|Birth name||Rodney Bingenheimer|
December 15, 1947 |
Mountain View, California
Rodney Bingenheimer, born December 15, 1947, is an American radio disc jockey on the long-running Los Angeles rock station KROQ who is notable for helping numerous iconic bands become successful in the American market. His contribution to the music business has been described as important. He developed a reputation for being the first American D.J. to identify new artists and play "edgy new bands" such as Blondie, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, Guns N' Roses, Duran Duran, The Cure, Joan Jett, Hole, Symbol Six, No Doubt, Blur, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, The Bangles, X and many others. He managed a key but now-defunct L.A. nightclub called Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco in the early seventies. He was the subject of a documentary by late filmmaker George Hickenlooper titled Mayor of the Sunset Strip which told the story of a groupie-turned-kingmaker with a knack for making friends in the music industry. He was described as a "famous groupie, now respectable" by Mick Jagger and he has numerous high-profile friends. In 2007, he was honored with the 2,330th star on Hollywood Boulevard.
Bingenheimer was born December 15 in Mountain View, California to a star-struck mother who separated from Bingenheimer's father when he was only three years old. His father had wanted to be a celebrity but settled for attending celebrity golf events. His mother was described as a "difficult woman" and a "relentless autograph hound". One report suggested he had a lonely childhood, since he often spent nights alone while his mother worked as a waitress. Another report suggested that the emerging rock music of the day became his "home" and a way for him to deal with the divorce of his parents. He devoured fan magazines; he was "obsessed" with stars. When 16, his mother drove him to southern California and dropped him off at the house of Connie Stevens, and instructed him to get the star's autograph. Then she left abruptly. This was the beginning of a six-year separation from his mother, and he was on his own in Los Angeles, around the year 1963.
When Bingenheimer arrived in Los Angeles actor Sal Mineo dubbed him “The Mayor of the Sunset Strip.” He formed friendships with pop stars of the day such as The Byrds and Sonny & Cher, for whom he was a live-in publicist. In his own words, Bingenheimer “became the talk of the town because I had the perfect Brian Jones ‘do’ (hairstyle).”
Bingenheimer worked as an intern at Mercury Records. He escorted British pop star David Bowie to L.A. hot spots. He auditioned for the Davy Jones part in the Monkees. While he did not get the part, he dressed like Davy Jones and had a similar haircut, and he later worked as a double or stand-in for Jones in the TV show The Monkees episode "Prince and the Pauper". The Monkees stand-in role was a "break" for Bingenheimer.
Becoming Jones's stand-in was an inauguration into a peculiar cult of celebrity.
Bingenheimer was described as shy, thin, unassuming with a "squeaky voice", usually described as soft; one report suggested his voice was "so soft you have to lean in to hear it". Another writer described his voice was soft like a "harmonica that cuts through the angry noise of today's frat jocks." His voice has also been described as "tentative" and not a "vibrating personality" or a "great radio voice" but reflecting almost "painful sincerity". He was described as having a "small, womanish face" and that he's had the "same haircut (shaggy with bangs)" for most of his life. Actor MacKenzie Phillips reportedly called him a "gnome" and he's been described as having a faint resemblance to Andy Warhol.
Bingenheimer became a groupie of sorts, and formed attachments with prominent artists including Sonny and Cher. He met Cher by going backstage after a concert, and according to Bingenheimer, she looked at him and said "Oh my God, you look just like Sonny!" They "bonded", and he went to work for them, and "they took care of me," he said.
In a later interview, Bingenheimer explained how many artists grew to like and trust him because of his sincerity, taste in music, and not being pushy. Writer Alison Powell in The Guardian wrote that his "sincerity helped him gain the trust of Brian Wilson, the Beatles, even Elvis. During these years he was photographed near countless celebrities from the worlds of acting and music and Hollywood, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Mick Jagger, Adam Ant, the Beach Boys, and many others, almost like a "real life rock'n'roll Zelig." He ingratiated himself to many stars; people liked him. He got himself a job as a gofer for the Monkees, and worked as a caterer at one point.
