory lead line from The Ventures’ arrangement of Home, or Tsunami – a rockin’ re-vamp of Driving Guitars – and even a reggae version of Diamond Head! Another big influence on Bob is Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler. You can hear this on Bob’s own composition Rachel, and also on the introduction to Walk Don’t Run. As a special bonus, extra tracks have been added to this CD and some of these feature the celebrated talents of Don, Bob and Mel playing alongside our versatile protagonist.
Bob Spalding has languished in the shadows for far too long. He now takes his rightful place out there in the spotlight at the front of the stage.
Dave Burke & Alan Taylor