“It means so much to me that my kids made this," former Ventures guitarist Don Wilson, 87, tells PEOPLE

By Scott Huver
December 08, 2020 05:35 PM
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The pioneering surf-rock band The Ventures have been an iconic presence in music and pop culture for 60 years, from their breakout hit "Walk Don't Run" to the enduring theme song to Hawaii 5-O to the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction. But the band's backstory has never been told on film until now – and it took one of the original members' children to make it come together.

The new documentary, The Ventures: Stars on Guitars, is available now on streaming and home video, telling the tale of the wildly influential group's rich and impactful status as the best-selling instrumental band of all time, having recorded more than 250 albums and over 3,000 songs. Behind the scenes, the lively tour through the band's long history was assembled by the children of the group's co-founder and sole surviving original member, guitarist Don Wilson.

"This is the first actual documentary about The Ventures, if you can believe," Wilson, 87, who retired from touring with the group just five years ago, tells PEOPLE via email. "It means so much to me that my kids made this." His son Tim Wilson and daughter Jill Fairbanks served as producers, and his daughter Staci Layne Wilson wrote and directed the film. "They all worked together and interviewed me over three different sessions to get my memories and thoughts on things. It was really great."

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The Ventures
| Credit: Courtesy Staci Wilson

"I find it baffling that over the 60-year career that this is really the first feature-length documentary," said Staci, an award-winning indie horror filmmaker and longtime entertainment journalist. "There's been a few concert films released and things, but nothing like this. So my dad is just really grateful that myself and my siblings came together to make this happen, and I'm so grateful that he's still here to see it."

Staci (whose late mother, model and writer Nancy "Bunny" Bacon appeared on the cover of the group's 1964 album Walk Don't Run, Vol. 2) tells PEOPLE that after a few well-intentioned efforts by others to put together a documentary failed to come together over the years. Finally, the family realized they could probably make it happen on their own. "My brother said, 'Well, you're a filmmaker – maybe you can do this.' But actually a documentary is so much different to make than a narrative film. I knew it would be difficult, but I didn't know exactly what I was getting myself into! But three years later, here we are."

"She really did a great job. I think the documentary really lays it out exactly as I would have, if I made movies instead of music," says Don. "It's really something else to see 60 years condensed into an hour and half!"

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Marky Ramone Don
| Credit: Courtesy Staci Wilson

Among the many facets of The Ventures that the film chronicles is how the band's distinctive sound was immediately embraced by the youthful 1960s-era surf cultures of Southern California and Hawaii, and its many electric guitar-driven hits – including "Pipeline," "Wipeout" and "Pefidia" – remain anthemic for surfers and beach partiers around the globe today.

"We never set out to be a surf band," marvels Don. "Honestly, I love playing surf music – it's very fun and it makes you feel good. But we never really considered ourselves a surf band. It was just all these things coming together – the surf culture, the electric guitar, Americana – when we were coming up in the early 1960s. Kind of a happy accident, I guess you could say. We play all kinds of music, though, including our "Venturizing" of everything from classical to disco."

The Ventures' history is filled with unique distinctions: the group became and remain today one of the most popular international acts among Japanese fans, and every decade or so the band, which toured non-stop between 1960 and 2015, would receive a boost from another pop cultural juggernaut that renewed its relevancy kept it in the spotlight – recording the Hawaii 5-O theme in the 1970s, collaborating on "Surfing and Spying" with The Go-Go's in the 1980s, Quentin Tarantino, who learned guitar from their songs in his youth, including "Surf Rider" in the top-selling soundtrack of Pulp Fiction. John Belushi so loved the song "The 2000 Pound Bee" that Dan Aykroyd lived up to a pact and had it played at his funeral.

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Credited with having an integral role in popularizing the then-revolutionary electric guitar among multiple generations of musicians – from phenomenally successful artists to amateur garage bands – The Ventures' legacy is celebrated in the film by a variety of artists to testify to their powerful impact, including Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty, Steely Dan's Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and The Ramones' Marky Ramone, as well as left-of-center admirers like actor/musician Billy Bob Thornton, Alabama's Jeff Cook, Anthrax's Scott Ian and Mission: Impossible theme composer Lalo Schrifin.

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Marky Ramone and Don Wilson
| Credit: Courtesy Staci Wilson

"I have to say, it was really something to see what other musicians have to say about me and my bandmates," said Don, who even after all these years is stunned when he finds out who’s a big fan of the Ventures. "When were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Billy Joel came up to say congratulations and to say thank you for being an influence on his piano playing. At one point, Elton John said the same thing, so, while guitar-players being influenced by us is kind of expected, there are lots of other kinds of musicians, too…That is really, really humbling."

Staci's background as an entertainment reporter came in particularly handy when assembling the all-star roster of fans. Years earlier she filmed a red carpet interview with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page in which they veered into a chat about her father's music. "Luckily I had kept that because I'm a huge Jimmy Page fan. I just kind of kept it to myself. Then as it turned out, I was able to use it for this documentary that wasn't even a glint in my eye at the time."

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The Ventures
| Credit: Staci Wilson

Similarly, she was well aware of Thornton's passionate fandom – he even recorded an unreleased album with the group – and had previously put him in touch with her father. Later, when she had an unexpected encounter with Thornton at a recent Hollywood event, "I just said, 'Hey, you want to be in the documentary?' And he goes, 'Oh yeah, set it up with my manager!' The next thing you knew, there he was in front of the camera."

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Billy Bob Thornton, Staci Wilson and Don Wilson
| Credit: Staci Wilson

Both Don and Staci admit that the documentary had strengthened their already-tight bond. "We've always been close, but we didn't talk about The Ventures and my career as much as we have in the past few years," says Don. "It's nice that my kids are honoring me this way."

"When it's your dad, it's just something you see every day, and you take it for granted," says Staci. "Being able to interview him extensively in a different capacity not just as a daughter but as a filmmaker was really fun and interesting, to listen to his stories from a more objective point of view rather than just my dad telling his stories about his life. I had a lot of fun and asked him a lot of questions that I probably wouldn't ordinarily have asked him if I weren't making the film."

"I've been into more hard rock like led Zeppelin and the Who and the Rolling Stones," she adds. "So it really made me appreciate the fact that if it weren't for The Ventures, a lot of the bands that I love may never have existed – or at least not in the way that they do…Hearing it come from someone other than my dad, like all the musicians that I interviewed, it really was an eye-opener, and it really made me have a newfound respect for The Ventures and what they did for the electric guitar."

Although he no longer tours, Don still plays in the studio with the modern lineup of The Ventures. And he misses his original bandmates. "Bob Bogle, who started The Ventures with me, was like a brother to me. They all were – Mel Taylor, Nokie Edwards, Gerry McGee. They're all gone now, but we will always have that bond. Forever."

"Also, the loyalty and love of the fans, many of whom have stuck with us since our very first album in 1960, is amazing," he adds. "They are just so close to my heart. I have kept a lot of their letters, because it means so much to me that we have meant something to them."

The Ventures: Stars On Guitars is available for rental or purchase from most prominent VOD retailers and cable services, and well as on DVD.