Two Tacoma Legends: The Ventures and Jerry Miller

-by Gavin Wolfe

The Ventures and Jerry Miller are both very well known in the music community, but did you know they were from Tacoma, WA around the same time? Well, The Ventures are a bit older being formed in 1958 as adults while Jerry Miller got started in high school which was in the mid 1960’s. The song that kicked everything off for the Ventures was Walk Don’t Run which was released in 1960 so it begs the question, did the legendary Jerry Miller get influenced by The Ventures? Did their paths ever cross? Or even more interesting, did they both get their start in Tacoma and become wildly popular on their own? I have been listening to rock and roll my whole life, so I felt the need to solve this mystery. Let’s get into it!

The Ventures have been named “The band that launched a thousand bands” because they have been so influential so many different band’s successes. It was started by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle, former brick layers, who hit it off during a car deal decided to buy guitars from a pawn shop in Tacoma and form a band. Their newly formed band played in local bars, parties, to try and gain traction but it was not until they were recognized for their rendition of Walk Don’t Run originally by Chet Atkins that they took off. 

That record was a national success, and it made The Ventures start cranking out more music with a similar sound. They toured and came out with many more hits like “Hawaii Five-O” and “Wipe Out”. They are wildly successful in Japan and Europe in addition to the United States. In 2008 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and are still active today known as the biggest instrumental rock band in the world.

Jerry Miller with members of Moby Grape

Jerry Miller was born in 1943 and is known for his incredible guitar skills. He began playing with various bands while he attended Lincoln High School in the 60’s. To put it simply, Jerry Miller has been with many bands and has also operated as a solo musician too. One of the most notable bands he helped form in 1966 was Moby Grape. This band put out some incredible music but was disbanded too soon. It was a band that had so much potential, but it was ruined by drama and bad decisions.

Jerry Miller went on to join and form other various bands as well as play solo. He shared the stage with Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and B.B. King just to name a few. Led Zeppelin covered one of Millers songs live at one point as well. It is also important to note that in 2003, Rolling Stone’s list of 100 greatest guitarists of all time featured Miller at #68 which was one ahead of Eddie Van Halen. Eric Clapton is currently the #2 on that list and once had said that Jerry Miller is the greatest guitarist in the world. Jerry Miller still plays today and spends time back in Tacoma.

A young Jerry Miller playing with The Elegants at Lincoln High School

Everyone knows how great these two legends were, but did their paths ever cross? For the most part it seems they kept to their own sandboxes. It would have been super cool if they did some collaborations at some point but that never saw the light of day. Fear not, however, because in an interview with Jerry Miller he mentioned that he used to play his guitar while listening to the radio and watching television in order to teach himself how to play. He admitted that one of those sounds he listened to was The Ventures. So my hunch was correct; we can assume that Jerry Miller got some inspiration from the band that launched a thousand bands! Given that both of them had their start in Tacoma, I think it is absolutely fair to assume that The Ventures knew who Jerry Miller was and potentially even thought about bringing him on at some point. Although they stayed separate, it is very likely they played at the same bars in Tacoma early in their careers.

It is obvious that both The Ventures and Jerry Miller impacted the careers of many.

Eric Clapton was one of those people. He is an incredible guitarist and very famously known. Clapton was inspired by both of them citing Jerry Miller as one of the greatest guitarists in world, as mentioned previously. He has also given credit to The Ventures for obvious reasons. immy Page was another who has given both of them credit for inspiring his successes. Jimmy Page is #3 on Rolling Stone’s top 100 guitarists of all time. If anybody does not know, Jimmy Page founded Led Zeppelin and was their lead guitarist. This is also the guy that played one of Miller’s songs at the opening of a show.

When you have the #2 and #3 top guitarists of all time giving you creditor some of their success, that definitely means something. Miller and The Ventures both revolutionized the guitar but also made huge imprints on Rock and Roll. From very humble beginnings to impacting the world of music we hear today; What an incredible story from some Tacoma, Washington locals. 

Many may want to know what The Ventures and Jerry Miller are doing today and if they still visit their hometown. I am happy to say that both are still playing music and have found themselves visiting Tacoma fairly recently. Unfortunately Bob Bogle, one of the co-founders of The Ventures, passed away in 2009 at the age of 75 years old. Don Wilson is still going strong at 88 years old and remains “active” with the rest of his band. He does not play nearly as often anymore. They have visited Washington state for several shows over the past decade. Jerry Miller spends more time directly in Tacoma. He has played many small shows and mentions that between that, giving lessons for $50, and some old royalties, he is able to make a living. He actually has a show at Elks Temple in Tacoma very soon. Rock on Tacoma!

The Ventures in 2018

Interview with Jerry Miller

2017 show by Jerry Miller 

About the Author

Gavin Wolfe prepared this article as his final project for TARTS 225: Musical History of Tacoma, at the University of Washington, Tacoma. At the time he took the class in Autumn Quarter 2021, he was a senior majoring in Criminal Justice.

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