The Ventures inducted into The Rock Hall of Fame

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By Sandra Hale Schulman
News From Indian Country 4-08

On March 10 The Ventures, and their Native member Nokie Edwards, universally recognized as one of the world’s premier guitarists, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a ceremony at the Waldorf in New York City.

The show will be broadcast on television at a later date.

He was born Nole Edwards in 1935 in Lahoma, Oklahoma, hence the nickname, “Nokie” which was given to him by his father, Elbert. Nokie’s mother, Nannie, was Cherokee, and Nokie is proud of his Cherokee heritage.

The Ventures are the most successful instrumental combo in rock and roll history. They also rank among its most prolific bands, too. They’re best remembered for a pair of Sixties smashes, “Walk – Don’t Run” and “Hawaii Five-O.” Yet their most impressive feat was charting 38 albums from 1960 to 1972. The Ventures’ “big guitar sound” made them an instrumental institution in the Sixties, and they’ve remained an in-demand working unit down the decades. Guitar Player magazine called them “the quintessential guitar combo of the pre-Beatles era, [who] influenced not only styles, but also a generation’s choice of instruments.

The Ventures’ nucleus came together in 1958, when Don Wilson and Bob Bogle met on a car lot in Tacoma, Washington. The two guitarists played as a duo before hooking up with guitarist/bassist Nokie Edwards and drummer Howie Johnson. They performed as the Impacts and the Versatones before settling on the Ventures. “We were venturing into a different style of music, and the name would give us room to expand,” Wilson told journalist Robert J. Dalley. The Ventures self-released two singles on their Blue Horizon label, including “Walk – Don’t Run,” released in 1960. When that song became popular on local radio stations, Seattle-based Dolton Records (a Liberty affiliate) signed the group and reissued the single. It became a #2 national hit, and an instrumental standard, selling 2 million copies. A new version, retitled “Walk – Don’t Run ’64 and done in a surf-guitar style, also made the Top Ten.

The Ventures kept abreast of the latest hits, cutting instrumental versions while they were still fresh in the public’s mind. In addition, the Ventures came up with unifying album concepts that were unique and timely. Ventures in Space (1963) consisted of space-themed songs around the time NASA was firing up the public’s imagination. Every song on The Colorful Ventures (1961) had a color in its title. Their collection of seasonal music, The Ventures’ Christmas Album (1965), charted annually for four years.

The group ventured into any musical area that grabbed their fancy. They tapped into the surf-music craze with Surfing (1963). When rock went psychedelic, they cut a brace of albums – Guitar Freakout, Super Psychedelics, Flights of Fantasy and Underground Fire – in that sonically expressive style. The Ventures even cut material exclusively for the Japanese market, as they are highly revered in that country, even outselling the Beatles there in their heyday. The group became paragons of pop culture and foremost ambassadors of the electric guitar in Japan.

Recalling their 1965 tour, Don Wilson told Goldmine, “It seemed like every group in Japan knew only our songs. If a group played 100 songs, they were all Ventures songs.” The Ventures were eventually accorded the Grand Prix award for their contributions to Japanese music.

The Ventures’ startling, horn-filled arrangement of the “Hawaii Five-O” theme returned them to the Top Five in 1969. Although it was their last major hit, the group continued to chart albums through 1972s Joy/The Ventures Play the Classics. Even after dropping off the American charts, the Ventures maintained a flourishing career as touring and recording artists, and they remain especially popular in Europe and Japan – as well as among surf-music aficionados on the West Coast – to this day.

There have been relatively few personnel changes since the group’s inception. Original drummer Howie Johnson broke his neck in a 1961 car accident and was unable to handle extensive touring. Mel Taylor replaced him in 1962. This cemented the classic Ventures lineup of Don Wilson, Bob Bogle, Nokie Edwards and Mel Taylor. In 1968 Edwards left to go solo and was replaced on lead guitar by Gerry McGee. Edwards returned to the fold in 1972 and remained until late 1984. Once again, he was replaced by McGee, who remains with the group and continues to tour with them in Japan. Bob Bogle retired from touring in December 2004 and was replaced by Bob Spalding.

Today’s lineup comprises Don Wilson, Bob Spalding (who first appeared live with the group in 1981), Gerry McGee, and Leon Taylor (who replaced his late father Mel in 1996). Nokie Edwards still joins them on selected dates.

Nokie’s Roots

Nokie learned how to play guitar at the age of five; by the age of eleven he could play all string instruments. He turned professional at the age of twelve when he performed on a country station in Idaho. Nokie’s family then moved to Washington State where he played regularly at community fairs and festivals, including landing the coveted role as a featured performer at the historical “Ezra Meeker Days” festival in Puyallup, Washington. When Nokie turned seventeen, he went to Oregon were he played in dance halls. His guitar virtuosity was unmatched and unprecedented; he was making $300.00 a week while others were making $75.00 a week. Before eighteen he was given a raise to $350.00 a week. For the next few years Nokie was a welcome regular on the regional music circuit, his star appeal ascended immensely.


