Chris Carter: The Beatles On Ed Sullivan "Ignited Everything"

Radio host on the impact of the Fab Four's debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and 30 years of "Breakfast With The Beatles"
  • Photo: Tom LaBonge
    Chris Carter with Paul McCartney
  • Photo: Allyson Carter
    Chris Carter with Ringo Starr
January 30, 2014 -- 2:31 pm PST
By J. Poet / GRAMMY.com

Touted as America's longest-running weekly Beatles radio show, "Breakfast With The Beatles" celebrated its 30th anniversary in December 2013. The broadcast airs Sunday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon on Los Angeles radio station KLOS-FM. Created by DJ Deirdre O'Donoghue in December 1983, the show features the music of the Beatles, both as a band and as individual solo artists, obscure rarities and outtakes, and interviews with people who knew and worked with the Beatles. After O'Donoghue died in 2001, Chris Carter stepped up to the mic as the new "Breakfast With The Beatles" host. In his decade-plus tenure, he has interviewed Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and original Beatles drummer Pete Best.

Aside from "Breakfast With The Beatles," Carter began hosting "Chris Carter's British Invasion" on SiriusXM Radio in April 2013, spinning everything from the Beatles to Oasis and the Arctic Monkeys. He is also the co-founder of L.A.-based alternative rock band Dramarama and a producer of the award-winning documentary film about Rodney Bingenheimer, 2003's Mayor Of The Sunset Strip.

In an exclusive GRAMMY.com interview, Carter discussed his duties as "Breakfast With The Beatles" host, the rarest recording he's played on the show and the Beatles' game-changing debut appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," which will be celebrated with "The Beatles: The Night That Changed America — A GRAMMY Salute" on Feb. 9 on CBS.

Were you a Beatles expert before you started hosting the show in 2001? How did you get the job?
I don't know if I would have been classified as an expert, but I was more knowledgeable than the typical guy on the street. I'd listened to [O'Donoghue], but didn't know her personally. I used to call in to the show and suggest she play more mono records, which were the [original] mixes the Beatles wanted you to hear. The Beatles looked at stereo as a novelty, so secondary engineers did the stereo mixes for Sgt. Pepper …, even the White Album. It was a shock when we tuned in one morning and there was no host. They found her in her apartment the next day; she'd passed on.

We all wondered what was going to happen to "Breakfast With The Beatles." The station had so many people audition for the show that they picked half a dozen of us to rotate through the summer. Then there was a vote to pick the permanent host. I won the election. I've been here for 12 years, going on 13.

Who tracks down the rarities and outtakes you play on the show?
I do. I've always been a Beatles fanatic. I wanted everything the Beatles ever recorded. On the show, I don't want to play scratchy acetates, so I use different mixes and different versions of "Revolution" or "Hey Jude." When I play a "new" version of something you've heard a hundred times, people do notice it. A few years ago, an 11-minute version of "Revolution 1" that nobody had heard all these years surfaced. None of my collector friends had it.

What's the rarest recording you've unearthed?
A John Lennon rehearsal recording of "Working Class Hero." He did a benefit for Geraldo Rivera's One to One, an organization that works with handicapped children. Elephant's Memory was the backing band. I have a bluesy version, with the F-word and all, from the evening rehearsal. I got it from someone who was working that night and recorded it. It's been in a private collection for years and they sent it to me. We don't play it every week because we want to respect John and the song and I'm not going to put it out for sale. I have heard bootlegs of the rehearsal before, but that song wasn't on them. It's one of the perks of the "Breakfast With The Beatles" gig.

You were only 4 at the time of the Beatles' first appearance on Ed Sullivan on Feb. 9, 1964. What is your first Beatles memory?
[For the actual broadcast], I was in bed, asleep. It had no effect on me. It was the Magical Mystery Tour album that had the effect. The first album I ever owned was Rubber Soul, I got it in 1967, and followed it with Magical Mystery Tour. What impressed me is that they looked and sounded entirely different on those two albums, like they were two different bands. They had no style you could put your finger on, but they always sounded like the Beatles. They kept evolving right to the end.

What is your favorite performance from that first Feb. 9, 1964 show?
That's hard, but it's probably "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" because of the intensity of the performance and the crowd reaction. Beatlemania happened almost overnight. Thousands of bands were started in garages the next Monday and sales of guitars skyrocketed. At that time, there were no mainstream outlets for rock and roll, only variety shows. There were musicians on [Sullivan] before the Beatles, but there's no comparison to the reaction.

Where do you rank the Beatles' first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in terms of Beatles milestones?
It was the blast that ignited everything. I don't think anything since has even come close to comparing with it for what it was at the time, and who they were at the time. It was right after the assassination of [John F. Kennedy], a response to how down the country was feeling at the time. It was a breath of fresh air from another country. The Beatles made us happy and the country was in the right frame of mind to respond to their music. As they say, "Timing is everything."

(J. Poet lives in San Francisco and writes about Native, folk, country, Americana, and world music for many national and international publications and websites.)

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