In those days of "free love", he found many young women to "mother him" and sometimes have sex with him. He was described as being a go-between serving the needs of young women and rock stars, and often had sex with women as a precondition for them meeting rock stars later on, according to writer David Edelstein in Slate magazine. Wherever he went in the music and club scene, "his face was his passport". According to Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant, Bingenheimer had more sex with women than Plant.
Incidents contributed to Bingenheimer’s notoriety. He and Sonny Bono were reportedly asked to leave the Hollywood restaurant Martoni’s because of their hippie appearance, which reportedly prompted Bono to write the song Laugh at Me. Bingenheimer brought Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson to the recording session for Tina Turner’s lead vocal on the Phil Spector classic “River Deep, Mountain High,” and he was ridiculed in a dialogue by the all-girl band The GTOs on their Frank Zappa-produced LP Permanent Damage.
In the late Sixties he was hired by Nik Venet to do publicity for Linda Ronstadt’s group The Stone Poneys, but he became so disenchanted by the LA music scene during this period that he moved to the United Kingdom where he enjoyed the London nightclub scene with the help of his friend David Bowie. He discovered the nascent British glam rock scene and met other emerging stars such as Rod Stewart. Bingenheimer bought many records in London. It was Bowie who suggested that Bingenheimer return to Los Angeles and open a new music club.
Bingenheimer flew back and opened a nightclub initially called the "E Club" on Sunset Strip with two partners. Outside there was the British flag, the Union Jack. It served "British bangers" and beer. It had a small "VIP area" which was a roped-off section near the dance floor.
|“||The decor consisted mainly of mirrored walls. ... The dress of choice: feather boas, platform shoes, high-drama makeup and, of course, glitter. After three months, the club outgrew its space and reestablished itself down the street as Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco. The dance floor was packed with glittered-booty shakers, but the real action could be found in the VIP booth. Led Zeppelin, Andy Warhol, Suzi Quatro, Alice Cooper, the New York Dolls, the Kinks, Michael Des Barres or Marc Bolan held court while getting liquored up on imported ale. ... The English Disco closed when glitter faded in the late '70s. -- reporter Kastle Waserman in the Los Angeles Times in 2001||”|
The club opened in October 1972 at 8171 Sunset, near his various West Hollywood apartments, and Bowie was one of the club’s first guests. It subsequently moved to 7561 Sunset and was renamed Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco. In this version it became a favorite hangout for many rock stars (and a favored haunt for young female groupies) and through the Disco Bingenheimer introduced much of the Los Angeles music scene to glam rock. At one point, Elvis Presley dropped by for "pints of Watney's".
The English Disco also featured occasional live performances, including appearances by The New York Dolls and The Stooges in 1973, and Iggy Pop staged his infamous concert on 11 August 1974, during which he performed an improvised “play” called Murder of the Virgin (in which he was whipped by guitarist Ron Asheton, who was dressed in a Nazi uniform) and which climaxed with Iggy repeatedly slashing his chest with a knife. In October 1974, Jerome T. Youngman and the band Punk performed with fellow Detroit band Mighty Quick.
Speaking of this period, David Bowie later recalled:
|“||Alone in LA, Rodney seemed like an island of English nowness. He even knew British singles and bands that I wasn’t aware of. Rodney singlehandedly cut a path through the treacle of the Sixties, allowing all us avants to parade our sounds of tomorrow dressed in our clothes of derision. -- David Bowie||”|
When the club closed in 1975, Bingenheimer was reportedly disenchanted with the stylized dance genre disco to the extent that he abruptly abandoned his club “English Disco,” so as not to be associated with the popular movement. But a later report suggested that a disagreement between the owners was the primary cause of the club's closure.
Bingenheimmer briefly resurrected the English Disco in the early 2000s. The Los Angeles based punk/new wave group, The Von Steins, performed at the grand re-opening.
