Nokie Edwards, Lead Guitarist With The Ventures, Dies at 82

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Bob Bogle, Nokie Edwards, Mel Taylor and Don Wilson of The Ventures pose for a portrait in 1961. 

Nokie Edwards, lead guitarist with Hall of Fame-inducted instrumental rock combo The Ventures, died Monday (March 12) following complications with hip surgery. He was 82.

Edwards and Co. were as influential as they were prolific, recording 37 albums in the twelve years to 1972, and enjoying hits with their version of Johnny Smith's​ “Walk—Don’t Run,” the theme to “Hawaii Five-O,” and “Perfidia,” among many others. 

Guitar Player magazine dubbed the alternative rock act “the quintessential guitar combo of the pre-Beatles era, [who] influenced not only styles, but also a generation’s choice of instruments.” The Encyclopaedia Britannica described The Ventures as a “prototype for guitar-based rock groups." Even George Harrison was a fan. 

Born into a musical family on May 9, 1935 in Lahoma, Oklahoma, Edwards was playing stringed instruments at age 5. The band got its start in Tacoma, Washington in 1958 when core members Bob Bogle (initially on lead guitar) and Don Wilson (rhythm) came together with Edwards and drummer Howie Johnson. Early on, Edwards played bass before switching to lead with the new group, which was known as the Impacts and then Versatones, before they agreed on the Ventures. 

The Ventures explored their musical boundaries through the ‘60s and tapped into surf-music and psychedelic rock. They even made recordings exclusively for the Japanese market, as “they are highly revered in that country, even outselling the Beatles there in their heyday,” according to the Recording Academy.

Edwards left the band in 1968 to pursue a solo career. During the next four years he recorded several solo albums, before returning to the Ventures in 1972, where he remained until late 1984 when he would leave once more to follow a music career in Nashville, Tennessee. The guitarist had been active on the live circuit until recently, and he would occasionally join The Ventures (currently led by Wilson) for concerts.

Away from the studio and stage, Edwards appeared in the series Deadwood, playing the mysterious friend of Wild Bill Hickok.

All told, The Ventures placed 28 albums in the Billboard 200 and 14 tracks on the Billboard Hot 100, led by “Walk—Don’t Run,” which hit No. 2 in 1960, and the surf-rock classic “Hawaii Five-O” which reached No. 4 in 1969 (an update on "Walk-Don't Run" hit No. 8 in 1964).

In 2008, Edwards and the Ventures were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with John Fogerty as their presenter. "Walk—Don’t Run," recounted Fogerty at the Rock Hall ceremony, became “‘surf music,’ and the audacity of it empowered guitarists everywhere.’’

Edwards' death was announced on the Ventures' official website, and was accompanied by a statement that read: "The Ventures' family feels this loss very deeply.” Edwards “has been part of the Ventures' history for almost six decades and helped to shape the early Ventures' sound and the success of their career," the message added. "He was an innovator and one of the greats on guitar, so much so that he influenced many young players over the course of his career."