Nokie Edwards, Ventures Guitarist/Bassist, Passes

Nokie Edwards Ventures Mosrite guitar bass
Edwards in the ’60s, playing a Ventures model Mosrite.

Nole Floyd “Nokie” Edwards, former lead guitarist and bassist with The Ventures, passed away March 12 from complications related to ongoing medical problems. He was 82.

Edwards was born May 9, 1935, in Lahoma, Oklahoma, the son of Elbert and Nannie Edwards. He began playing guitar at age five, as well as the mandolin, bass, steel guitar, banjo, and fiddle. His father nicknamed him “Nokie” by combining his given name with “Okie” to form one of the most unusual first names in show business.

After the family relocated to Washington state, Nokie began playing in local country groups and became an in-demand guitarist. Buck Owens, then based in Tacoma, hired him to play lead for his local television show. He played with Owens for over a year before joining a local group known as the Versatones in 1958, which consisted of Don Wilson and Bob Bogle. Edwards joined on bass and the group was renamed The Ventures before recording their first hit, “Walk Don’t Run,” in 1960.

After a couple years as the bass player, Edwards and guitarist Bob Bogle switched roles. The group knew Nokie was a hot guitarist when he joined, and eventually it was agreed he would be an asset as featured soloist. With him on lead and new drummer Mel Taylor joining the ranks, The Ventures were essentially a different band. Many fans agree that the 1963-’68 era represents the high-water mark for the band, and Edwards’ cutting tone (courtesy of their Mosrite Ventures model guitars) along with his hot country-meets-shred licks established him as one of the biggest guitar heroes of the time.

Though the band’s biggest-selling singles came from before and after Edwards’ tenure as lead guitarist, Ventures albums in the mid ’60s sold by the truckload and inspired countless garage bands and up-and-coming guitarists.

Tracks like “Journey To The Stars,” “Diamond Head,” “Slaughter On 10th Avenue,” “Walk Don’t Run ’64,” “Driving Guitars,” “Bumble Bee Twist,” “The 2,000 Pound Bee,” “Ginza Lights,” “House Of The Rising Sun,” “Caravan” and “Surf Rider” (the latter an Edwards composition that decades later was featured on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack) set the bar high, and secured Edwards’ legacy as one of the greatest exponents of guitar instrumental music. The Ventures’ Play Guitar With… series of instructional albums also proved highly influential to thousands of kids in the ’60s.

Edwards was an early experimenter with guitar effects, using a fuzz device made by steel guitarist Red Rhodes on “2000 Lb Bee” in 1962, and creating a wah-like effect with a DeArmond Volume and Tone pedal on “Pedal Pusher,” in ’65. He was also an old-school proponent of simple guitar tricks to entertain audiences, such as playing the strings between the bridge and tailpiece (this unusual sound can be heard on many live versions of “Wooly Bully” recorded in the ’60s), and pick-scratching against the wound strings (heard to great effect on “He Never Came Back” on the Ventures In Space album). It can also be said that he took use of the vibrato to new levels, inventing the “dive bomb” technique he used liberally on many Ventures recordings in the ’60s (listen to the Live in Japan ’65 version of “Driving Guitars” to hear an extreme version of this effect).

Edwards left the Ventures in ’68, but returned from ’73 to ’84, after which he would join them off and on over the years, splitting time with guitarist Gerry McGee, and occasionally performing together.

The Ventures had huge success in Japan, where they experienced Beatles-like admiration. In addition to releasing a host of Japan-only recordings, the group toured there for decades, filling large venues. Edwards toured Japan as a solo artist during and after his tenure with The Ventures, and last played there in 2015.

The Ventures were inducted to the Pacific Northwest Hall of Fame in 1999, the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2006, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in ’08. In ’93, they received the Guitar Player magazine Lifetime Achievement Award. All told, they sold more than 100 million records.

In recent years, Edwards had continued health problems and was being treated in Yuma, Arizona, where he lived. He had been hospitalized during the Christmas holiday and eventually succumbed to complications. He is survived by his wife, Judy, sister Louise Jensen, daughter Tina, four stepchildren, 25 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren. He is interred in a maple urn made by builders at Hitchhiker Guitars. – Deke Dickerson