Primitive Radio Gods

Primitive Radio Gods are most famous for their song, Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in my Hand. Originally a modern one man band, Chris O'Conner from California was responsible for the band's success.

At the age of 14, O'Conner started learning to play the guitar. Jeff Sparks, who had been playing the guitar for a couple of years showed him how to play a few extra chords, and by the age of 18 O'Conner had decided he wanted to become a professional musician. However, the same year he decided to join the navy as he wanted to see the world whilst making money.

After leaving the navy in 1986, Chris came back to Southern California where he grew up and joined a band called the I-Rails. This guitar pop indie band was formed with Jeff Sparks, his childhood friend. The group focused mainly on guitar pop, and toured around the Ventura County and Santa Barbara area. They released four albums independently on cassette, the first two of which O'Conner admitted later were mediocre, the second two quite good. These albums were released locally, and by the time the group split up in 1991, the band were just about getting noticed on the local music scene, playing showcases and small venues.

O' Conner says of this time,

"I was pretty bummed out because we had been close to getting a deal. I was pretty burnt out on the whole music thing too. We had laid a couple of tracks down that were going to be the next record, and when everybody split I was like: 'what am I going to do? Should I just leave it?' There were two drum tracks and a guitar track in each song. I said, nah fuck it."


O'Conner took the two tracks, called Are You Happy and Where the Monkey Meets the Man, which had been started with the I-Rails, and completed an album by himself which he then called Rocket.

For this album he decided to experiment with hip-hop rhythms with an old barely-working Ampex 16 track tape machine in a friend's garage.

‘Well fuck, the I-Rails were basically a three piece guitar outfit, power pop, lot of reverb, lot of delay, that sort of tone, so I’m going to buy a sampler and have fun.’ - Chris O'Conner

Rocket proved to be an obituary for the I-Rails, using its last remains to spark off a new era for O'Conner. The album melted together samples with DIY technology, and hip-hop with the additional influence of Public Enemy and NWA. However, the grunge scene was in full swing and Rocket never took off. One major problem O'Conner had was that every time he was approached by a record company, they inquired about his band, which didn't actually exist at the time.

Air Traffic Controller

He decided to shelve the project, and tried to get a job. He ended up working as an air traffic controller in Los Angeles. Just before he went, his car, complete with sub woofer, got stolen. He stayed in this job for 12 years, eventually moving to San Diego to carry on his career. Whilst in San Diego he realised that he wouldn't be able to cope with working as an air traffic controller for the rest of his life, and decided that he would need to earn a lot of money so he could resign. He enrolled in every get rich quick scheme he could find, including horse betting syndicates, stock market tip clubs and going to Las Vegas. He eventually decided on starting his own business doing something he knew plenty about. He decided to go back to the music business and to start his own record label. He already had Rocket completed, so he printed a large number of CDs and sent then out to all the addresses of college radio stations he knew. He also sent them to the music press and industry executives. This proved a problem for O'Conner though as he had to talk to each person he sent his CD to encourage them to play it. This eventually got too much trouble and the CDs were stored away and forgotten about.

Columbia Records

One day when O'Conner was tidying up his house, he found the CDs yet again and on a whim sent them out to anyone he could think of in the record industry with a hope of them getting played. He attributed the album to a fictional band called Primitive Radio Gods which was the title of a song on the final I-Rails album. Unsolicited CDs are usually frowned upon my record companies, but a newly hired A&R executive at Fiction Records, a company responsible for The Cure, took it out of the bin and listened to it. The CD was then passed onto Columbia Records in England. It finally rested on the desk of Columbia chairman Don Ienner who played it for the head of Sony.

Without even meeting O' Conner or his non-existent band, O'Conner received a phone call saying that they wanted to release the album. With a record deal in place, O' Conner started looking for a band. This eventually comprised of Jeff Sparks, Tim Lauterio, both from the I-Rails and Luke McAuliffe from a band called the Mudheads who were based in Santa Barbara.

The Cable Guy

The record company decided that Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in my Hand should be released on the soundtrack CD of The Cable Guy, the record label's big summer movie of that year. The band weren't too happy about the decision but it went ahead anyway. Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in my Hand was one of the biggest hit tracks on the CD, and in the big budget movie starring Jim Carrey. Even David Letterman used the catchphrase I've been downhearted baby, taken from the lyrics of the track, on his television talk show as an excuse for any of his wrong-doings for most of the end of 1996.

However, O'Conner decided that he had actually made it when,

"I was in Ventura there was this strip joint down the street that I used to go to, me and Tim were playin' pool and this chick gets up on stage and picks two songs from Rocket and starts dancin'. And I thought, you know, when you fucking' walk into a strip joint and some chick is dancin' to your tune, you know you've fuckin' made it."

The songs themselves are made in various different ways. usually the guitar piece is written first, and then the drums, but occasionally the mood of the song comes from the title it is given at the start of the writing. Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in my Hand. came from an idea from a sampler using a scratchy sample of B.B. King's How Blue Can you Get?

White Hot Peach

Since Rocket came out, there has been a long absence from the Primitive Radio Gods. There was a small disagreement with Columbia Records which led to bad blood between them and the band. The band then signed with Sire Records. Just as Primitive Radio Gods' next album was going to be released, Sire Records merged with London Records which put the release date back another year. There was more red tape to be dealt with, but the band carried on writing though that time, until they found WAR Records, the distributor of their next album, White Hot Peach. For White Hot Peach, the group chose which tracks they still liked from the mass of tracks they had accumulated since Rocket, and put them on the album.

The Primitive Radio Gods still have difficulties though. O'Conner says,

"We don’t have the money or the resources of a big label to get the word out even that we’ve got a second record, So hopefully people are going to listen to it and like it and tell somebody and something will happen that way. One can only hope that after years of struggle, the Gods’ prayers are answered."



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