Memories of Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco

Memories of Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco

Posted on September 24, 2015 by Kari Lee Krome

I still have dreams about Rodneyʼs Disco 42 years later. If sounds were smells, Iʼd wake up with the scent of an E chord sitting beside me while I inhale faded magazines and memories washing by in an endless movie reel of lipstick mouths on t- shirts, marching snare drums, multi colored cocktail cigarettes and the Capitol Record building. And always Sunset, the boulevard of hopeful teen angels and broken souls, each waiting their turn in the earthbound purgatory of Hollywood.

Front row center at Rodney's: Teen groupie Sable Starr casually drapes her arm around Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, as Lori Maddox (aka Lori Lightning) keeps company with John Bonham and assorted groupies

I first went there with an effeminate guy named Danny –whose orange rooster hair and flamboyant clothing made him a thing of ridicule and conversation. We hitchhiked to Hollywood and got into a van with two other guys in the back. A joint was passed around. In the far corner of the van, a dude with long wavy hair and a bandana around his head sat on a mattress. He leered and curled his finger, beckoning to me. He wore a Pancho Villa t-shirt. I didnʼt know what to do. It was a tense moment. Danny gripped my hand and whispered to me, “donʼt go over there, if he wants to talk to you let him come up here.” Thankfully he didnʼt and the ride in was fast. They had one Jethro Tull 8-track they played over and over and it was driving me crazy. They must have thought Danny was a girl. He was sporting green glitter eye shadow and matching nail polish, lipstick and a fresh flaming red dye job. If they found out he wasnʼt female, weʼd have signed our death sentences right then and there. The driver and his friends were ripped to the tits and just kept right on drinking. Danny and I became fast friends.

Left to right: Baby groupies Lori Maddox and Queenie Glam in front of Rodney's, 1973, Bowie fan, ChuckE.Starr (white shirt) takes a time out with other teen glam rockers, Lori Maddox and Sable Starr on the dance floor

We tumbled out of the van on Sunset in front of Dennyʼs and walked a block, fluffing our hair and straightening our clothes. There it was, a tiny brick hole in the wall. The sign was yellow wood proclaiming Rodney Bingenheimerʼs English Disco in red letters, surrounded by bright bulbs that looked more at home around a stripperʼs mirror than a club marquee. The way Danny went on and on about the place, I expected it to have a neon sign at least. In fact, it looked more like a diorama of a club than an actual disco. The minute I entered and heard this strange music I had never experienced before, saw the fabulous creatures gliding about, my life was forever changed. At first it was too much for me to take it all in. A poster blaring “The Ballroom Blitz” of a gang of guys, one in a gangster suit with bold pinstripes holding court with mannequins jumped out at me.

Ygarr Ygarrist and Zory Zenith of Zolar-X 

A long wood bar ran the length of the club. The bartender wore a denim newsboy cap raked over his eye and smoked skinny brown cigarettes, loudly sucking the tobacco out of his teeth. An animal shaped tooth dangled from his ear. I was so excited, I wanted a beer but he turned me down flat. There were about ten people in the club but the few there were having a great time. If someone didnʼt have a partner, they danced alone staring into the dance floor mirrors. A girl in denim shorts encrusted with rhinestones, fishnets and silver platform wedgies shimmied her scarf around her neck as she bopped around, her white Jean Harlow ringlets bouncing. Her eyes were mascaraʼd and smudged baby blue on her lids. She moved with her hands on her hips and wiggled her shoulders back and forth without moving her feet much. I figured that was probably a smart routine considering the height of her shoes. I was baffled by how anyone could walk and dance so well in shoes that high. The song ended and she wandered up to the DJ booth through a small room that was elevated up from the rest of the room. She sat next to a guy who browsed through records. ʻThat must be Rodney,ʼ I thought. It was as if everyone there was on a different planet and nothing existed outside of it.

