Don Wilson, co-founder and rhythm guitarist of pioneering instrumental rock quartet The Ventures, died of natural causes at his home in Tacoma, Washington on Saturday, January 22. Wilson’s son Tim confirmed his death to local outlet King 5 News and Tacoma newspaper The newsstand. “Our dad was an amazing rhythm guitarist who touched people all over the world with his band, the Ventures,” said Tim Wilson. The newsstand. “He will go down in history forever and was much loved and appreciated. He will be missed.” Wilson was the last surviving member of the core Ventures lineup. He was 88 years old.
Wilson’s whispering electric guitar was the solid backbone of the Ventures’ highly influential instrumental music. He formed the band alongside guitarist/bassist Bob Bogle in 1958, while they were working as construction workers in Seattle (about 30 minutes north of their native Tacoma). Wilson and Bogle wrote songs on instruments they bought from a local pawn shop, and eventually enlisted drummer Howie Johnson as well as Nokie Edwards, who played lead guitar on the band’s signature rendition in 1960’s “Walk, Don’t Run”. Johnson was later replaced by Mel Taylor; despite line-up changes over the years, Wilson, Bogle, Edwards and Taylor are considered the core members of the band’s seminal period in the 1960s.
“Walk, Don’t Run” was a colossal hit for the Ventures, both in 1960 and when the band re-recorded it in 1964. The updated version, with its rolling drums and gleaming guitar, surfed on the surf rock wave of the time. “Walk, Don’t Run” is as synonymous with ’60s surf rock as “Wipeout” and the music of Dick Dale and Link Wray.
A very prolific group, the Ventures have recorded dozens of albums and sold around 100 million. Many of their recordings were covers, but Wilson and Bogle wrote originals such as “No Trespassing”, “The McCoy”, “Love Goddess of Venus”, “Stop Action” and many more. Their music has influenced countless artists, especially guitarists like George Harrison, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys (no relation to Don) and others.
The Ventures were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 by John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Wilson accepted the honor on behalf of the group. “Who would have thought that after recording ‘Walk, Don’t Run’ 48 years ago, we would experience this honor tonight?” Wilson said at the ceremony. “Not bad for two former masons.”