JOINED BAND: 1958 – Co-Founder
POSITION: Rhythm Guitar, Lead Guitar, Song Writer
Donald Lee Wilson was born in Tacoma, Washington on February 10, 1933, the middle child between two sisters, Jacqueline and Sally. The family heritage was mixed — his mother, Josie, was first generation Swedish, while his father was of Welsh and Irish extraction, though several generations of his family were born in the U.S.
Don”s early interest in music started with the big band sound and “Country and Western” music. When he was about 12 years of age, his mother showed him a few chords on the tipple (a 10-stringed instrument, tuned like a ukelele) which she knew how to play. When compared with a guitar, the tipple would be equivalent to a 12-string. Later he used to get together with neighborhood friends who knew some guitar chords, and played along with them.
Don always liked listening to the GIenn Miller Orchestra, but his idol was Tommy Dorsey because he enjoyed his mellow trombone sound. This inspired Don to take trombone lessons. In junior high school, he was still playing trombone and joined the school orchestra. In high school, however, his interest spread to sports and he was State Champion wrestler in his sophomore year at 112 lbs. Don didn”t pick up the trombone again until he went into the Army — in the 169th Infantry, he played with the regimental band in Germany, where he was stationed for 19 months. During this time, he had an army buddy who had previously played guitar, from whom Don learned some more guitar chords.
On his return home from the army, Don went to work as a car salesman and, after meeting Bob Bogle, to whom he sold a car, they found they had a mutual interest in playing guitar, even though they only knew a few chords between them. Don began working with Bob in construction and their friendship grew. In late 1958, they bought instructional guitar books and began to practice on guitars they had purchased second-hand in a pawn shop.
After advancing their knowledge of chords and basic guitar playing, they bought two new Fender guitars (on time payments, because they couldn”t afford to buy them outright), and began playing club dates at night, while continuing to work in construction during the day. They were not first known as The Ventures, but used the name The Versatones for their early gigs. Don”s sound was heavily influenced by the styles of Les Paul, Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy.
With the help of Don”s mother, Josie Wilson, Don and Bob made a recording on their own record label, Blue Horizon, which was released locally in the Seattle/Tacoma area. They had heard a song called Walk, Don”t Run played by Chet Atkins and, using their own arrangement, they came up with the basis for what was later identified as The Ventures” sound. The tune started to get air play, and was then picked up for nationwide release by Dolton Records. Shortly thereafter, Walk Don”t Run became the #2 record in the country, selling over 2 million copies worldwide. The Ventures were on their way to becoming the world”s largest selling instrumental group of all time. Their popularity in Japan was such that, during the Beatles heyday in the 60s, The Ventures outsold them two-to-one.