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(Credit: Heinrich Klaffs)

Music

The 1990s rock hit that samples B.B. King

@TylerGolsen

B.B. King was already a certified all-time music legend by the 1990s. After helping to popularise the blues in the 1950s, King became one of the go-to guitarists cited by the next generation of six-string stars, including the likes of Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, and Keith Richards. Through almost non-stop touring for the next 50 years, King permanently etched his name into the history of popular music.

Like most of his peers, King didn’t really have any major pop hits. He had plenty of R&B Chart hits in the early ‘50s, but his only top 20 hit in America was 1969’s ‘The Thrill Is Gone’. King excelled in blues standards, most of which didn’t translate to radio play or singles. In the 1990s, however, King had a major radio hit thanks to a song that he had no direct part in recording.

That’s when Chris O’Connor, a California-based alternative rocker who had struggled to make a name for himself with his band The I-Rails throughout the late 1980s, brought King’s voice back to the mainstream. When The I-Rails broke up in 1991, O’Connor recorded a number of unused song ideas into a broken 16-track Ampex tape deck at his home. Half a decade later, Columbia Records decided to release the tape, and O’Connor adopted the name Primitive Radio Gods.

One of the songs on the tape was ‘Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand’, a song built off of industrial loops, found sounds, and King’s lead vocal performance from the song ‘How Blue Can You Get’. King’s impassioned cry of “I’ve been downhearted babe / Ever since the day we met” served as the new song’s chorus. An amalgamation of different styles, ‘Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand’ wound up fitting nicely in the sample-heavy mashup era that alternative rock radio was going into in the mid-’90s.

Peaking at number one on the Alternative Airplay chart, ‘Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand’ also got a major boost after appearing on the soundtrack to Jim Carrey’s 1996 film The Cable Guy. The original release was not eligible to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to rules regarding promotional singles at the time. Still, the track peaked at number 10 on the similar Radio Songs chart, giving an approximation of how popular the song was.

Primitive Radio Gods never had another charting song, but B.B. King continued to tour as he became the premier elder statesman of the blues. By the time he passed away in 2015, few musicians were as beloved or respected as King.

Check out ‘Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand’ down below.