From 1956 to 1960 Nokie served his country as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves, receiving his training in Ft. Orr, California, and in Ft. Bliss, Texas, and then as member of the National Guard in Washington. When he returned to Tacoma, Washington, in 1957, his magnificence as a guitarist enabled him to become an integral part of the Tacoma music scene. Buck Owens, the country music artist and pioneer of the “Bakersfield Sound,” asked Nokie to join his band. Nokie spent the next year playing with Buck Owens at clubs and on radio and television. An added highlight would be when the Grand Ole Opry’s road shows came to the Northwest and they would need a lead guitar player. They would call Buck Owens for a lead guitarist and Buck would send Nokie to play lead for the shows. Through Owens, Nokie met a number of other country music entertainers such as Ferlin Husky, Lefty Frizzell, Justin Tubb, Dale Woods, Benny Martin, and many more.

From 1959 with The Ventures

In 1959, while Nokie was playing lead guitar for Buck Owens, he was approached by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle, a couple of guitarists from Washington. They asked Nokie to join them in forming a band which later became known as The Ventures (a band that went on to become the most popular rock instrumental band in history). The group’s first single was a remake of guitarist Chet Atkins’ ‘Walk Don’t Run,’ which was written by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith. The tune was released in 1960 on Josie Wilson’s Blue Horizon label and garnered a lot of requests in the Seattle area. The group then signed with Dolton Records which was owned by Bob Reisdorff. Dolton later became a subsidiary of Liberty Records, and ‘Walk Don’t Run’ was released nationally, with the tune peaking at #2 on the charts. The Ventures followed up the hit single with an album appropriated entitled “Walk Don’t Run.” While touring with The Ventures, Nokie played lead on many famous hits that were recorded by Nokie and The Ventures by such as ‘Hawaii 5-O,’ ‘Fugitive,’ ‘2000 Pound Bee,’ ‘Yellow Jacket,’ ‘Hokkaido Skies,’ ‘Driving Guitars,’ ‘Surf Rider’ (also known as ‘Spudnik’), ’Moon Child,’ ‘Pedal Pusher,’ ‘Sleep Walk,’ ‘Let’s Go,’ ‘Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,’ ‘Wipe Out,’ and ‘Pipeline,’ to name a few.

Nokie left The Ventures in 1968 and moved back to Washington to pursue his interest in horse racing, and to further his solo career playing and writing all styles of music. Nokie returned to play lead for The Ventures from 1972 to 1984, and also played in other bands when The Ventures were not touring. Nokie performed with Lefty, David, and Allan Frizzell on Lefty’s last engagement in Tacoma before his untimely death in 1975. In 1985, Nokie briefly joined the band of the country duo Frizzell & West, which featured David Frizzell and Shelly West, who were known for their many hits including, ‘You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma.’

Just before the turn of the century, in 1999 The Ventures changed their Japanese record label and celebrated with a slew of new releases. One stand-out was Walk Don’t Run 2000, which featured a “ska” version of their classic track, “Walk Don’t Run,” and other tracks that continued the rocking trend started with the two Wild Again albums. In 2000, they took a bold and extremely successful departure from their standard electric guitar sound by recording Acoustic Rock – a fantastic collection of classic rock covers all played on acoustic guitars. Among the standouts on this album are rocking instrumental versions of “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Tobacco Road,” “American Pie,” “Layla,” and even the Latin rock hit “Living La vida Loca.” Also in 2000, The Ventures began a series of V-Gold albums that feature newly recorded versions of some of their classic hits from the 1960s. These new recordings, with modern recording technology, bring these classic tracks into the 21st Century. Of course, they haven’t given up on their mostly Japanese market, releasing in 2001 the album Play Southern All Stars – Tsunami – a collection of pops songs made popular by the Japanese vocal group “Southern All Stars.”

Nokie Today

Nokie still tours Japan performing with The Ventures, and also tours with them in the U.S. when he is needed. One particular tour in Japan took in 108 concerts in only 78 days, and when Nokie and The Ventures arrived in 1965, an estimated 10,000 people showed up at the Tokyo airport to welcome Nokie and The Ventures: Japan’s Beloved Guitar Invaders! Nokie also tours the U.S., UK, Italy, Canada, as well as Japan twice a year with his own tour.

In 2002, Nokie started a new guitar company: HitchHiker Guitars. Nokie put his knowledge of 55 years of mastering the guitar into a beautiful instrument. The guitar has great sustain; there are fifteen variations of tones by using the tone control in conjunction with the switches. The word is out that the guitar has an identifiable sound – its own “signature” sound. Once you hear a HitchHiker guitar you know the name because you never forget the distinctive sound. Nokie takes great pride in quality. He spared no expense in building this high tech, high quality guitar built by a true master guitar player. In 2004, Nokie added a bass guitar and acoustic guitar to the HitchHiker Company product line. For information: www.nokieedwards.org.

Nokie continues to diversify his music career by composing new songs and adding new arrangements to his favorite songs. As busy as he is, Nokie always makes time for an autograph session and to be with his fans as they line up for memorabilia and get his latest CD’s. His concerts consist of the famous hit songs of The Ventures as well as Nokie’s favorite country, classical, light jazz, blue grass and “oldies” hits. Nokie’s fans and peers recognize Nokie Edwards as a guitarist of very distinctive style. His outstanding finger and flat-picking styles allow his pure artistic expression to truly flow through the guitar.