Nokie Edwards Memorial a Fond Farewell to Ventures Guitar Hero

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Nokie Edwards
Nokie Edwards

Pastor Andre Veluzat and his son Pastor Paul Veluzat hosted a memorial for Nokie Edwards, legendary lead guitarist with The Ventures, Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee, and longtime family friend, at the Village Church in Newhall, Santa Clarita, California, on Saturday, April 14, 2018.

Attending were Edwards’ devoted wife of 31 years, Judy, and dozens of family members and friends who paid their final respects to a man who has had a huge influence as a musician on fans worldwide, from his early days with The Ventures until his death on March 12, 2018.

Complications from a broken hip on Christmas Day 2017 and hip replacement surgery took him out at a hospital near his home in Yuma, Arizona, at the age of 82.

Edwards was born Nole Floyd Edwards in Lahoma, Oklahoma on May 9, 1939, to Elbert and Nannie Mae Edwards (he was white, she was Cherokee), who were migrant fruit pickers and lovers of music. The 11th of 12 kids, Nokie grew up in Lahoma and south of Seattle in Washington State when his family relocated there.

He learned to play just about anything with strings by the age of 5, and after a stint in his late teens in the Army Reserve, landed back in Washington. He began his career playing guitar in country bands, including one that backed up expatriated Bakersfield favorite son Buck Owens.

Edwards joined The Ventures in 1959, recruited by Don Wilson (guitar) and Bob Bogle (bass), who’d formed the group in Tacoma, Washington the previous year, with Skip Moore on drums (soon to be replaced by George Babbitt, Howie Johnson and finally Mel Taylor, in 1962). Edwards was the original Ventures bassist but switched to lead guitar in 1961, swapping roles with Bogle.

Packing spankin’-new Fender guitars and amps, the early lineup scored instrumental hits like “Walk, Don’t Run,” “Perfidia,” “Walk, Don’t Run ’64” and “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” sold millions of albums worldwide, and developed especially vociferous and appreciative followings in Japan and Europe.

The Ventures were the band that launched a thousand bands, inspiring untold numbers of kids to pick up guitars, plug into amps, crank up the volume and the reverb, and start playing surf music in their parents’ garages.

Get a load of the powerhouse sound the quartet put out in Japan in 1966 in this clip (Edwards is in the middle and rips three solos):

Many sessions, tours and accolades later, Edwards left The Ventures in 1968 and moved to Nashville, but rejoined the group from 1973-1984 (both times replaced by Gerry McGee), and appeared with them on numerous special occasions in the following years.

The world’s all-time best-selling rock instrumental band (100 million-plus albums) was voted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, and inducted by John Fogerty.

The Ventures in the mid-1990s, at their Guitar Center Rockwalk induction (clockwise, from top left): Gerry McGee; Nokie Edwards; Don Wilson; Mel Taylor; and Bob Bogle.

Nokie Edwards Memorial Highlights

There were numerous highlights during Saturday’s two-hour tribute. Frequent Edwards jamming partner Renaud Veluzat, Andre’s brother, played lead guitar on a medley of Nokie’s favorites, including “Walk, Don’t Run,” “Secret Agent Man” and “Wipe Out.”

Backing him were nephew Paul on drums and Veluzat family friend Joe Janott on fiddle, with Edwards family friend Al Dobish from The Rock Shop music store in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, sitting in on guitar.

Guitar Geek Festival founder and more recent Edwards pal Deke Dickerson recalled his favorite Nokie Edwards story, about the time years ago when he saw his hero sharing a bill with surf guitar legend Dick Dale.

Dale and “The Beast” (his hot-wired Fender Stratocaster) took over the stage, shredding fast and loud for 18 minutes, as is his style. When Dale finally tossed it over to Edwards, Dickerson said, Nokie just stood in one place and ripped a 22-second run that blew Dale right off the stage.

Dickerson led his Ventures tribute band Ventures Mania! (also featuring Garrett Immel, Mel Bergmann and Chris Sprague) through a few of the group’s classics including “Walk, Don’t Run ’64,” then backed longtime Edwards friend Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, who played steel guitar on a sweet, emotional version of “Sleepwalk.” The 1959 Santo & Johnny classic was Nokie and Judy’s song. [1:13:00 in the video below.]

[Random thought: In the early 1970s, Baxter was at another Village: the studio in West L.A. where he and Steely Dan recorded much of their first few albums, and which was a half-block from this writer’s apartment at the time.]

Another Edwards friend, country guitar legend and Guitar Geek Festival stalwart Brian Lonbeck, performed a spirited solo version of “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”

Andre, Paul, Baxter, Dickerson, Dobish and guitar gear icon Seymour Duncan were among those who spoke from the pulpit, recounting favorite stories about their cherished friendships and musical collaborations with Edwards.

Paul rattled off just a few of the accolades Nokie received during his musical travels. He was inducted into the Northwest Rock Hall of Fame, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the Native American Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. He was an Ambassador to Arkansas, and an honorary Colonel and sheriff in four states.

