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Then came 1969, and The Ventures had their biggest hit with “Hawaii Five-O.” By that time, Edwards had been replaced by the on-again, off-again Jerry McGee.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.