Don Wilson, the Ventures’ Co-Founder and Rhythm Guitarist, Dead at 88

Don Wilson, co-founder and rhythm guitarist for the influential instrumental rock band the Ventures, died Saturday at the age of 88.

Wilson’s family first confirmed to Seattle journalist Saint Bryan that the guitarist “passed peacefully” of natural causes in Tacoma, Washington.

“Our dad was an amazing rhythm guitar player who touched people all over world with his band, The Ventures,” Don’s son Tim Wilson said in a statement. “He will have his place in history forever and was much loved and appreciated. He will be missed.”

Wilson and guitarist/bassist Bob Bogle formed the Ventures in 1958 when they were both Seattle-area construction workers moonlighting as musicians; just two years later, the Ventures’ electric guitar-led rendition of Johnny Smith’s “Walk, Don’t Run” rose to Number Two on the Hot 100; it was later included among Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.

“[“Walk, Don’t Run”] started a whole new movement in rock & roll,” John Fogerty said when inducting the Ventures into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “The sound of it became ‘surf music’ and the audacity of it empowered guitarists everywhere.” 

The single proved to be so enduring that when the Ventures released a re-recorded version of “Walk, Don’t Run” in 1964 — amid the surf rock explosion — it once again placed in the Top 10. In the first half of the Sixties, the band would go on to have hits with “Telstar,” “Perfidia” and a take on the theme from “Hawaii Five-O.”

Prior to their induction in 2008, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame called the Ventures “the quintessential instrumental rock and roll band.” “Few bands are as prolific as the Ventures—they released thirty-seven albums in twelve years, many of them thematic,” the Rock Hall stated. “They rocked America in the sixties and went on to lasting international fame and influence.”

Among those influenced: Eddie Van Halen, who once told Rolling Stone that the Ventures’ “Pipeline” was one of the first songs he learned when he began playing guitar. The Beach Boys also learned the guitar by listening to the Ventures’ records, Carl Wilson once said.

Over the span of 40 albums (and potentially hundreds), the Ventures primarily recorded instrumental rock covers of other artists’ hits, but when the band did write their own music, it was often Wilson and Bogle who penned it;  Wilson is also credited with penning “Love Goddess of Venus,” from 1964’s The Ventures in Space.

While the Ventures continue to perform with a completely different lineup, Wilson was the lone surviving member of the band’s “classic,” Rock Hall-inducted formation: Drummer Mel Taylor died in 1996, followed by Bogle in 2009, lead guitarist Nokie Edwards in 2018 and guitarist Gerry McGee in 2019.