Check This Action: “Pipeline” and Beyond

Check This Action: “Pipeline” and Beyond
The Chantays photo courtesy of Sundazed Music.

When a friend introduced me to Bob Spickard and Brian Carman of the Chantays about 40 years ago, I immediately pumped them with questions: Who played lead and who played rhythm on their classic “Pipeline”? Which guitars did they record with? Was the song’s quirky mix intentional?

Those two minutes amount to the greatest surf composition ever recorded. The pair wrote the masterpiece when they were 16 and, with Spickard playing the melody and Carman playing the iconic, tremolo-picked glissando, it reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, as well as #11 on the R&B chart. I wasn’t exaggerating when I told them, “You two combine to equal one of my biggest guitar influences.”

“Pipeline” has been covered hundreds of times, from contemporary surf bands of the day like the Lively Ones and Challengers to guitar gods like Eric Johnson. It’s also found its place in jazz (Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell), country (Junior Brown), easy listening (Lawrence Welk Orchestra), disco (Hot Butter), metal (Anthrax), and punk (Johnny Thunders). Jimmy Smith played it on the organ, Santo Farina interpreted it on steel guitar, and it was even a vehicle for trombonist Kai Winding. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Dick Dale tried their hand in Back To The Beach, and two pre-surf heroes, Duane Eddy and the Shadows’ Hank Marvin, cut a version in ’93.

So a Chantays album of previously unreleased material from the late ’60s, A Dawning Sun, is welcome news indeed. The 10 cuts on the vinyl edition and three bonus tracks on CD reveal their classic sound intact while dabbling in pop and folk-rock. Spickard penned eight of the 10 tunes on the album proper, including three vocal numbers, rounded out by covers of the Belairs’ “Mr. Moto” and “You’ve Got Your Troubles” via the Fortunes from England. The bonus cuts – “Riders In The Sky,” the Astronauts’ “Baja,” and, of course, “Pipeline” – come from a stellar 1994 live album, Next Set.

“The Chantays was the first band Brian and I were in,” Spickard revealed from his home in Huntington Beach, a.k.a. “Surf City.” “We were all friends at Santa Ana High School, and we were influenced by a surf group called the Rhythm Rockers, with Brian’s brother Steve on sax. I was very inspired by the Ventures, learning to play ‘Perfidia’ and ‘Walk, Don’t Run.’ For my 15th birthday, I asked my dad if I could have an electric guitar. We went to Costa Mesa Music, and I got my Barth guitar with a Barth amplifier. I recorded ‘Pipeline’ on that, with Brian on his Montgomery Ward Airline. For our first dance, we rented the Tustin Youth Center for 25 bucks, and made about 50 bucks per man. We thought, ‘This is pretty cool.’ The next dance, we tripled that.”

Richard Delvy was largely responsible for getting “Pipeline” regional airplay. The former Belairs and Challengers drummer was working for a record distributor and urged KAFY in Bakersfield to flip the 45 over from “Move It,” which the label felt was the hit. The band’s manager, Jack Sands, did the same at KFXM in San Bernardino, where he was a deejay. The result? “The phones started ringing immediately,” according to Bob.

“After we got our first check, we got sunburst Stratocasters,” Spickard recounts. “We special-ordered them with tortoiseshell pickguards. Then we had black outboard Reverb tanks and black 4×10 Fender Concert amps. Warren Waters played bass through a Dual Showman, with Rob Marshall on electric piano, and Bob Welch was the original drummer.”

The drums were atypically low in the “Pipeline” mix (“It was planned that way,” says Bob), and in fact stop cold for four bars in the middle.

The band played “Surfathon” at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre, and appeared on TV rock shows locally, such as Sam Riddle’s “Ninth Street West,” “The Lloyd Thaxton Show,” and “Wink’s Dance Party” with Wink Martindale. Nationally, they mimed to “Pipeline” on “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

The band’s follow-up single, “Beyond,” was another worthy original, but by 1964, when the Beatles ushered in the British Invasion, it didn’t chart. Likewise, changing tastes dictated A Dawning Sun being shelved. Marshall handled lead vocals on the album, with Spickard harmonizing on offerings reminiscent of the Association. The instrumental title cut owed more than a little to the Shadows’ “Apache,” and “Raylene” presented a beautiful, lush ballad.

Before passing away at age 70 in 2015, Carman was plant manager at Rickenbacker and later worked at Music Man while still providing that muted, reverbed rhythm in the group. Spickard, who still gigs occasionally, reflects back: “Fortunately for us, ‘Pipeline’ is considered a classic, especially of that era. Covers kind of kept us going all those years. It seemed like the Ventures used it on almost every album they released in Japan. We did three weeks there, from one end of the country to the other, including Budokan. We drew 20,000 people at one concert. They treated us like we were the Beatles.”

This article originally appeared in VG’s September 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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