Nicky Wonder, longtime guitarist for Brian Wilson and cofounder of power pop band the Wondermints, has died. He was 59.
“It is with my deepest regret to tell you that our beloved Nicky Wonder passed away last night in his sleep. We are in a state of shock as you can imagine,” Brian Wilson said in a statement on his official website. “But we are going to honor him with tonight’s show. Nicky was my favorite guitar player ever. I always loved the way he used his fingers.”
Born Nick Walusko on May 22, 1960, he formed the Wondermints with Darian Sahanaja in 1992. He and Sahanaja were both fans of Wilson’s work, long before they met him. “When I met Nick Walusko, who I formed the Wondermints with, one of the first things we bonded over was Smile bootlegs,” Sahanaja told Rolling Stone. “We got to know [music historian] Domenic Priore and a small group of us became the Smile intelligentsia of that period.”
The Wondermints released their self-titled debut album in 1995, followed by a covers album, Wonderful World of the Wondermints, in 1998, 1999’s Bali and 2002’s Mind if We Make Love to You.
The band would eventually meet Wilson during a charity tribute show dedicated to the legendary Beach Boys cofounder in Los Angeles, California, when he unexpectedly showed up backstage. “We were playing his song ‘This Whole World,’” Sahanaja said. “Apparently he perked up and was like, ‘Who is that? What is that? It sounds amazing.’ Somebody had to remind him it was a song he actually wrote since he had forgotten about it.” The chance meeting led to the band backing Wilson at a couple radio shows and a few years later they were invited to back Wilson on his tour in support of solo album, Imagination. The Wondermints officially became a part of Wilson’s touring band in 1999.
Walusko and Sahanaja’s bonding over the Smile bootlegs would come full circle when they contributed to Wilson’s 2004 Smile release and its 2005 DVD. In addition to that landmark offering and Walusko’s on-the-road contributions, he performed on and contributed to several of Wilson’s other albums, including 2004’s Gettin’ Over My Head, 2008’s That Lucky Old Sun, 2010’s Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin, 2011’s In the Key of Disney and 2015’s No Peer Pressure, along with his appearances on several live albums.
Walusko also performed on Billy Joel’s 2005 LP, My Lives, and played guitar on the Beach Boys’ 2012 album, That’s Why God Made the Radio ,and 2013’s Made in California.
“He was a real Rock and Roll guy and great singer too. He was a friendly and very nice person and he was really really funny,” Wilson said of Walusko. “He had the best sense of humor. We are all crying today, he will be missed beyond words. Our hearts go out to his wife Susan and his entire family, friends and fans. We love you Nicky.”
Wilson is paying homage to Walusko during his show on Wednesday at Artpark Mainstage Theatre in Lewiston, New York. The tour stop is part of Wilson’s Pet Sounds: The Final Performances Tour.