Radio days: KROQ
Due to his far-reaching connections within the burgeoning Hollywood music scene, Bingenheimer was given a show on the then relatively unknown Pasadena FM and AM radio station KROQ, called Rodney on the ROQ, which began in August 1976 and continues to the present. His tentative voice conveyed a "painful sincerity" suggesting that he "loves the music he plays", introducing it like a matchmaker introducing two lovers – a person to a song. His radio show strongly influenced the emergence of the Los Angeles punk scene in the late 1970s and was at odds with the prevailing country-rock style that dominated the West Coast music scene at the time. The show featured the latest punk and new wave and glam releases from London and New York, and labored to help celebrities build their careers alongside “anybody brave or stupid enough to put out a record in Los Angeles,” he said. Bingenheimer later summed up his programming philosophy:
|“||I was always anti-Eagles, anti-beards. Within a few months I was playing four solid hours of punk. – Rodney Bingenheimer||”|
Bingenheimer was one of the very few DJs on commercial radio in Los Angeles who was described as having had autonomy over music selection. For example, he was described as having been the first deejay to have played many then-up-and-coming bands, including The Runaways, Blondie, The Ramones, Social Distortion, Van Halen, Duran Duran, Oasis, The Donnas, No Doubt, Dramarama, The Offspring, The Go-Gos, The Germs, The B-52s, X, The Vandals, Buck Brothers, the Sex Pistols, Teenage Fanclub, The Smiths, Siouxsie And The Banshees, and others. Nena's song 99 Luftballons, a hit in German-speaking countries in early 1983, became a hit in the USA in 1984 after Bingenheimer promoted it. Nina Hagen and Christiane Felscherinow, who promoted the film Christiane F. – We Children from Bahnhof Zoo, joined his show. Christiane was asked by a listener, what kind of music she liked. So 99 Luftballons was put on air. It went on to become a world-wide hit—an event that arguably would not have happened if not for Bingenheimer. Many bands knocked on the parking lot door of KROQ’s studio in Pasadena and handed Rodney a copy of their music.
Bingenheimer developed a reputation in Los Angeles for being a kingmaker for new artists. His show became an influential part of KROQ, which was a strong influence nationally. One reporter wrote "if you make it onto KROQ in America, you've made it in America. This is the house that Rodney built and which corporate radio has spread like spores across the nation." If he liked a track, such as Agent Orange’s 1979 hit “Bloodstains,” he would play that song within the hour. In 1978, guitarist Eddie Vincent and drummer Tad of The Hollywood Squares gave Rodney a copy of their just released 45 single at his studio door. Within minutes Bingenheimer introduced the mysterious group to his wide listening audience and played “Hillside Strangler.” The song promptly charted in Record World’s New Wave Hit Parade. Bingenheimer was credited for giving the group Broken Bottles a big break by playing their single Gothic Chicks. In 1995, Bingenheimer introduced a segment to his show titled “American in London,” co-hosted by Liza Kumjian-Smith, focusing on news and releases from upcoming British bands, which brought Brit Pop to the US and broke many UK bands such as Coldplay, Doves, Muse, Pulp, and more recently the Arctic Monkeys, among others.
His show has been relegated to the midnight to 3:00 a.m. slot on Monday mornings. In 1998, he interviewed the Toronto band Chicklet when they dropped by the station while on tour. This was his first live air interview in years, with an interview of Bad Religion said to be his last prior to this occasion. Film critic Roger Ebert quoted another employee of the station as having said that the station management was "afraid to fire him ... because he's the soul of KROQ."  Bingenheimer was also responsible for three Rodney on the ROQ compilation albums as well as the compact disc and later digital download compendium, "The Best of Rodney On The Roq" on Posh Boy Records.