In Japan, Edwards was honored with the Japanese Emperors Award; for his role in the Trade Embargo between Japan and the USA; and by the Military Blue Angels of Japan.

Pastors Andre and Paul also included Edwards’ favorite passage from the Bible, Psalm 23, and other relevant inspirational quotes.

One of the speakers recalled an interview in which Edwards noted there were two kinds of guitar players: blues-rock guitarists and melody guitarists.

“Blues-rock players can play blues-rock,” Nokie said, “but melody players can play anything.”

Fiona Taylor, wife of Mel Taylor, who died in 1996, and Joanne Smith, wife of film-stunt legend and Edwards family friend William Smith, attended but did not address the celebrants.

The memorial closed with most of the musicians and everyone in the church joining in to sing a rousing medley of gospel favorites including “I’ll Fly Away” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

The Village Church in Newhall, California. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.
The Village Church in Newhall, California. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Nokie Edwards and the Melody Ranch Connection

The local Santa Clarita Valley connection is the Veluzat family, owners of the historic and world-famous Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio a half-hour north of Hollywood in Newhall. Andre, Renaud and their father Paul bought the studio and its old-West Main Street set from legendary singing cowboy Gene Autry in 1990.

Melody Ranch is less than a mile away from the Village Church, in Placerita Canyon, where Andre and Paul regularly preach the gospel.

A lifelong Ventures and Nokie Edwards fan, Renaud was a student at Hart High School in Newhall and playing in a surf band when he met Edwards during a battle-of-the-bands competition at Pacific Ocean Park in Venice in 1962. Veluzat’s band played all Ventures tunes – and won.

Nokie Edwards' shirt patch. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.
Nokie Edwards’ shirt patch. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Four decades later, in the early 2000s, Renaud, still an active musician, was introduced to the new HitchHiker guitars Edwards had begun designing in 2002 and decided he had to get one.

The Veluzats tracked down the company in Arizona via the nascent Internet and were shocked when they actually got Nokie on the phone. He took their order, then traveled with wife Judy from Yuma to Melody Ranch and hand-delivered Renaud’s new guitar.

Completing Renaud’s pinch-me experience, Nokie had customized the guitar’s fretboard with a gorgeous pearl inlay saying “Melody Ranch.”

Renaud Veluzat and Nokie Edwards, Melody Ranch, Newhall, California, April 2009. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.
Renaud Veluzat and Nokie Edwards, Melody Ranch, Newhall, California, April 2009. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

Then and many times since, the Edwards visited the Veluzats at Melody Ranch, and Nokie, Andre and Paul (on drums) spent many hours sitting on the big leather couch in the ranch’s huge office, which looks more like a Western saloon than an office (on purpose), just jamming and swapping jokes and tall tales.

Related: Nokie Edwards at Melody Ranch 2009, Photo Gallery 1

The Veluzat family hosted the annual Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival at Melody Ranch for more than 20 years, between the studio’s use by producers of TV shows like “Deadwood” (HBO, 2004-2006) and films like “Django Unchained” (2012), until the “Westworld” sci-fi-Western series producers four-walled the entire ranch a few years back (“Westworld” premiered on HBO in October 2016 and scored raves and big ratings; its second season bows April 22).

Nokie and Judy were frequent Melody Ranch visitors, and during a few Cowboy Festivals, he, Renaud and Paul snuck in short unannounced sets on the side, drawing large crowds who gathered around in awe of the guitar master’s technique and tone.

In fact, Edwards appeared in a few episodes of “Deadwood,” playing one of the crusty residents of the frontier town.

“Nokie and I played guitar every day between scenes,” Renaud told me in 2009.

And a few years later, as Paul recalled in his memorial remarks Saturday, “Django Unchained” director Quentin Tarantino, who idolized Edwards, gave Nokie free access to the otherwise closed set during filming on Melody Ranch’s Main Street in 2011 and 2012.

Related: Nokie Edwards at Melody Ranch 2009, Photo Gallery 2

Nokie Edwards at Melody Ranch, Newhall, California, April 2009. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.
Nokie Edwards at Melody Ranch, Newhall, California, April 2009. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

 Farewell Tour, Medical Bills Fundraiser

The Nokie Edwards memorial at the Village was the second stop on a farewell mini-tour that began April 7 with a service at the First Christian Church in Yuma. It was open-casket at both services.

His body will be cremated Tuesday. Other memorials on the final tour ahead include the Tacoma in June, then Oregon, Fairbanks, Alaska, New York City, Cleveland (Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame), Nashville and Japan (see his website for schedule updates).

On another note, there are some major medical bills to be paid. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up with a goal of $200,000; in its first month, 55 people donated $5,557.

When he was in the hospital recovering from hip surgery, “Nokie spoke of a last tour he wanted to take when he was strong enough to go home,” Judy Edwards writes on the page.

She’s doing her best to make it happen now – for him, and for his many fans. Let’s honor his legacy by helping her out.

To donate, click here.

Bill Smith and Nokie Edwards tool around Melody Ranch during the 2012 Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.
Bill Smith and Nokie Edwards tool around Melody Ranch in Nokie’s golf cart during the April 2012 Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.