The Ventures early in their career. From left, Howie Johnson, Don Wilson, Nokie Edwards and Bob Bogle. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Nokie Edwards, whose virtuosic electric guitar playing helped define the surf-rock style of the Ventures, the immensely popular instrumental band that rose to prominence in the 1960s, died on Monday in Yuma, Ariz. He was 82.
His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by his wife, Judy, who said he had a recurring infection after surgery for a broken hip in December.
Mr. Edwards’s seemingly effortless picking produced a palpitating sound that captured the vibe of the ocean a few years before the Beach Boys began singing about California girls. The Ventures were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.
“Although musicologists might argue that Edwards’s country-fueled and steel-guitar-influenced licks owe more to country than pop or rock,” the guitar designer Jol Dantzig wrote in an appreciation of Mr. Edwards on the Premier Guitar website, “there is no denying that Edwards’s twangy tone, wang-bar glides and staccato riffing paved the way for the California surf bands of the 1960s.”
Mr. Edwards was playing lead guitar in the country star Buck Owens’s band when he was spotted by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle in a club in Spokane, Wash., in the late 1950s. Mr. Wilson and Mr. Bogle were construction workers with meager musical experience when they formed the band that became the Ventures. In Mr. Edwards, they recognized a larger talent with a broader musical pedigree who would improve their band.
With Mr. Edwards playing bass and Mr. Bogle on lead guitar, the Ventures recorded “Walk — Don’t Run,” which rose to No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Inspired by a slower, jazzier recording several years earlier by the country star Chet Atkins (the original recording was by the song’s composer, the guitarist Johnny Smith), the Ventures’ version had a propulsive power, driven by heavily amplified guitars and the drumming of Skip Moore.
Although Mr. Bogle’s playing was a key to the single’s success, Mr. Edwards soon replaced him as the band’s lead guitarist; Mr. Bogle’s switch to bass was an acknowledgment of Mr. Edwards’s greater skill. Peter Blecha, the author of “Sonic Boom! The History of Northwest Rock: From ‘Louie Louie’ to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ ” (2009), said the strength of Mr. Edwards’s playing rested on the “fluidity of his picking” and the way he added “melodic flourishes in surprising places.”
The Ventures "Walk Don't Run"
The Ventures "Walk Don't Run" Video by NRRArchives
The band followed “Walk — Don’t Run” with other hits, like “Perfidia,” a much-recorded song that reached No. 15 on the Billboard chart, and “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” which peaked at No. 35. “Wipe Out,” a hit for the Surfaris in 1963, became a signature song for the Ventures.
In 1964, the band rerecorded “Walk — Don’t Run” with Mr. Edwards on lead and a new arrangement. The song reached the Top 10 again.
Nearly 50 years later, Mr. Edwards said he had at least two more arrangements of the song. “I may put it out and who knows, I may get another hit out of it again,” he told the website Ultimate Guitar in 2011.
The Ventures’ second-biggest hit was their version of the theme song from the long-running CBS television show “Hawaii Five-O,” which went to No. 4 in 1969. It became a concert staple both for the group and for Mr. Edwards as a solo performer.
Nole Floyd Edwards was born on May 9, 1935, in Lahoma, Okla. His father, Elbert, and his mother, the former Nannie Mae Quinton, were migrant fruit workers. In a family of guitarists, fiddlers, pianists and banjo players, young Nokie was playing guitar by age 5.
About that time, the Edwardses — who by then had 11 children — left their land, then owned by his mother and her Cherokee family, after violent disputes with merchants who wanted them to sell it, Judy Edwards said. They fled in a horse-drawn wagon, crossed the Great Plains, stopped for a time in Idaho and settled in Puyallup, Wash., south of Seattle.
Mr. Edwards stayed with the Ventures until 1968, returned in 1972 and stayed until 1984.
“He left the group a few times,” Mr. Wilson said in a telephone interview. “He said, ‘I’m tired of playing the same songs over and over again.’ ”
After that, he occasionally recorded and toured with the Ventures, sometimes in Japan, where they have been popular for decades. The band, which is still active, has gone through various permutations. Mr. Wilson retired in 2015 but still occasionally records; Mr. Bogle died in 2009.
Mr. Edwards played with various artists in his career, including the country star Lefty Frizzell. In recent years he formed a company, HitchHiker, to make custom guitars, and toured with his own group, the HitchHiker Band. Among other honors, he was inducted into the Native American Music Awards & Association’s Hall of Fame in 2011. His composition “Surf Rider” — which another surf-rock instrumental band, the Lively Ones, recorded in 1963 — was on the soundtrack of the 1994 movie “Pulp Fiction.”
In addition to his wife, the former Judy Bean, Mr. Edwards’s survivors include a daughter, Tina Edwards Nickerson; two stepsons, Patrick Fetters and Seth Chappell; 25 grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; four great-great-grandchildren; and a sister, Louise Jensen. A daughter, Kim, died in 1988. His marriages to Zelda Wade and Jean Bauers ended in divorce.
Mr. Edwards, left, performed with the Ventures in New York when they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. Kevin Mazur
Mr. Edwards played his last show in January 2017, with the HitchHiker Band in Medford, Ore. Despite poor health, he refused to cancel the show and was brought onstage in a wheelchair before shifting to a stool to perform.
“He was in a lot of distress, but he got onstage and played very well,” Dan Estremado, who played guitar with Mr. Edwards that night, said in a telephone interview. “He did the best he could but kind of gave out at the end.”
He went to a hospital afterward, where, his wife said, the doctor remarked that he could have “fallen off the stool and died onstage from internal bleeding.”
In his final days, she said, she played YouTube videos of songs for Mr. Edwards in his hospital room — including Thom Bresh and him playing “I’ll See You in My Dreams.”