Don Wilson, the co-founder and rhythm guitarist of the influential instrumental rock band the Ventures, died Saturday at the age of 88. Wilson passed of natural causes in Tacoma, Washington, surrounded by his four children, according to a statement from his son Tim. “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 formed the Ventures in 1958 alongside guitarist/bassist Bob Bogle, when the pair were working as construction workers in Seattle. Eventually recruiting drummer Howie Johnson and lead Nokie Edwards, the group would score their biggest hit just two years later with their rendition of Johnny Smith’s ‘Walk, Don’t Run’, which reached No. 2 on the Hot 100. When the group released a re-recorded version of the track in 1964, in the midst of the surf rock wave era, it once again rose to the Top 10.
The Ventures would go on to sell an estimated 100 million records, making them the best-selling instrumental band of all time. Bands such as the Beatles, Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, and KISS and have cited them as inspiration, with Gene Simmons reportedly having been an early member of their fan club.
The Ventures were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. “‘Walk, Don’t Run’ started a whole new movement in rock and roll,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty said at the ceremony. “The sound of it became ‘surf music’ and the audacity of it empowered guitarists everywhere.”
Wilson was the last surviving member of the Ventures’ classic ’60s lineup; Edwards passed away in 2018, Bogle in 2009, and Taylor in 1996. The band continues to tour with no original members. “Don Wilson, guitarist for Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame group, The Ventures, passed away this morning,” a statement on the official Ventures page reads. “Don was an inspiration and mentor. He was a unique talent that inspired countless musicians like us. We lost a good friend, fellow musician, world class performer, and beloved bandmate. Don Wilson has left the stage. We will miss him always.”