is universally recognized as one of the world's premier guitarists. He was born Nole Edwards
in 1935 in Lahoma, Oklahoma, hence the nickname, "Nokie
" which was given to him by his father, Elbert. Nokie's mother, Nannie, was a Native American Cherokee. Nokie learned how to play guitar at the age of five and by the age of eleven he could play all string instruments. He turned professional at the age of twelve when he performed on a country station in Idaho. In 1959, while Nokie was playing lead guitar for country artist Buck Owens, he was approached by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle, a couple of guitarists from Washington. They asked Nokie to join them in forming a band which later became known as The Ventures (a band that went on to become the most popular rock instrumental band in history).
The group's first single was a remake of guitarist Chet Atkins
' "Walk Don't Run
," which was written by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith
. Though Nokie played bass in the first few years of the band's existence, he later moved to lead guitar, his signature sound and style underscoring many of The Ventures famous classic hits such as "Hawaii 5-O
" , "Fugitive
", "2000 Pound Bee
", "Yellow Jacket
", "Hokkaido Skies
", "Driving Guitars
", "Surf Rider
" (also known as "Spudnik",) "Moon Child
", "Pedal Pusher
", "Sleep Walk
", "Let's Go
", "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue
", "Wipe Out
", and "Pipeline
". Today Nokie still tours Japan performing with The Ventures, and the group embarks on regular tours of the US. In this interview, Joe Matera
catches up with Nokie Edwards to discuss his highly illustrious and hugely influential guitar playing career with The Venture and beyond.
UG: When you first came to join The Ventures you had come from a non-rock n' roll background.
I started playing the guitar when I was five years old and worked hard at developing my lead playing during all those years. I had a country music background, so it took me a lot of years to develop my rock n' roll approach. When I was eleven years old, I first tried to understand rock and roll so I went and bought the top ten records but I couldn't understand any of that. So I decided to later go out and buy another ten records and this time, with four of them it started to connect with me, and I started to understand a little, and so from there I began to get into rock and roll a lot more. Eventually when it came to the approach I'd use with The Ventures it was my own unique style of playing I'd utilize.
Were you surprised in how The Ventures connected with an audience considering back then the musical climate was one where non-instrumental music tended to dominate the charts.
Yes, when we first got a hit with Walk, Don't Run we were shocked by it because we were all working day jobs. And all we wanted to do was to build our name so we could get a little more money. And it totally shocked us when we got a #2 hit. And that totally changed our lives. We were grateful though because we were working construction during the day and then playing music at night. We were building our repertoire and getting the group really tight playing at this small bar called the Blue Moon in Tacoma, Washington. And we would pack the house the people there just loved us. But though we packed the house, the owner was only paying us $25 a night and we had to split that four ways too. But we didn't care because we were trying to get the group tight and in the end, it turned out really good for us.
The group's first hit Walk Don't Run was recorded and released in 1960, but you played bass on it while original guitarist Bob Bogle provided the lead guitar. When you switched from playing bass to guitar a couple years later, The Ventures re-recorded another, updated version in 1964, this time with you on lead guitar.
"I had a country music background, so it took me a lot of years to develop my rock n' roll approach."
Yes, and this time we changed the arrangement and added a Pipeline type guitar signature on it. We just changed the whole thing and we got another hit with it. I actually have another different arrangement of it now too and who knows, I may put it out and who knows, I may get another hit out of it again. In fact, I actually recorded a version too with former Heart guitarist Roger Fisher and his band and it too is a totally different arrangement yet again. In this version it even modulates too.
In the early years of the band, you were playing Fenders and then later switched over to Mosrite guitars. Later on though, you also developed your own custom guitar?
In later years I think it was around 1993/1994, I decided I wanted to make my own guitar because I couldn't get the companies to listen to me. They would bring me their instruments and then they would ask me what I thought and so, I'd tell them what was wrong with it and what needed to be changed, but they wouldn't change anything regardless of what I told them. It was wasted time for me to do that. So I came up with the HitchHiker guitar which I now play. It has the look of a Mosrite but that is the only thing that's close to a Mosrite. It has got a neck through body and I put swamp ash on the back to make it lighter and with the maple on the front, it makes for a beautiful looking guitar. I use the best of everything I can find too. I have Seymour Duncan pickups which were wound to what I wanted sound wise, and the guitar has such great sustain. There are fifteen variations of tones by using the tone control in conjunction with the switches. It has two toggle switches and has no batteries. I used to change things on my early guitars all the time so developed an interest in creating my own guitar. On my Tele I used in the early years of The Ventures for example, a guy named Red Rhodes who was an electronic genius did some modifications for me. I wanted to add a blade to the magnet of the pickup, where it'd got straight through so when you bent the strings you wouldn't loose anything.