He was present at "nearly every major interval in the evolution of rock 'n' roll" but was described as being relatively unknown outside of Los Angeles, according to the Boston Globe. But he never exploited his connections to become a "mogul", according to this report, which suggested that Bingenheimer might find such success "vulgar". Rather, he's been content to be a "hanger-on".
|“||He is perpetually, exclusively, and proudly with the band. But at what cost? His associations with the famous have not made him rich. His friendships with the rich have not made him famous. And arriving at the end of middle age, with his mother – and, from what I can gather, his best friend – recently deceased, he's a figure of incredible loneliness. – Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris in 2004.||”|
Another report painted the same picture:
|“||Rodney has facilitated the multimillion-dollar careers of the biggest names in music. He got Bowie an American record deal – and yet he lives in a modest six-room apartment in Hollywood, plays his records on a $69 phonograph bought at a chain drug store and, most recently, his fabled radio show was rudely shunted into the midnight to 3am slot. On Sundays. – The Guardian reporter Alison Powell.||”|
In Mayor of the Sunset Strip, director Hickenlooper examined Bingenheimer's life in a documentary format. According to one account, Bingenheimer was described as "intensely private" and was nervous about the documentary project to film his life; filming took place over a six-year period. According to this report, Bingenheimer found it was sometimes difficult to answer questions about his parents and love life. He was never married but apparently still holds on to the possibility that he'll find a woman who has the "ideal 1960s vision in plastic miniskirt, Mary Quant lashes and ropes of bullion fringe." In one scene in the documentary, Bingenheimer and a younger woman he was dating are talking on the camera, and it's only at the end of the scene that it's revealed that they're only friends; "by the time the scene is over, you feel devastated for him: his face says, I was jilted at the prom.", according to Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris in 2004. The movie suggested that Bingenheimer had had sex with "scores of women" during his earlier days but those relationships didn't form into lasting attachments with any particular woman. The movie "is a portrait of a man who has always needed celebrities to validate him," according to David Edelstein in Slate. He's been compared to the character in the Woody Allen film Zelig in which the character keeps appearing in disparate places. He dines regularly at a Hollywood Denny's restaurant, arriving at 1pm each day, according to one report.  Nancy Sinatra dedicated a booth to Bingenheimer at Canter's Deli in the Fairfax District; a plaque commemorating the dedication hangs on the wall above the booth. He owns a "classic blue Pontiac GTO". He wears "trademark snug black suits".
- Bingenheimer played the backside and over-the-shoulder shots of both of the Davy Jones characters in "The Prince and the Pauper" episode of The Monkees situation comedy.
- He was briefly a member of The Chocolate Watch Band, and played only one gig at the San Jose State Fair.
- He is shown in the crowd of a 1967 L.A. Love-In in 1968 documentary You Are What You Eat (film).
- Contributed to Kim Fowley's 1968 album "Good Clean Fun".
- He appeared as an extra in the 1969 musical film Paint Your Wagon.
- Bingenheimer made a brief cameo appearance in the Cheech & Chong film Up in Smoke released in 1978, during the Rock Fight sequence.
- Bingenheimer was seen driving The Ramones’ pink Cadillac in the film Rock 'n' Roll High School, and provided the hand clapping in “The Return of Jackie and Judy” on the Phil Spector-produced End of the Century. He also appears in the video for their 1986 song “Something to Believe In”.
- As a token of their appreciation for his promotion of the band, the members of Blondie served as Bingenheimer’s backing band in a limited release single of “Little G.T.O.” credited as “Rodney and the Brunettes”. Bingenheimer drives a 1967 GTO with the license plate LIDL GTO.
- He appeared DJing at KROQ in the documentary "The Unheard Music" about X, the punk band from Los Angeles.
- Rodney, and slides from his English Disco, were in Dramarama’s 1991 video for “Haven’t Got a Clue”.
- He was the subject of the documentary film Mayor of the Sunset Strip, directed by George Hickenlooper and produced by Chris Carter.
- Bingenheimer has a booth named for him at Canter's deli in Los Angeles, which was dedicated to him by Nancy Sinatra.
- After years of grassroots support, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce decided to acknowledge his contribution to music and radio with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame which was presented on 9 March 2007. This is the 2,330th star awarded, and it is in front of the Knitting Factory nightclub at 7021 Hollywood Blvd. When asked about his star, he said "then people can literally walk all over me" but added "from down there I can look up girls' dresses."
- Bingenheimer was the voice of the radio DJ in the SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon “Krab Borg.”
- He was in a film titled Nina Hagen = Punk + Glory in 2002.
