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Interview: Blondie Chaplin talks about reuniting with Brian Wilson

This past summer, when Blondie Chaplin set eyes on Brian Wilson for the first time in almost 40 years, he was made anxious not by the inherent uncertainty of such a long-overdue reunion, the prospect of working with the iconic Beach Boy again or Wilson's off-putting shyness. It wasn't so much who was waiting to meet him in the studio that day, as much as who wasn't.

"It was a little unnerving," Chaplin admits during a phone call from Los Angeles. "The last time I saw him, he was with his brothers [the late Carl and Dennis Wilson]. It was weird looking at him and not seeing the other two guys."

Chaplin, a singer-guitarist originally from South Africa and now based in Los Angeles, joined the Beach Boys as a full-time member at the beginning of the '70s, singing lead vocals on the '73 hit "Sail On, Sailor" (a job originally intended for Dennis) and appearing on three of the group's albums before embarking on a solo career that has since found him collaborating with the Rolling Stones, the Band, David Johansen, Paul Butterfield and, as of late, the 36-year-old blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamasssa. On Friday, Sept. 27, he'll perform as part of Wilson's band, which also includes guitarist Jeff Beck, at Hard Rock Live.

Chaplin's first band, the Flame, was the only act the Beach Boys' signed to their Brother Records. He was particularly close to Carl, who produced the Flame's self-titled album.

"He was more involved with us," says Chaplin, his South African accent still evident after decades spent living in Los Angeles. "Dennis was around. He was a free spirit. He wasn't too happy singing 'Sail On, Sailor.' He said, 'The waves are happening,' so he picked up his surfboard and [expletive] off."

The invitation Chaplin received to record vocals for a song on Wilson's in-progress album came, he says, as an "odd" surprise.

Wilson was so pleased with Chaplin's performance on the track — "he absolutely blew my mind," the Beach Boy says -- that he invited Chaplin to join the tour that will open in Hollywood.

“I was working with Joe Bonamassa, fiddling with my stuff, doing gigs in Europe, keeping myself pretty busy,” he recalls. “Brian’s musical director called me out of the blue and said, ‘Your name came up, and Brian wanted you to do some singing on his new album. That caught me off guard. I hadn’t seen Brian in years.”

Chaplin says that, until recently, he hadn't spent much time reflecting on his years as a member of the Beach Boys, which he joined in his early 20s. He expects to sing "Sail On, Sailor" Friday night, though he's modest about his contribution to a song that remains among the group's biggest post-1960s hits.

"I'll go into a Trader Joe's somewhere and hear 'Sail On, Sailor,' " Chaplin says. "And I'll think, 'That's OK. That's good. He's holding the notes,' and keep walking."

Blondie Chaplin will perform with Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, at Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, in Hollywood. Tickets cost $49-$84. Call 800-745-3000 or go to MyHRL.com. For an interview with Wilson, click here.

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