How did you go about capturing the guitar tones in the studio back then?
We would mike the guitar amps as well as, we would go direct. When we first recorded Walk Don't Run there was only a two track machine so we had to put the lead and rhythm guitars on one track and the bass and drums on the other track. And if anybody made a mistake, we would have to completely redo it. We recorded the first two albums on the two track machine. And we were all well rehearsed before going into the studio. The first album for example took about three weeks.
Was there any specific set up that you used in order to achieve your guitar tone?
Not really, I basically have used just an amplifier with hardly any reverb on it. And a lot of the times I will also just go through the board.
How did the group go about choosing the material that the group would record as instrumentals?
What we would do was we would look through Cashbox and Billboard magazines and look at the bumbling under chart, looking for songs that we felt would end up in the top ten. So we'd get those songs, record them and by the time the album [by original artist] was finished, those songs we recorded would be in the top ten. Those days people didn't record an album, they'd record a single first before they would record an album. So we'd have all the singles covered that we thought were going to be hits and we'd come out with them first. Sometimes because of that, people associated us with being the original version, like we never did the original version of Wipe Out but people seem to think we did! And because of that, we'd bury the original versions because they would not have a chance. (laughs)
Listening to The Ventures music, one can hear a sense of fun seeping through all the music. Was being in the studio always a joyous experience?
Absolutely, we used to have so much fun, like there was this one time where we were in the studio with Larry Carlton doing a session. I had this Fender amp, it was this model that had the cast iron speakers in it, and they were so heavy, that it had wheels on it. Larry had the same looking amplifier but it didn't have the cast iron speakers, so it was very light. Anyway, when we finished the session we stood around talking and both of our amps had covers on them. So quietly without Larry noticing it, wheeled my amp in to where his was and then wheeled his amp where mine was. And then when he went to pick his amp up, the look on his face was priceless, it was just so funny.
What do you think of other instrumental players especially modern day ones like Joe Satriani or older guys such as Jeff Beck?
"There are so many great players out there that it is hard to mention certain ones because you'd slight the other ones."
There are so many great players out there that it is hard to mention certain ones because you'd slight the other ones. I think Jeff Beck is one great player, but then again there are so many of them. The country guys such as Brent Mason are great. Brent played on my last CD, Hitchin' A Ride, with me, along with Ricky Skaggs played mandolin on song called Highway 40 Blues. Both of those guys were great to work with.
How does it feel to have created such a great musical legacy that you have with The Ventures?
It makes me very happy. To me, if I can inspire somebody, and they turn out a great artist or a great studio player, then I've done something really nice in helping people out. I'm really happy when I hear that I inspire people.
What has Nokie Edwards got planned, musically, for the rest of this year?
Since people always want to hear me play Venture songs, I may go back in and have a look at some of the originals that I wrote and that we wrote together and maybe put a different arrangement to them and record and release them. I actually did a five box CD over in the Philippines awhile ago that also included an unplugged CD of Venture songs so I might even look at doing more acoustic stuff. The Ventures themselves have a few more shows for the rest of year and in January I will be going to Japan with them for a tour. We're also going to be playing shows in Canada.
Japan is and has always been a lucrative market for The Ventures, why do you think that is so?
I think the main thing is that that there is no language barrier, it is all instrumental music. And also, it is because we do play some exciting things musically.
Finally do you ever check out players, like go on You Tube and watch other guitar players?
Sometimes I do. Also each year I go to the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society and this year, there was a player there this year that was incredibly gifted and amazing. He walked in and lay his guitar down on his lap and started playing it upside down and backwards. And mind you, he was also blind too. And he was left handed and the way he made chords, his right hand looked like a spider. He was the most incredible player I'd seen in a very long time.
Interview by Joe Matera