Retired English teacher dives into his days as the keyboardist of The Chantays
It’s May 1963 in Burbank, Calif. A terrified 17-year-old high school student stands on the stage of The Lawrence Welk Show holding a Fender Stratocaster. He looks nervously into the television camera and thanks the audience for making his band’s song No. 1. Then The Chantays—in matching collarless jackets, too-short pegger slacks and pointy black halfboots—launch into the distinctive and familiar notes of the surf anthem “Pipeline.”
Welk’s orchestra looks on from behind, not quite sure what to make of the choreography—the corny dance steps and the synchronized waving of the sunburst Fenders of the three boys up front. To the right of the stage is the keyboard player, dancing to the beat and smiling broadly as he plays the distinctive chords on his Wurlitzer.
Rob Marshall retired as a speech and English teacher in 2003. For the past two years, he’s worked part time at Chico Sports Club, washing towels and doing general maintenance. Forty-four years ago, “Pipeline,” which Marshall co-wrote and on which he played keyboard, was at the top of the charts. “Pipeline” has been covered by The Ventures, Dick Dale (with Stevie Ray Vaughan), even Anthrax, and many more, and the song has been used in movies, television shows and commercials. The Chantays also recorded two albums: Pipeline, in 1963, and Two Sides of The Chantays, in 1964. In 1996, the Chantays, along with the Ventures ("Walk, Don’t Run") and the Surfaris ("Wipeout"), were inducted into the Hollywood Rock Walk. They are also included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland. Two years ago, the name of the street in front of Santa Ana High School was changed to Chantay Boulevard.Marshall was a sophomore when he was approached by Bob Spickard on the Santa Ana High School track, where Marshall was practicing pole vaulting.
“I didn’t know who he was and I have no idea how he knew me,” Marshall recalled. “But he said, ‘I hear you play piano. We’re getting a garage band together, and we want you to play with us.’ “
Though Marshall had taken a year of piano lessons, he was largely self-taught. “I just played by ear,” he says. “Even at my lessons, I didn’t play from the sheet music. I just mimicked what I heard my teacher playing.”
Soon, The Chantays were practicing twice a week after school in Marshall’s parents’ front room, and “driving the neighbors crazy.” Mostly they played covers, but all were talented, creative musicians.
“One day Bob said he had an idea for a song,” Marshall said, “and 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 pretty naturally. And that was it. ‘Pipeline.’ We wrote that song in half an hour.”
Marshall shook his head softly, smiling as though he still had trouble believing it all really happened. “It was such a fluke,” he said.
Not to some, however. In his 1963 Santa Ana High School yearbook, classmate—and fellow high school choir member—Diane Keaton wrote: “You guys are so bitchin'.”
Shortly after they wrote “Pipeline,” The Chantays heard about a series of Saturday-night teen dances at Lake Arrowhead.
“We went up there and asked the disk jockey, Jack Sands, if we could play live. So we played two one-hour sets, and afterward he came up to us and said, ‘What was that one song? I want to record a promo.’ “
Two weeks later, they recorded “Pipeline” at a studio in Cucamonga, but Sands didn’t like the quality of the studio, so The Chanteys recorded it again at Downey Studios. Just two takes. The 45 was released in January of 1963.
Sands began playing the song on his station, KFXM-FM in San Bernardino, and getting “massive requests” for it. Within a week it had made the station’s charts, and three weeks later it was picked up by a Los Angeles AM station. Two weeks after that “Pipeline” was on the Billboard charts.
“We were aghast,” said Marshall. “We were 17. We were juniors in high school!”
Soon the money was rolling in. “We all bought new cars. I even bought a boat. That year I paid more income tax than my dad did, and he was working two jobs.”
Marshall’s parents suggested he invest in land. “But what kid is thinking about that?” he said. “We wanted cars. This was 1963. In L.A.”
Marshall says the band felt out of place on Welk’s show but that Welk was a “nice guy” who introduced them by saying how “proud he was of us for being clean-cut American kids.”
“Look at that YouTube clip,” he said. “Our drummer didn’t have a foot pedal—he was just tapping his foot. The guitars weren’t even plugged in.” He laughed. “What fun.”
With the success of “Pipeline,” the Chantays joined the ranks of some of America’s best-known bands of the early ‘60s, touring the country with the Righteous Brothers and Roy Orbison.
“The toughest thing, though,” said Marshall, “was when we were invited to tour Australia, New Zealand and Europe. All of our parents said, ‘Absolutely not.’ They all felt that our educations were too important, that we shouldn’t be pulled out of high school to tour the world. We were so mad.”
Marshall did in fact go on to college, Santa Ana Junior College, where he studied music theory and helped The Chantays work out their vocals, three- and four-part harmonies. After a tour of Japan in 1968, Marshall quit the band and moved to Chico to attend Chico State, originally declaring a music major but soon changing to education. He graduated in 1970, with a multiple-subject and a single-subject (English) teaching credential and in 1971 was hired at Los Molinos Elementary School, where he taught for a year before moving to Los Molinos High School, where he taught English and coached varsity track and junior varsity football. Two years later, he went to work at Vina Elementary School, where he taught seventh and eighth grade until retiring four years ago.
The Chantays, with three of its original members, continue to record, and they perform regularly in Southern California and state fairs. Two years ago, they contacted Marshall and asked him to come to Las Vegas for a show.
“They said they’d fly me down there, pay me, put me up, fly me home. But that’s not me any more,” said Marshall, clearly content in shorts and a loose-fitting Chico Sports Club sweatshirt. “I’ve got a different life now.”
And while that different life means playing in public is “kind of on the back burner,” he still has a piano at home, and still loves music.
“All of it,” he said. “From Mozart to Travis Tritt.”