Nokie Edwards, the guitarist whose skills helped define the sound of the Ventures and surf rock, has died. He was 82.
With around 100 million estimated record sales, the Ventures — founded in Tacoma and known for “Walk, Don’t Run” and “Hawaii Five-O,” among other hits — are widely considered the most popular instrumental rock combo of all time.
“We are devastated to learn that Nokie has passed this morning,” the Ventures posted on their Facebook page Monday.
The Ventures website stated that Edwards died following an infection resulting from hip surgery in December. Edwards’s nephew, J.C. McCormick, said his uncle died in Yuma, Arizona.
“The Ventures family feels this loss very deeply,” the statement read. “Nokie has been part of the Ventures’ history for almost 6 decades and helped to shape the early Ventures’ sound and the success of their career.”
Ventures founders Bob Bogle and Don Wilson bought guitars and chord books on Pacific Avenue in 1958.
“It was just Dad and Bob at the time,” Wilson’s son, Tim, said Wednesday. “They called themselves the Versatones.”
By the following year, they had formed the Ventures with Edwards on bass guitar and Howie Johnson on drums. Edwards had been playing with Buck Owens.
“They saw the way (Edwards) played and thought, ‘Oh my God’,” Tim Wilson said. “They hooked up with Nokie and it kind of launched them.”
Johnson broke his neck in a car wreck in 1961 and died in 1988. Skip Moore would play drums on the band’s first hit single, and Mel Taylor would take over on drums and round out the classic lineup, with Edwards on lead guitar, in 1962. Gerry McGee would later replace Edwards in 1968.
After honing their skills at such local hot spots such as Bob’s Java Jive, they scored the No. 2 hit in the country with “Walk, Don’t Run” in 1960.
Edwards played bass guitar until switching to lead guitar in 1961.
“Nokie could play anything with strings on it,” Tim Wilson said.
The band went on to define instrumental guitar rock in the 1960s. The group charted with 38 albums between 1960 and 1972 alone.
But the Ventures’ impact could be measured in much more than record sales.
“In the early part of the ’60s I was influenced by the Ventures,” the Beach Boys’ Carl Wilson said in an interview with Guitar One magazine. “We learned how to play all of their songs just by listening to the records. So we learned how to do it by ear.”
Wilson’s son Tim said Wednesday that many well known musicians listed the Ventures as major influences on their careers. One was John Fogerty who inducted them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. The band had several lineup changes but the one officially recognized by the Hall of Fame included Edwards, Bogle, Wilson, McGee and Taylor.
The Ventures still perform but Wilson has retired from the group. He and Edwards last performed together as the Ventures during a Japan tour two years ago, Tim Wilson said.
“They’re huge in Japan,” Tim Wilson said. “They still have a giant following.”
Edwards was still performing with his band as recently as six months ago, McCormick said.
Bogle died in 2009 leaving Wilson, 85, as the last surviving original member. He was letting his son do the talking on Wednesday.
“He’s taking it really hard,” Tim said.
Born Nole Floyd Edwards on May 9, 1935 in Oklahoma, Edwards moved to Puyallup with his family as a boy.
He is survived by his wife Judy, six children, 25 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren.
Tim Wilson and McCormick said a memorial event will be held in Tacoma for Edwards but no details had been decided yet.