Don Wilson, Co-Founder of The Ventures, Dies at 88

by Matthew Memrick

The Ventures’ rhythm guitarist Don Wilson, co-founder of the best-selling instrumental band of all time, died Saturday at 88.

The Tacoma News Tribune reported that Wilson’s four children were with him when he died from natural causes. The guitarist was 19 days from turning 89.

Band co-founder Bob Bogle died in 2009 at age 75. Nokkie Edwards died in 2018 at age 82. 

Wilson and Bogle started the band in 1958. Nicknamed “The Band That Gave Us A Thousand Other Bands,” they made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. 

Wilson’s Band Best-Selling Instrumental Band All-Time

According to the Associated Press, Ventures founders Bogle and Wilson met as bricklayers. They bought guitars and chord books at a pawnshop in Tacoma in 1958.

Soon after, the Ventures broke onto the scene, but Wilson’s mom came up with the band’s name in 1959.

Soon, they became famous with the surfer hit “Walk, Don’t Run” and the “Hawaii Five-O” theme song. The famous song came out in the summer of 1960 and instantly picked up national and international recognition, hitting No. 2 on the charts. Rolling Stone magazine considers it one of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All-time. Other hit songs included “Telstar” and “The Lonely Bull.”

USA Today reported that the band popularized the electric guitar in the 1960s. They helped create the twangy surf sound that influenced other music acts like the Beach Boys.

“Our dad was an amazing rhythm guitar player who touched people all over world with his band, The Ventures,” 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.”

Remarkably, the band had 38 charting albums in the 1960s and early 1970s. They also had 14 singles in the Billboard Hot 100 and sold over 100 million records. 

Early Ventures Bandmates Missed Out

One of the band’s original players, drummer George Babbitt, was not old enough to play in clubs and bars when the group started.

According to CNYNews, the man ended up in the Air Force. Babbitt’s highest command was Commander of Air Force Material. The website said he became a significant player in Air Force maneuverability worldwide.

Babbitt retired as a four-star general and even came back to play with the band in 1998. He wore his uniform in that performance.

Another band member left the band with sad results. According to Ace Records, Skip Moore decided to work at his family’s gas station. When “Walk, Don’t Run” was recorded, Moore decided to opt-out of royalties from the recording. He settled for $25 instead of taking 25 percent of future royalties. Years later, he sued to collect royalties but failed because of his earlier decision. The song sold over a million copies and earned a Recording Industry Association of America Gold Disc.