Thursday, September 20, 2012

Flashback to the Sixties

Before you read this interview, you need to re-read this story from Tigerbeat magazine in 1967This is an interview with Rodney Bingenheimer who was known as "The Mayor the Sunset Strip."   He was a well-known figure in Hollywood in the 1960's and 1970's.  He worked with the Monkees and several other bands.  Then he opened up a very popular night club called "Rodney Bingeheimer's English Disco."   He closed the doors in the late 1970's because he refused to play disco music.   He seemed to have been friends with Derek Taylor and through him, he got to be friendly with the Beatles, especially George.  I can't imagine being 14 years old and running around Los Angeles with George Harrison.   I do not think my parents would have allowed me to hang out with rock stars when I was a young teen.  

This interview was taken from the January 1987 issue of the Harrison Alliance.  The interview was conducted by Janice Murawski.

Flashback to the Sixties
A conversation with Rodney Bingenheimer by Janice Murawski

Q: How and when did you first meet the Beatles?

Rodney:  I guess the first time I met them was when they played the Cow Palace in San Francisco.  I was going out with the promoter’s daughter, the guy who presented the Beatles at the Cow Palace.  She took me backstage.

Q:  What was your impression of them?

A:  I thought they were great.  They were different, with the hair and all that.  I guess that’s what got me to grow my hair long.

Q:  You saw George again in 1967 in Los Angeles. Briefly, what was the Hollywood scene like then?

R:  It sure ain’t like it is now!  It was just wall to wall people up and down the streets, everywhere you looked.  There were musicians and kids all hanging out together up and down the Strip.  Ice cream parlors, night clubs, it was like a teenage Las Vegas, 24 hours!

Q:  You met George at the press conference for the Kinnara School, Ravi Shankar’s music school, held by Shankar and George in August that year.  Tell us how you became reacquainted with George.

R:  I was at the Ravi Shankar press conference and actually, it was pretty boring if you know what I mean.  I went with Ed Caraeff, who took photos and Earl Lee, who was also a photographer for Teen magazine.  Afterwards, George asked, “What’s happening?  I want to do something.  I am going to be in town for a few days.” So we all loaded up in this little two-door Corvair which was driven by Jerry Hopkin’s secretary.  Jerry Hopkins, of course, is the author of the book Elvis and one on David Bowie.  We just literally drove all over town, all over Hollywood, and of course, we went to Jerry’s psychedelic store in Westwood; it was called Headquarters.  George bought everything there.

Q:  What did he buy?

R:  All kinds of beads, weird roach-clips, that’s where we got the heart shaped sunglasses.  “Here, try these on George!”  They were gold framed.  He bought some round ones too, several pairs.  Then we went up the street to a place called Sat Purush, which was the place the Strawberry Alarm Clock did their album cover.  You know, those guys sitting around in those weird Nehru things?  George bought a bunch of Nehru type things and shirts with ribbons in them and stuff like that.

Q:  Indian stuff?

R:  Yeah.  That’s where George was in the window in his underwear trying on things.

Q:  What was the people’s reaction?  I mean when he was standing in his underwear in the window?

R:  People didn’t believe it was him!

Q:  And he didn’t care that he was standing in the window in his underwear?

R:  No.  Then we went driving around, went to the Orange Julius stand on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Q:  What did you talk about, riding around in this Corvair?  Did you talk about music?

R: Yeah.  He was asking me about the Remains.  He wanted to get a hold of the Remains.  They opened for the Beatles.  You know, “What are they doing now, Rodney?” He asked me what happened to them.  We were listening to the Doors on the radio.

Q:  Did you talk about his visit here?

R:  Yeah; he was going to go to the Ravi Shankar concert, then he was going to go to San Francisco to visit Pattie’s sister Jenny.

Q:  Was Pattie with him that day?

R:  Not that day.  She went shopping and we went shopping separately.  She was at the Ravi Shankar concert.

Q: Was George surprised he wasn’t bothered on the street?

R:  Yeah.  This was his first time alone without the Beatles .. no, actually it was his second time.  He’d first been to America without the Beatles before they came to America; he came on ahead of them.

