2016 FanFest Review by Dave Towers:
THE TOWERS TAKE!
We have now returned home after a four-week visit to the USA and I now have the time to write about the Fan fest we attended on October 1st. Carol and I would like to thank everyone for their kindness and hospitality. We made so many new friends and I was able, at last, to put faces to the many names that I already knew. May we also acknowledge the time and effort over the past year that Tom Baltaeff and his helpers contributed to make the day such a success, and also to thank the players for their interesting and varied contributions to a great day of music. The food was also very good and the caterers should receive a round of applause too, for their efforts in catering for almost 100 hungry people for both lunch and dinner.
We arrived from London on the Thursday afternoon just as the rain began and it continued through the night into Friday morning. Fan festers began arriving at the Days Inn shortly after we arrived and by early evening a small crowd had assembled in the lobby. At 9.00pm we all left for a bite to eat at Tom Jones restaurant via the ShopRite market and liquor Store for groceries and other essential supplies.
On Friday morning we were in the hotel lobby for 10.00am ready to leave for breakfast at Tom Jones’, but when we arrived at the restaurant the kitchen was out of action due to heavy rain during the night. We therefore decamped to the nearby Upland Diner where I was unable to resist their blueberry pancakes. Later we had a wander around the Chester area looking at the buildings and local architecture and realizing how different it all is compared to the West Coast. At 5.00pm a very large party had assembled in the lobby to go to the Ichiban Seafood Restaurant, which was one of the best buffets I have ever been to. Next morning, Saturday, the day of the Fan fest, there was a very early breakfast call in the lobby, but we declined as 7.15am is a little early for us. At 9.00am we all left the hotel for the Fan fest at the Kings of Columbus Hall at nearby Crum Lynne. We were early so we had a wander around the area before attendees began arriving from around 9.30am. Coffee and pastries were available for breakfast.
The proceedings began at 10.45am after opening remarks from Tom Baltaeff. The Pickniks had the unenviable task of opening the show with people coming in and with a lot of movement around the room, but they did a good job. As is ‘customary’ with Jeff Green & the rest of the band, midway
thru their opening set, they bring up Bob Spalding for a couple numbers. But this time Bob had a
‘special treat’ for all our attendies. Nine year old Danny Roberts had traveled with mom & brother
from Paint Lick, Kentucky for the day. Not only did Bob introduce Danny as “the youngest” Ventures
fan in the building, he asked Danny to man John Ramski’s drum kit for Walk, Don’t Run & Lullaby Of
The Leaves. I must say that for someone so young, Danny did ‘just fine’ with this early performance & then lent his services throughout the rest of the day as well.
There followed several groups of guitarists and drummers each playing a set of instrumentals mainly by the Ventures with one or two by the Shadows included.
A fine lunch of pizza was provided before the music restarted with John and Mathew Stapleton followed by a second set by the Pickniks featuring Bob Dowd on lead guitar. A feature of the whole day was various musicians sitting in with the current band for a few numbers.
The appearance of Bob Spalding, Les Fradkin, and Luke Griffin demonstrated to us all the capabilities of professional musicians as, with no rehearsal, they breezed effortlessly through some very difficult material like ‘Endless Dream’ and ‘Guitar Psychedelics’ that I have never heard played live before. It seemed that the music got better as the day progressed, and I thought the Pickniks played an excellent set to close the Fanfest that included some of the Ventures Japanese material that is rarely played in the USA.
Another highlight after dinner & before the cutting of the full sheet cake for dessert was the ‘almost’
hour long Q&A session with Bob Spalding, Fiona Taylor, Michael Bogle & Lucas Griffin.
Personally, I was greatly flattered to see my name on that wonderful cake, but also to hear comments by Tom Baltaeff in his closing speech, and also by Bob Spalding who spoke afterwards, in referring to me as the Ultimate Ventures Fan. It is strange, but I have never regarded myself as such and I’ve certainly never sought to attain that status. Like many of you reading this, I began learning to play guitar in 1961 when, by chance, guitar instrumentals were popular world-wide and there was plenty of tunes to pick away at. At school one day a classmate brought his guitar in. I told him I was learning to play, too, and then a third classmate said he was learning, also. So the three of us rehearsed instrumentals together for three years and when we completed our exams in 1963, we added a drummer and a vocalist and we played gigs, as we cashed in on the wave of euphoria created by the Beatles. Again, by complete chance, 1963 was exactly the right time in history to start a band. And that is what I have been doing till the present day – playing bass and double bass as a semi-professional musician in a band backing a vocalist. I’ve never played for an instrumental band.
From 1966 the Ventures became forgotten in everything else I was doing - until 1973 when I was looking through some albums outside a shop one day and was amazed to see the Ventures ‘Joy’ album in a sale. I couldn’t believe they were still going. The album sleeve gave the address of Dave Peckett who ran the Ventures Fan Club at the time. I wrote to him and I was astonished to learn of the Ventures huge success in Japan.
Chance again intervened when my parents, who had never been on an aircraft before, decided to go to LA in 1974 to visit an elderly relative. I had never travelled more than about 200 miles from home and neither had any of the family or my friends, but when my parents returned to LA for a second visit in July 1976 I decided to go too, although, unfortunately, I knew the Ventures were in Japan. I had never had any ambition to travel, but I did – for a once in a lifetime trip - and I was so completely knocked out by LA, that when Carol and I were married in the September, I persuaded her that she had to see LA, too. And so we scraped together every penny we had and we booked a flight to LA for October 1st till 19th 1977. I wrote to Dave Peckett to see if he had an address for the Ventures and he advised me to write to P.O. Box 1646, Burbank, CA 91507. So I wrote, never seriously expecting to meet the Ventures or even receive a reply. I heard nothing until the week before we were due to travel when a letter from Sonny Rivera arrived saying that during our stay only Don might be available to meet us. Well, that was better than no one, but when I rang Sonny after we arrived, she said the Ventures were in the studios for six weeks and would we like to go and join them for a day in the studios. Even more astonishing was that they were all there – Bob, Don, Joe, and Nokie too, because he was living in Tacoma, Washington at the time. When we arrived home all the money we had in the world between us was one £5 note – but we had met the Ventures.
Again, unforeseen circumstances determined what we did next. We had no intention of returning to the USA, but a relative in San Francisco wrote to ask why we had not visited her, so we went there in 1978, then another relative in Palm Springs contacted us so we went there in 1979, and so it went on. And then, in 1980, the Ventures began playing live shows in the USA. Also around that time, Gerry Woodage began asking me to collect Ventures merchandise and take it back to the UK for him to sell through his Ventures Resurgence magazine. We did this for years, firstly visiting Sonny Rivera and then Mel Taylor, which maintained a regular contact with the Ventures.
Mel Taylor always tried to dissuade me from visiting Japan by warning about the heat, humidity, the crowds of people, and the hassle of travelling. It terrified my wife, but the more Mel tried to dissuade me, the more interesting a prospect it became. So I went in 1996 for a once in a lifetime visit, as I had done in 1976 to the USA. But then, new friends in Japan began asking me to return next year, and so it went on. I never intended for all this to happen. Chance has intervened, doors have opened, unexpected opportunities have presented themselves and I’ve just taken them. I am just a semi-professional musician and it is great to be given the full run of the wonderful venues the Ventures play in Japan, because I have never played at that level myself. We have been on many tours of the USA with various bands and seen many musicians perform live, but there has always been something special about the Ventures, and in particular – they are one of the few who are still actively performing.
And so, back to the prospect of Fan fest 2017. Hopefully, we will see you all there……