Don Wilson, co-founder of rock band The Ventures, has died



Don Wilson, co-founder of rock legends The Ventures, pictured in 2008, the same day the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Peter Haley / The Newsstand


Tacoma’s original rock and roller is dead, but the music lives on.

Don Wilson, co-founder and rhythm guitarist of The Ventures, died of natural causes Saturday in Tacoma at age 88, surrounded by his four children, according to a statement from his son Tim.

“Our dad was an amazing rhythm guitarist who touched people all over the world with his band, The Ventures,” said Tim Wilson. “He will go down in history forever and was much loved and appreciated. He will be missed.”

With around 100 million record sales, the Ventures set the standard for instrumental guitar rock in the 1960s and 1970s.

Their hits included the instantly recognizable riff of “Walk, Don’t Run” and the equally familiar theme song of “Hawaii Five-O”. These songs and others propelled their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. Some rock historians and critics felt the honor was long overdue.

Ventures founders Bob Bogle and Wilson were bricklayers when they purchased guitars and chord books at a Tacoma’s Pacific Avenue pawnshop in 1958.

“They were just really cheap guitars,” Wilson recalled. “They are not very well tuned. But we wanted to learn.

The following year they had formed the Ventures, adding Nokie Edwards on bass and Howie Johnson on drums.

Wilson recalled the first time he and Bogle met Edwards.

“God, we thought, he’s really good,” Wilson said. “And we asked him when we went into the studio to cut ‘Walk Don’t Run’ if he would play bass.”

Johnson broke his neck in a car accident in 1961 and died in 1988. Skip Moore played drums on “Walk Don’t Run”, and Mel Taylor took over on drums and completed the classical formation, with Edwards on lead guitar, in 1962.

The group scored the No. 2 hit in the country with “Walk, Don’t Run” in 1960.

On April 26, 1960, members of Tacoma-based rock band “The Ventures” modeled their clean rock look with matching blazers, ties and khakis for photographers at Richards Studio in Tacoma. The fresh-faced young musicians, (left to right) Nole F. (Nokie) Edwards, Bob Bogle, Howie Johnson and Don Wilson, posed with their shiny new Fender guitars for one of their first photo shoots. Studio Richards collection

Wilson said the Ventures were one of the first hitmakers to have a four-piece band.

“All the other musicians around said, ‘Aren’t you going into the studio without a keyboard or a saxophone?’ I said, “Well, we wouldn’t be if I knew one,” Wilson recalled.

The Ventures’ inexperience was part of the groups’ distinctive sound, Wilson said.

“(At the time) I had never heard of Dick Dale,” he said, referring to another leader of the surfing genre of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

“(Bogle) had his own sound. I don’t know how it developed; it was just a natural thing for him,” Wilson said.

One of those trademarks is what Wilson calls the “teke-teke-teke” guitar sound.

“Bob, when he was playing bass and Nokie was in the lead, he found that,” Wilson said.

Bogle died in 2009 and Edwards died in 2018, leaving Wilson as the only surviving original member of the group.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, 38 of the band’s albums charted in the United States, ranking them #6 on the top albums of the 1960s. The band had 14 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. With more than 100 million records sold, the Ventures are the best-selling instrumental group of all time.

A short essay on Rock and Roll Hall of Fame explains why The Ventures is important:

“The band’s influence spanned from fledgling surf music to British Invasion, garage rock, psychedelia, heavy metal, new wave and beyond.”

Bob Spalding, left, and Don Wilson of The Ventures perform during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York, Monday, March 10, 2008. The Ventures are among the acts inducted into the Hall of Fame. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow) XMIT ORG: NYHA113 Jason DeCrow PA

Rock legend John Fogerty officially inducted the band in 2008, noting the effect the Ventures had on musicians who followed.

“The sound became surf music, and its boldness empowered guitarists everywhere,” he said.

The band continued to perform through numerous lineup changes, but Wilson was the only consistent member throughout and never missed a tour until his retirement in 2015, according to the family statement released on Saturday. He continued to record with The Ventures’ current lineup, and he, along with his family, produced a documentary film, “The Ventures: Stars on Guitars” (2020).

Information about the memorial service has yet to be announced.

Information from the News Tribune archives is included in this report.

This story was originally published January 22, 2022 5:39 p.m.


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