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Music Review: Nokie Edwards – Nokie Rocks the Ventures

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In 1958, The Ventures were founded by Don Wilson (rhythm guitar) and Bob Bogle (lead guitar on “Walk Don’t Run”). Bass player Nokie Edwards joined in 1960, but switched positions with Bogle the following year. The classic lineup was completed in 1963 with the addition of new drummer, Mel Taylor. Until 1968, this was the group that issued a string of influential albums that made The Ventures the best selling instrumental band of all time.

Then came 1969, and The Ventures had their biggest hit with “Hawaii Five-O.” By that time, Edwards had been replaced by the on-again, off-again Jerry McGee. But after 1969, except for a continuing and enthusiastic fan base in Japan, it really didn’t matter. While new albums kept coming, The Ventures’ sound had been a formula perfectly suited to the ‘60s but didn’t adapt well to the musical styles that followed. Still, during their zenith between 1963 and 1967, they released a series of hit collections that filled most teenagers libraries and influenced seemingly every would-be guitarist on the planet. Add to that their instructional albums on how to play guitar, and you have to come to the conclusion that few lead guitarists were more important during the 1960s than Nokie Edwards.

Now at age 77, Edwards revisits his past with Nokie Rocks the Ventures, an album that sounds like a long-lost Ventures compilation. But Nokie’s newest solo effort, one of many that he’s been releasing over the years, isn’t a mere re-working of Ventures tunes. He picks out some of his favorites, gives them fresh twists, but he makes a number of unusual selections. You really have to be a serious Ventures fan to know these were once Ventures tracks.

Appropriately, the collection opens with “Hawaii Five-O.” Nokie tells me he was the gent who played on the original single, although McGee was the guitarist of record when that hit was released. Whatever the case, Edwards has clearly played the theme enough times over the years to have new ideas for his lead, and there are flourishes and nuances here that should surprise anyone who knows the tune. In addition, just when you think the song will end, well, it doesn’t.

More flashes from The Ventures pan include the hits “Slaughter On 10th Ave” and “Pipeline.” But most of Edwards’ choices weren’t Ventures singles nor covers of songs by other performers. These include the Japanese favorite, “Mr. Moto,” “Ninth Wave,” “El Cumbanchero,” and the fast-fingered “Fugitive” (complete with the sounds of barking dogs in pursuit). On the other hand, Nokie’s version of “Secret Agent Man” is a very different, far less frenzied take than the original 1966 Ventures single.

Not all the tunes are reverb rock workouts. On many of their albums, The Ventures showed they were more than capable of presenting slow, pretty melodies as well as short tracks propelled by Taylor’s powerful drumming. For example, few songs could sound more old fashioned and country flavored than “Amapola Rock” with the addition of pedal steel guitar. Edwards shows off his acoustic pickin’ skills on “Walk Right In” and offers gentle covers of “California Dreamin’” and Buddy Holly’s “Everyday.” (Edwards is a member of the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation and owns a replica J-45 Holly guitar.)

Certainly the biggest surprise on the set is a brand new number, the fuzz-tone “Thundering Tank 331.” Nokie wrote the driving melody about a tank named “331” belonging to Nokie’s friend and associate CD producer, Arnold Schwarzenegger. (The pair are pictured together on the sleeve.) Word has it, Nokie didn’t alert Schwarzenegger to the song until the album’s release. Hey Arnold, remember Pulp Fiction? Hard-hitting guitar songs make for great themes and soundtrack albums…

Musically speaking, Edwards was his own producer for this release, but credit must also go to his ersatz “Ventures,” a team of Nashville players who’ve backed Edwards on the road and in the studio for several decades. They include Kerry Marx (guitar), Duncan Mullins (bass), Michael Rojas (keyboards), and especially Tommy Wells (drums). They have the old sounds nailed perfectly, allowing Edwards to reinvent his music with a solid foundation. If you loved The Ventures, and not necessarily Edwards’ previous solo work, this is one for you. It’ll take you right back to when rock could be simple, melodic, and fun. You too will want to ride a “Thundering Tank” and revisit a sound that was often imitated but rarely equaled.

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About Wesley Britton