On March 12, we lost Nokie Edwards, the lead guitarist of the rock instrumental quartet, the Ventures. The Alice Cooper group’s Michael Bruce, the Stampeders, Michael Stanley and Joe Walsh share their Ventures electric guitar inspirations and memories with Goldmine.
By Warren Kurtz
Nole Edwards was born in Oklahoma and was nicknamed “Nokie” by his father, Elbert. His mother, Nannie, was a Native America Cherokee, and he was very proud of his Cherokee heritage. The Edwards family moved from Oklahoma to the state of Washington and that is where the Ventures began. Guitarists Bob Bogle and Don Wilson met on a construction job and learned of each other’s passion for the instrument. They formed the Ventures and began collecting records including a newer Chet Atkins version of the 1954 Johnny Smith jazz instrumental “Walk, Don’t Run.” They assigned the chord change to the rhythm guitar and the melody to the lead and propelled the instrumental with hard-charging rock and roll energy. Nokie Edwards was initially the bassist for the group and Howie Johnson rounded out the quartet on drums, replacing early drummer Skip Moore. The Ventures’ version of “Walk Don’t Run” went all the way to number two in 1960.
The Ventures’ instrumental singles “Perfidia” and “Ram-Bunk-Shush” did well and their albums offered more to the fans, including instrumental versions of hit songs of the day. Nokie Edwards moved to lead guitar for the group and Bob Bogle shifted to bass guitar. Howie Johnson suffered injuries in a 1961 car accident and was replaced by Mel Taylor on drums. This lineup continued through most of the ‘60s.
In 1964, at the height of the Beatles’ new American popularity and a new population of record buyers, the Ventures updated their biggest hit and created “Walk, Don’t Run ‘64” with Nokie Edwards on lead guitar and an echo effect in the recording. This version brought them back to the Top 10. They followed this single with their rendition of the 1949 hit “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” and the album “Knock Me Out,” which also included a version of the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine.” On the flip side of the single, they took Brahms’ “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5” and turned the rhapsody into “Rap City,” a title pun and reference to Jan & Dean’s Top 10 singles from the prior year, “Surf City” and “Drag City.” There was plenty of echo on Nokie Edward’s lead guitar, a keyboard sound reminiscent of “Telstar,” bass notes helping to drive the rhythm as heard in “Walk, Don’t Run ‘64,” and an overall eerie feeling in the quartet’s arrangement, in line with the theme from “The Munsters,” which had just debuted on television.
Flip side: Rap City
A side: Slaughter on Tenth Avenue
Top 100 debut: October 24, 1964
Peak position: 35
45 picture sleeve with Nokie Edwards on the left.
In 1965, the group released a series of guitar instruction albums. Including the quartet’s studio albums plus the instruction albums, the Ventures had up to five records in the Top Albums list simultaneously.
That November, “The Ventures’ Christmas Album” was released. Nokie Edwards played segments of “Walk, Don’t Run” and “I Feel Fine” as the introductory bars to the single “Sleigh Ride” and to “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” respectively. On “Blue Christmas,” he sampled the guitar hook from Jackie DeShannon’s “When You Walk in the Room,” a 1964 single by the Searchers, and later a 1978 single by Lisa Burns, throughout this classic Elvis Presley cover. The album’s cover photograph highlighted Mosrite guitars. The Ventures and designer Semie Moseley were partners in the distribution of these guitars, which the Ventures played exclusively during this era.
In the fall of 1967, the Ventures’ “Golden Greats” album was released. The dozen song collection included “Walk, Don’t Run ’64,” but was just titled as “Walk, Don’t Run.” The original 1960 recording was later included as a stereo mix on their 1975 “The Very Best of the Ventures” album. “Golden Greats” also contained eleven Ventures covers of ‘60s instrumentals including “Pipeline” and “Wipe-Out.”
The Ventures continued to release multiple albums a year for the remainder of the decade, providing guitar-driven instrumental covers to the hits of the day and including many original compositions on the albums as well. The original song “Love Shower” on their 1968 album “Flights of Fantasy” features a wonderful melodic lead from Nokie Edwards. That year also included the album “The Ventures in Tokyo ’68.” The group continues to be very popular in Japan to this day.
In the ‘70s, the electric guitar influence of the Ventures continued to be detected in rock bands and recordings. On each of the five consecutive best selling albums from the Alice Cooper group, electric guitar played a major role. Guitarist Michael Bruce told Goldmine, “It is so sad to hear of another fine musician passing. Nokie Edwards was a classy classic and one of my earliest inspirations for playing guitar.”
The combination of lead guitar of Nokie Edwards and rhythm guitar of Don Wilson in the Ventures provided a solid section for the two guitarists to play off of each other. In 1973, Michael Stanley and Joe Walsh combined their guitar talents on Michael Stanley’s “Friends and Legends” album which featured the song “Let’s Get the Show on the Road.” Michael Stanley reflected with Goldmine, “In remembering Nokie, I have to agree with something I heard Joe Walsh say a while back, that any guitar player of our age who said that Ventures weren’t the main reason that they took up the guitar is lying! I mean, who wouldn’t have wanted to sound like that? Nokie will be missed.”
Nokie Edwards continued to record with the Ventures and perform in concerts with the group through the mid-‘80s. Songs ranged from the lesser known 1962 original “Yellow Jacket” to their final Top 10 hit, 1969’s “Hawaii Five-O.” After the Ventures, he continued to play concerts in the U.S. and Japan mainly, through recent years.
In 1994, during the end credits of the film “Pulp Fiction,” Nokie Edwards’ composition “Surf Rider” was played, performed by the Lively Ones, from a 1963 recording.
In 2000, Nokie Edwards began holding annual music festivals in the Pacific Northwest. Rock and roll music and his Native American heritage were celebrated. In 2001, Calgary’s Stampeders were on the bill, appropriately performing bassist Ronnie King’s Native American tribute “Then Came the White Man,” guitarist Rich Dodson’s rocker “Wild Eyes,” drummer Kim Berly’s ballad “Oh My Lady,” group’s big ‘70s hit “Sweet City Woman,” and more. Rich Dodson shared with Goldmine, “It was a great honor to finally meet Nokie Edwards and his lovely wife Judy when we played his festival. Nokie, along with the Ventures, were a huge inspiration for me back in the early ‘60s. Wow, all the hours I spent spinning those Ventures records at 33 RPM trying to lift those cool Ventures licks. I’ll never forget seeing the Ventures at the Gardens in Calgary in the ‘60s and watching Nokie. I was so impressed with his playing, I went out the next day and bought a Mosrite guitar. He will be sorely missed.” Ronnie King concluded, “The Stampeders are truly saddened to learn of Nokie’s passing, from the phenomenal and iconic Ventures. Like a generation of guitar oriented musicians, we learned many of our guitar and bass licks from these masters of their trade. At Nokie's 2nd Annual Music Festival, along with artists from around the world, we were treated royally both at the concert, as well as at Nokie and Judy’s home for a private barbeque, for all the artists on the bill. We felt humbled by the kindness shown to us all. Our condolences go out to Judy, and the entire Edwards family and friends. Rest peacefully Nokie. Thanks for showing us how to play, from your friends, the Stampeders.”
Rich Dodson, Kim Berly, Nokie Edwards and Ronnie King, courtesy of the Stampeders
In 2008, John Fogerty inducted the Ventures into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, citing Nokie Edwards’ influence and said, “Every guitar player on this planet knows what I am talking about. The Ventures are the most popular instrumental rock group of all-time.”
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.