After a second or so of reverb simulating waves crashing in the distance, a driving, staccato riff from the lead guitar of Brian Carmen make Pipeline instantly recognizable to fans of surf music or pop music aficionados from the early 60s. Created in a living room in Santa Ana, California, the song is considered by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock.
Brian Carmen met Bob Spickard in middle school and by the time they entered into their Freshmen year at Santa Ana High School, they were hanging out after school teaching each other the guitar. With Spickard’s older brother, Steve playing in a band called the Rhythm Rangers, Bob was inspired by what he observed. "They were making some money and attracting the girls," Spickard said. "We thought, 'Hey — that's a pretty good idea.' " (1)
Eventually, they recruited three more friends, Bob Welch (drums), Warren Waters (bass) and Rob Marshall (piano) – to form The Chantays. Marshall recalled how Spickard approached him. “I was a sophomore practicing pole vaulting on the high school track. Bob said, ‘I hear you play piano. We’re getting a garage band together, and we want you to play with us.”’ (2)
Marshall accepted and the five members started on a musical journey. “We practiced twice a week in my parents living room and drove the neighbors crazy,” Rob remembered. One day, Bob had an idea for a song. “He played a little bit of it, but he said he didn’t know how the middle should go. I said ‘How ‘bout this?’ It seemed to fit. We wrote the song in about a half hour. It was such a fluke,” Marshall said. The song was called 44 Magnum. (2)
After some of the band members saw the movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, the song was renamed Liberty’s Whip. After Warren and Spickard watched the movie Bonzai Pipeline, they had an epiphany. “Let’s call the song Pipeline,” they agreed.
A local DJ, Jack Sands shopped around some demos cut in a Rancho Cucamonga studio. Only a small label, Downey Records showed interest. The company, owned by Bill and Jack Wenzel, had released Boss by The Rumblers. Having some mild success with the surf tune, the Wenzel’s hoped to keep their momentum rolling.
L-R Bob Spickard, Bob Welch, Brian Carmen, Rob Marshall, Warren Waters.
Photo courtesy of The Chantays
The Chantays recorded Pipeline in the back of Wenzel’s Music Town in Downey, a record store that had built a small studio in the back. On Facebook, Domenic Priore, a freelance writer reminisced about how Wenzel kept the master tapes for his sessions in the bathroom of the store, where you could enter on the pretext of needing to go and instead hold the holy relic of the Pipeline master in your hands for a minute or two.
Pipeline was released in late 1962 on Downey Records and stirred some interest. Dot Records scooped up the national distribution rights and released the tune in early 1963. The song hit the Billboard Hot 100 on March 2, 1963 where it stayed for sixteen weeks eventually peaking at # 4. (3)
Promoting and touring the hit song would be a problem as the members of the group were still in high school. Somehow, they managed to book an appearance on The Lawrence Welk Show. “That was quite a thing,” Spickard says of appearing on the Welk show. “I can remember some of the administrators at our high school were miffed at that because we had to take off a couple of days to go up and shoot that.” (4)
Speculating on the connection between a southern California instrumental surf group and Lawrence Welk, one can start with their mutual record label, Dot Records. Beginning in 1960 with Last Date, followed by the # 1 hit Calcutta, Welk had a string of twelve songs that hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart on the Dot label. (3) Welk, an astute businessman, was betting he could increase the audience for his Saturday night TV show with a younger demographic, teenagers. So, he brought the Chantays from Santa Ana to his Burbank studio for an appearance.
Apparently, the group connected with Welk and his ratings. For years afterward, Welk thanked them at Christmas with cheese logs and gift baskets. Wanting to cash in on the surf phenomenon, Welk released Breakwater, a guitar-harpsichord driven surf song that briefly hit the chart. Perhaps the record-buying public had a premonition of where surf music was headed.
Fate stepped in and subsequent releases quietly drifted out to sea. The British Invasion would hit U.S. shores in early 1964 and caught in the wake with many other pop artists, the Chantays never hit the charts again. The group set out on a three-month tour to Hawaii in 1964 and upon return, decided to call it quits. After taking mainstream jobs, members of the group would still get together and play regularly over the years. “The thing we enjoyed most was the camaraderie, the guys in the band,” Spickard said. “We played all over the country pretty much, and it’s memories now, but it’s good memories. My main philosophy right now is thinking about all the good times and the fact that nobody gets out alive.” (4)
The Chantays perform on The Lawrence Welk Show on May 18, 1963.
1) Chawkins, Steve, The Los Angeles Times, Brian Carman dies at 69; guitarist co-wrote surf classic 'Pipeline', March 5, 2015.
2) Rawlins, Jack, Metzger, Stephen, The Writer’s Way, Page 228.
3) Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Top Pop Hits 1955-2002, Page 119.
4) Larsen, Pete, Orange County Register, Orange County surf rock pioneer and ‘Pipeline’ guitarist Brian Carman of the Chantays dies at 69. March 4, 2015.
L-R Ricky Lewis, Brian Carmen, Bob Spickard, Bob Welch and Gil Orr.
Photo courtesy of The Chantays