Q:  to visit his sister.  Did George seem to be experiencing any cultural shock even though he’d been in the States before?  I wanted to ask you, when he couldn’t get the jukebox to work, did he just not know how to put the money in…

R:  No.  He only had English coins, so I put a quarter in.

Q:  What did he play?

R:  The Doors’ “Light my Fire,”  “San Francisco Nights” by the Animals, The Seeds’ “Pushin’ too hard.”

Q:  did you ever go to the house on Blue Jay Way?

R:  Yeah, that’s where Derek Taylor had that house.  It was really cool.  

Q:  Derek had rented it…

R:  Yeah; but even before all that, when the Beatles played here in ’66, they had a beautiful house at the top of Curson.  I went to a party at that house, all four Beatles were there, Jim McGuinn of the Byrds.  We ate a lot of food and the fans were climbing up the hill.  We were throwing steaks at the fans!

Q:  Did you get along with George really well?  Were you at ease with him?  Was he at ease with you?

R:  I was really shy, but I was really comfortable.

Q:  How old were you at the time of the Tigerbeat article in 1967, you look so young in that photo.

R:  Real young … 14?
George and Rodney on a shopping spree in Hollywood, 1967. Photo by Ed Caraeff

Q:  What about George impressed you the most?

R:  His sense of humor.  I remember a guy came up to get his autograph and George kept making these jokes about the guy, because the guy had bad breath and George was making all these jokes, “Remember that guy, the guy with the bad breath?”

Q:  So the people did leave him alone, they didn’t try to mob him?

R:  Yeah, it was the big hippie thing, real cool then.

Q:  Reflect on this little bit here that was in this other article, about someone coming up to you and offering drugs.

R:  Another time, George…I guess he loved L.A., he kept coming here by himself, without the Beatles.  It was in 1968 and we ended up at Wallach’s Music City, which was at the corner of Sunset and Vine, which was the happening record store.  We pulled in, and George was out there, got to sign a few autographs and somebody approached him with some LSD.  He said, “Look at this Rodney” and handed me the LSD.  I said, “This is LSD, don’t take it George” and immediately threw it on the street.

George and Rodney, Ravi Shankar concert, Hollywood Bowl, 1967.  Photo by Ed Caraeff

Q:  George’s interest in Indian music and Eastern religion was in its early stages at that time.  Was that obvious?  Did he talk about those interests with you?

R:  Yeah; we went…we met up with George at the Hollywood Bowl at the Ravi Shankar concert.  Shankar was onstage and they placed a few people beneath him, around his feet.  My friend Ed Caraeff, who was a real happening photographer and I went and then George met us and he came up and sat next to me.  There’s myself, and George and Pattie, and it’s so quiet and mellow there.  No one was flashing photos or anything.  So Ed managed somehow to take a picture of George and I with his foot, no flash, an open lens and this is how the photo turned out.  Very little available light and he did it with his foot, without even looking in the lens and luckily it came out!  There was a party afterwards at Ravi’s house, a lot of Indians, a lot of incense…

Q:  Was anybody taking drugs at that time?

R:  People were smoking marijuana but they didn’t consider it a drug.  It was an herbal plant; it was never considered a drug.

Q:  Did George discuss the Beatles at all?  Group projects or what they saw in the future?

R:  He kept saying there’d be another album coming out soon…

Q:  Did he talk anything about what kind of future he had?  What he was going to be doing?

R:  No really.  He was interested in Ravi and Indian music and culture.  He and Pattie went to San Francisco the next day, and saw Haight-Ashbury.  He wore the same heart-shaped glasses.  He asked me to go but I couldn’t make it.

Q:  Did he write any songs while he was hanging out, or sing anything for you?

R:  He had a little notepad, he took down notes.   I guess that’s where he got ideas.

Q:  When you went to England did you see the Beatles over there?

R:  Of course I went to Apple and hung out with Derek Taylor.

Q:  Tell us about your club in the ‘70’s.  Did any of the Beatles go there?

R:  Ring would come by, and Phil Spector.  That was the place where everybody hung out…Led Zeppelin, Marc Bolan.

Q: Did any of the others come into your club?