The glam rock teen scene at Rodney's English Disco

I never heard anything Rodney played before, except for the few oldies he tossed in. I was used to heavy rock my cousins listened to. Long drawn out songs with flashy guitar solos by hairy dudes in denim that you couldnʼt dance to –everyone sitting around smoking weed looking stupid. Rodney played short three-minute songs with honking saxophones and choruses that sounded like cosmic soccer cheers. I was thrilled. Little goose bumps swept up my skin. My toes were tapping and my hands fidgeted. I wanted to dance my ass off. Each song was better than the next. The walls were covered with posters of bands Iʼd never heard of, guys wearing satiny clothes, make up, and outrageously decorated boots and platforms. Everything had a layer of shimmer and shine. Some of the dudes were more made up than any woman Iʼd ever seen. Suzi Quatroʼs album cover got my attention. It was a simple black and white photo, nothing glamorous about it. Suzi stood dead center, in jeans and a black leather motorcycle jacket. Three guys stood around her, all in jeans, wearing black wife-beater tank tops. One big guy to her right swilled a beer; his head tilted back sucking down the bottle of suds. His sideburns were the size of pork chops. Her expression looked like: “You mess with me, you mess with my boyfriends.” Little did I know I was listening to much of her album and also The New York Dolls that night. I stood there, all of 12 years old, in my cords and suede Wallabee boots and vowed to come back as soon as I could. This was nirvana and I wasnʼt gonna miss out on it.

Rodney Bingenheimer (center) and glammed-up club kids, The Bon Bons, on a typical night at the English Disco

I drove my family nuts, begging and cajoling rides from anyone who was either kind or aggravated enough to take me back to Los Angeles just to shut me up. I searched high and low for anything resembling glam in my boring suburban town. I stole “Rock Scene”, “Star”, and “Creem” magazines from the liquor stores and bookracks. I poured over every page. All of this fabulousness was going on and was determined to be there. I badgered my mom to buy me the New York Dolls first album from a cheesy drugstore chain. One look at the cover and I knew I must be on the right track. I scanned the songs and the word “Trash” stuck out. That was the word I kept hearing repeated from a song I heard at Rodneyʼs. I sang, “and please doncha ask me if I love yoouu” – it being the only lyrics I could understand within the murky mix. I insisted on having the album with a conviction that startled my mom. I was pushing it but couldnʼt control myself as it was the only copy in the store. The album put a tenacious warp on me.

Rodney (center) flanked by Bernie Taupin and Elton John, 1974

Boys who looked like girls and girls who looked like boys crawled out of their windows at night and strutted the streets like hormonal roosters looking for a place to nest after Rodneyʼs closed. This place had such a massive effect on my consciousness that for years I have the same dream over and over: Rodneyʼs club is no longer a club, but perfectly recreated as a museum. I see it as I drive by, jam my car into park and run into the club. Itʼs open but nobody is there. I wander around looking at every poster, every piece of tinsel, inspect all the nooks and crannies. Suddenly the intro to Suzi Quatroʼs “Devil Gate Drive” roars from the speakers and I see Rodney in the DJ booth smiling, his hair curling towards his cheeks like an elfin cherub. Heʼs turning knobs and strikes his hand in the air with a thumbs up. I dance around in my memories, the mirrors reflecting my adolescent longings back to me. Thereʼs nobody there but me. No one comes, no one is excited about the music, nobody dresses up and no one cares. Itʼs a different world now. I walk outside and the harsh Los Angeles daylight glares at the people walking around dressed as if theyʼre ready to go camping. I want to crawl back into the safety of the cool dark mirror ball of Rodneyʼs. I turn back around and itʼs gone, fading from my sight like a shimmering mirage. The wind blows a dust cloud of glitter and candy wrappers around. I wake up and feel a terrible sadness. It was really that good.

The gang's all here: Rodney Bingenheimer (center front) with English Disco denizens, The Bon Bons

Rodney Bingenheimerʼs English Disco, the infamous glam club closed in 1975, but thanks to the many stories such as this brilliant recount of the heady days of glam rock in Los Angeles, we get to vicariously experience the baby groupies and glam boys, glitter, feather boas and platform boots, swirling and twirling to the sweet beats.