Birdwell Blog

Straight Outta Santa Ana
Dazzling Blue #90

While suburban neighborhoods are often seen as drab and uninspired, they can also work as terrific launch pads. The cookie-cutter homes, the uniform mailboxes, the lawn-mowings and car-washings on Saturday mornings—this quotidian stuff can spawn big imagination. As French writer Gustave Flaubert wrote, “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

     I’m thinking of Bob Spickard, Brian Carman, Bob Welch, Warren Waters, and Rob Marshall, friends and fellow students at Santa Ana High School. Their imaginations and creativity are all there, though they have yet to find a vehicle for it. Carman’s older brother plays sax in a local band called the Rhythm Rangers. Inspired by the prospect of earning a little dough and meeting girls, the fivesome start their own band. They call it The Chantays.

 

 

 

 

     On the way to school in the morning, on the way home from school in the afternoon, at the dinner table at night, and in the park on weekends, they hear music in their heads. One afternoon in 1961, Carman and Spickard get together and trade licks. They riff their way into a hollow, haunting sound that is catchy, that captures the spirit of their angsty suburban longing. By the end of the day they have composed what will become one of the biggest tunes in surf music history. At first they call it “Liberty’s Whip,” after actor Lee Marvin’s character in the film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” But shortly thereafter they see a Bruce Brown film and marvel at the heart-in-the-throat barrels at the Banzai Pipeline. They change the song’s name to “Pipeline.”

     Their timing is immaculate. Surf music is exploding, and the song swiftly rises up the Billboard Pop charts, reaching #4. They get invited to play on “The Lawrence Welk Show,” where they strum and drum to a pre-recorded “Pipeline.” Never before has the show featured rock ‘n’ roll. Middle America eats it up.

 

 

     “Pipeline” has enjoyed a big life. It’s been covered by Dick Dale, The Eagles, The Ventures, Johnny Thunders, Hanoi Rocks, and many others. In the ‘80s and ‘90s it was used as the entrance music for the Edmonton Oilers hockey team at home games at Northland Coliseum. In an episode of "The Sopranos," it was the background music for a cannoli-eating contest. And to bring it all back home, their band name was memorialized with a street beside Santa Ana High School renamed Chantays Avenue.

 

Check out The Chantays on Spotify HERE.

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