By Christine Graf
High school in 1977, his dream was to own his own record store. Just two years later, he dropped out of the business program at Fairleigh Dickinson and opened Looney Tunez Records on Route 23 in Wayne.
Carter and friends John Easdale, Mark Englert, Peter Wood, Ted Ellenis, and Jesse Farbman formed alternative rock band Dramarama in the basement of Looney Tunez in 1982. Carter played bass and served as one of the band’s producers.
After releasing a self-funded, five track debut record in 1984, their music became popular in France. As a result, French record label New Rose Records signed them to France to record their first full-length album called Cinéma Vérité. By The time the album was released in November 1985. Dramarama was back in New Jersey performing at clubs and bars.
The band’s big break came after popular Los Angeles disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer bought their album at a record store in California. He had never heard of Dramarama, but he liked the Cinéma Vérité album cover which featured a picture of model Edie Sedgwick. Bingenheimer purchased the album, and the rest is history.
He liked Dramarama’s music so much that he began playing their songs on Los Angeles radio station KROQ. The Dramarama song Anything Anything (I’ll Give You) became one of the station’s all-time most requested songs.
In 1987, the band packed up and moved to California. Over the course of the next several years, they recorded five albums and toured the United States and Europe. Their music was played on the radio all over the world as well as seen on MTV.
The band broke up in1994, and Carter said it wasn’t any one thing that led to the breakup. “Like most bands, we broke up after living on top of each other for such a long time.”
He continued playing music sporadically over the years and played with Mike Myers at the 1997 MTV Music Awards. During that performance, Myers was in character as Austin Powers—a character he created for a series of blockbuster movies. “I got to play bass guitar behind Austin Powers,” said Carter. “That was pretty cool.”
In 2004, Dramarama band members appeared in a VH1 television show called Bands Reunited. As a result, three of the band’s founding members decided to get the band back together. Although Carter has fond memories of his time in Dramarama, he chose not to re-join the band.
“It was fun when I was twenty-five,” said Carter. “But I don’t want to be running around in a van playing concerts when I’m 60 years old.”
Carter pursued other interests after Dramarama disbanded. “When the band broke up, I didn’t really know what to do,” he said. “I became a manager and managed a couple of bands including one (Wondermints) that became (Beach Boys) Brian Wilson’s band.”
Carter also spent seven years writing and producing a documentary entitled The Mayor of Sunset Strip. The 90-minute documentary is about the life of Rodney Bingenheimer, the Los Angeles disc jockey who introduced Dramarama’s music to California. The movie was directed by George Hickenlooper, a well-respected Hollywood director.
“It went on to become a very successful movie. It was the second highest selling documentary ever made at the time—behind Bowling for Columbine,” said Carter. “We sold it for seven figures. It was very rewarding for my first experience producing a film.”
The Mayor of Sunset Strip was described as a who’s who of rock and pop culture and featured interviews with David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Blondie, Green Day, Coldplay, Courtney Love, Cher, Oasis, Ramones and other big names in the music industry. It won the award for Best Documentary of the Year in the Santa Barbara Film Festival and was screened at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center. Carter and Hickenlooper planned to work on additional projects together—including a Tiny Tim documentary–but Hickenlooper died suddenly in 2010 at the age of 47.
It was while working on the documentary that Carter started his career as a disc jockey. It was something he felt destined to do. “I went to Connecticut School of Broadcasting in between high school and my attempt at college, and I always wanted to be a DJ,” he said. “And I was always one of the ones who did the radio interviews when we had the band.”
In 2001, Carter began hosting a popular Los Angeles radio show called Breakfast with the Beatles. The program was started in 1983, and Carter took over after the death of its original host. It is America’s longest running weekly Beatles radio show and airs on Sundays on Los Angeles radio station 95.5 KLOS.
In 2017, Carter’s weekly radio show caught the attention of executives at satellite radio company Sirius/ XM. According to Carter, “Sirius/ XM finally decided to have their own Beatles channel, and then I got the call that they wanted me to be the morning man every day. It was very flattering that I was their go-to Beatles guy. It was like a dream come true for me. Sirius/XM is great to work for.”
His three-hour show, Breakfast with the Beatles, airs Monday through Friday at 8am on Channel 18. He records the show at his Sherman Oaks home in California’s San Fernando Valley where he lives with his wife of twenty years, Allyson (Born in Freehold NJ) , and seventeen-year-old daughter, Nicole.
“We are a music family,” said Carter. “My wife was an executive at Polygram and worked at MCA (now Universal Music Group), and my daughter plays piano like Elton John, sings, and writes songs. She’s very talented.”