R:  Just Ringo regularly.  There was one time when John stopped out in front and held up traffic!
Q:  Was that in ’73 when John was split from Yoko?

R:  Yeah, back when John was hanging out at Schwab’s Drugstore.  I went to a recording session; I think it was at Record Plant.  I thought it was for Mick Jagger.  I’m talking to Mick Jagger, right and all of a sudden I feel these hands come up, form behind me, and pick me up and then drop me,  I turned around and it was John!  There I was for a brief second in the middle, between John Lennon and Mick Jagger.  Buddy Miles was there and all those session guys who used to play on all that stuff…Jim Keltner, Bobby Keyes...  I was at the recording session after the Beatles split, in 1973 at Sunset Sounds…

Q:  The “I Am the Greatest” track, Ringo’s album, right?

R:  Yeah.  I was there with Michel Des Barres, who is a good friend of George’s now.

Q:  Didn’t George just kind of show up at Sunset Sounds at that session?

R:  Yeah.  John and Ringo were working together and George just sort of popped in.  Mal Evans was there, the Beatles road manager who was shot by the LAPD.  Michael DesBarres and I were up the street recording some stuff with Silverhead, a band that Michael was in, and it was like, “oh let’s go see, the Beatles are up the street!” and he goes, “No, no way…” he couldn’t believe it!  We went down there and sure enough, there were the Beatles, a little bearded, but they’re all there!

Q:  You kept in touch with George since those visits?

R:  He would pass messages to certain people, musicians, or John.  I was with John in ’69.  You know, “George said to say hello..” and Dave Edmunds.  Just recently, George passed words along to Michael DesBarres to say hello and stuff.

Q:  Did you see George when he was living in Los Angeles in the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s?
R:  I saw him once, and that was at the Rainbow, the Rainbow Bar and Grille on Sunset boulevard.  I was walking by, he said hello and I sat at his table for a little bit.
Yoko, Rodney and John backstage at the Toronto Peace Festival, 1969.  Photo by Ed Caraeff

Q:  About John in ’69…

R:  I was in Toronto with John Brower.  I picked up John and Yoko at the airport.  I went in the limo, greeting John and Yoko at the airport and rode with them into the concert (Toronto Peace Festival).  I presented John with a tape of Elvis Presley doing “Hey Jude” and “Yesterday” from an Elvis show I was at in Las Vegas the month before --- before it came out on record.  I gave it to John and he couldn’t believe it!  Elvis Presley dong a Beatles song!

Q:  Was he really nervous before the show?

R:  Oh, very.  He was sick…he had the flu.  He was very sick plus he was jet lagged.  He came right form the plane onto the stage.  And Yoko was pregnant then.  He performed…I guess he followed the Doors or something.  I wrote an article about it at the time; it was called “Give Yoko a Chance” and it was in this magazine called “Entertainment Tonight.” 

Reflecting on his adventures and the friendships and associations he made, Rodney figures that it all comes down to good fortune and, despite his shy nature, some fortitude on his part

R:  See, this was before they had bodyguards, before they had security backstage, before they had assassins.  You could go to a concert, like the Bob Dylan concert at Santa Monica Civic, and just get up from your seat and walk backstage.  I was just around at the right time, in the right place.


  1. Incredible! This guy seems to have been everywhere with everybody - I only stumbled over his name in a Stooges forum (Iggy was at the English Disco as well) and so only now recognized here it is the same guy again!

  2. Rodney is a legend here in L.A... everyone knows him. He drives around in a blue Pontiac with "LIL GTO" on the license plate. I knew he had met The Fabs, but I had never known until I read this article that he had actually hung out George. What a fab story... thanks for posting it, Sara! I used to live by the Orange Julius they visited... too bad I was in pre-school at the time!

    P.S. Rodney is notoriously vain. He said he was 14, but he was actually just shy of his 20th birthday in the Summer of '67.

  3. Whoah!!!!! What a find! I can't believe he's popping up everywhere....hanging with George in '67 and backstage at the Toronto Live Peace concert! Thank you for posting this!

  4. This guy loved the Toronto band Chicklet. I found it on their Wiki page