Don Wilson, the co-founder and rhythm guitarist of the 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 paper The News Tribune. “Our dad was an amazing rhythm guitar player who touched people all over world with his band, the Ventures,” Tim Wilson told The News Tribune. “He will have his place 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 chugging electric guitar was the sturdy backbone of the Ventures’ highly influential instrumental music. He formed the group alongside guitarist/bassist Bob Bogle in 1958, when they were working as construction workers in Seattle (roughly 30 minutes north of their native Tacoma). Wilson and Bogle wrote songs on instruments they’d purchased from a local pawnshop, and eventually enlisted drummer Howie Johnson as well as Nokie Edwards, who played lead guitar on the band’s iconic 1960 rendition of Johnny Smith’s “Walk, Don’t Run.” Johnson was later replaced with Mel Taylor; despite lineup 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 group rerecorded it in 1964. The updated version, with its rolling drums and bright guitar, rode the surf rock wave of the era. “Walk, Don’t Run” is as synonymous with ’60s surf rock as “Wipeout” and the music of Dick Dale and Link Wray.
A highly prolific group, the Ventures cut dozens of albums, and sold an estimated 100 million. Many of their recordings were covers, however Wilson and Bogle did pen originals such as “No Trespassing,” “The McCoy,” “Love Goddess of Venus,” “Stop Action,” and many others. Their music influenced countless artists, particularly guitarists like George Harrison, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, the Beach Boys’ Carl Wilson (no relation to Don), and others.
The Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty. 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 be going through this honor tonight?” Wilson said at the ceremony. “Not bad for two former bricklayers.”