Although he has a recording studio at his home, he said it is nothing elaborate. “You don’t need too much these days. A good mic, a couple of little effects, and a computer.” Because of the Internet, he can send his show to the Sirius XM studios in New York with the push of a button.
According to Carter, a great deal of time goes into creating each day’s three-hour show. “I write it, I produce it, I do all the voice tracks, I edit it. It’s a very involved thing to get the three hours on the air. You’ve got to really do your homework.”
When explaining how he chooses each day’s playlist of approximately sixty songs, he said, “I take it one day at a time. The first thing I look at is what did the Beatles do today in Beatles history.”
For example, he said his April 25, 2019 show was based on an event that took place on April 25, 1976. “That was the last day that John ever saw Paul face to face. So, I said, ‘Today we are just going to do a John Lennon and Paul McCartney show. Just songs written by John or Paul.’ I built a whole show around that. That’s how I keep it fresh.”
Although he pre-records his Sirius/XM Show—his Los Angeles show is done live—he completes each show just before it airs. He starts working on the next day’s show at 10:30 p.m. and completes it just before 5 a.m. when he heads off to bed. “That makes it very timely,” he said. “I can talk about baseball scores the night before. Or I can talk about if someone passes away overnight.”
When sharing his extensive Beatles knowledge with his listeners, Carter keeps in mind that his audience is diverse. “You have from the average fan who might have a few Beatles records to the guy who has every Beatles record and knows every little thing about the Beatles,” he said. “You don’t want to come off as being too know-it-all. You want to come across as likeable. It’s a fine balance.”
Carter has interviewed all the Beatles (including original drummer Pete Best) except for John Lennon who was killed in 1980. He has also interviewed many of their spouses and children including Yoko Ono and Julian Lennon. In addition, he has interviewed countless people who were associated with the band.
He said the late George Harrison is his favorite Beatle. Carter’s last interview with Harrison took place shortly before Harrison’s 2001 death. “I always thought he was very cool and very funny and interesting,” said Carter. “His wife, Olivia, and son, Dhani, are frequent guests on my show. I think if he was still with us that he would have been a regular on the show as well.”
During George Harrison’s last interview with Carter, they discussed Harrison’s 30th anniversary reissue of his first solo album, All Things Must Pass. The All Things Must Pass promo CD contains a transcript of Carter’s interview. In 2015, The Los Angeles Times referred to Carter as “one of the world’s foremost authorities” on the album.
When it comes to the Beatles, there isn’t much Carter doesn’t know. “I’m one of the biggest Beatles fan ever, but I’m not into collecting wigs and pillowcases,” he said with a laugh. “I’m all about the music and the songs–when they were recorded, who’s playing on them, why there were written, who they were written about. That’s my cup of tea. That’s what I like to bring to the listener. You can pick any Beatles song and I could talk about it for a half hour.”
After experiencing success on Sirius XM’s Beatles channel, Carter was asked to host a weekend show called Chris Carter’s British Invasion on Sirius XM Channel 21. The channel, Little Steven’s Underground Garage, is produced by Steve Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Most of the music played on the show is from the “British Invasion” time period that took place in the 1960s.
With the addition of Chris Carter’s British Invasion, Carter now produces eight shows a week. “Literally, I’m on the radio eight days a week. Just like the Beatle’s song,” he said jokingly. (The song Eight Days a Week was released by the Beatles in 1964.)
Despite his busy schedule, Carter still finds time to return to Wayne to visit his parents, Peter and Dolores. “My dad is 92, and my mom is 90,” he said. “They are amazing people. They are more active than I am.”
He enjoys his visits back to Wayne but admits he doesn’t miss the New Jersey winters. He said the things he misses the most tend to be “food related”—places such as the Dairy Queen in Oakland and Rutt’s Hut in Clifton.
While in Wayne, he always makes sure to stop at Sound Exchange, the record store that replaced Looney Tunez. “The guys who bought it from us still run it,” said Carter. “I spend a couple hundred bucks every time I go there.”
When asked about the future, Carter said he is very happy with the present. “I’m very content with what I have going on. It’s a great opportunity to be able to talk to millions of people on every morning of your life. It’s certainly satisfying and gives you the drive to keep doing it. You have an audience that’s there for you. Working at Sirius/XM is close to being at the top of anything I’ve ever done. I got to be in a band, own a record store, make a movie, and be on the radio. It’s such a hard thing to do… in life to end up doing something in life that you truly love, so once you find it, you just want to hold on to it.”