- Bingenheimer recorded a single titled "I Hate the '90s", and did spoken-word vocals with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Hole's Eric Erlandson, and cut singles with Lita Ford (Lets Make the Scene) and Blondie with the single Little GTO.
- Hoskyns, Barney; Waiting for the Sun: Strange Days, Weird Scenes and the Sound of Los Angeles, (Bloomsbury Books, 2003)
- Alison Powell (5 February 2005). "Scene there, done that: Big in America? If you're in a band, then DJ Rodney Bingenheimer probably helped. Alison Powell meets the man who sold Elvis pints of bitter". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
- Jaime wolf (June 26, 2005). "The Star Maker of the Semipopular". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-12-24. "and Rodney Bingenheimer, whose long-running show on KROQ served as the launching pad for Blondie, X, Hole and numerous iconic bands of the 70's, 80's and 90's."
- Kenneth Turan (March 26, 2004). "The guy with the band". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
- Roger Ebert (April 23, 2004). "Mayor of the Sunset Strip". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
- Wesley Morris (April 30, 2004). "Mayor of the Sunset Strip". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2010-12-24. "Rodney Bingenheimer is a fixture on the Los Angeles music scene, adored by the dirtiest, the most famous, the most talented people in rock: David Bowie, Gwen Stefani, one of the Gallagher brothers from Oasis. ..."
- "Influential LA rock DJ gets his star". Boston Globe. Associated Press. March 9, 2007. Retrieved 2010-12-24. "Dubbed the "Mayor of the Sunset Strip," Rodney Bingenheimer launched the careers of such bands as Blondie and Blur on his longtime radio rock show."
- Kastle waserman (October 4, 2001). "As Glam as Ever: Rodney's English Disco at Tempest recalls the original's 1970s heyday.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
- "Rodney Bingenheimer : Biography". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
- Note: another report was this happened when Rodney was 17; another one suggests he was there when he was 14.
- David Edelstein (May 6, 2004). "Mystery Men: A playwright, a DJ, and a groupie—three new documentaries.". Slate. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
- Matsumoto, Jon (July 7, 1996). "Rodney's Still Rockin' Round the Clock: The music may be geared to younger listeners, but Rodney Bingenheimer of KROQ remains an avid L.A. scenester.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
- Corey levitan. "New documentary probes Zelig-like disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer". Almost Famous. Retrieved 2010-12-24. "Rodney single-handedly cut a path through the treacle of the '60s," Bowie recalled to "Details" magazine in 1992, ..."
- Christiane Felscherinow/Sonja Vukovic: Christiane F. - Mein zweites Leben. Deutscher Levante Verlag, Berlin 2013. P. 95.
- Kelli Skye Fadroski (December 10, 2010). ""Jess the Mess" of Broken Bottles dies at 32". The Orange County Register. Retrieved 2010-12-24. "Broken Bottles ... Its first big break came when KROQ jockey Rodney Bingenheimer played the group’s single “Gothic Chicks” on his “Rodney on the Roq” program."
- Richard Cromelin (March 21, 2004). "L.A.'s own Mayor Zelig". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
- Michael Carlson (December 9, 2010). "George Hickenlooper: Film-maker best known for his documentary about the making of ‘Apocalypse Now’". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2010-12-24.
- "Rodney's Still Rockin' | Off-Ramp | 89.3 KPCC". Scpr.org. 2009-09-12. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
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- Stephen holden (May 16, 2002). "FILM REVIEW; Relentless Exhibitionism Becomes a Life's Work". The New York Times: Movies. Retrieved 2010-12-24. "Nina Hagen = Punk + Glory, ... WITH: ... Rodney Bingenheimer and Guru Muniradschi."
- "Waiting for the Sun: Strange Days, Weird Scenes and the Sound of Los Angeles: Amazon.co.uk: Barney Hoskyns: Books". Amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
- “Rekindling the Punk Flame” article
- Rodney Bingenheimer at the Internet Movie Database
- Video on YouTube – official movie upload from FirstLook Studios