This is Kim Fowley, or more precisely one of his alter egos, Jimmy Jukebox: ’25 Hours A Day’ – an obscure b-side from Hollywood’s champion of trash culture.
We wanted an excuse to present this little known gem, probably thrown together in a few hours – and none the worse for it – by one of the most notorious of figures in the history of the Sunset Strip. Here, from John Scanlan’s Van Halen book in the Reverb series, is a section about the early 70s glam scene, which Van Halen were tangentially connected to – having arrived as a house band on the Strip in the dying days of glam, and through which they had an early association with Kim Fowley who, by 1976, was booking acts for the Whisky A Go-Go. In those days, he would promote the new ‘punk’ scene in Hollywood and saw that Van Halen were corralled into a new breed of ‘street music’ that he – along with local DJ Rodney Bingenheimer – were promoting heavily in the local press and on radio as the next big thing.
It was unfortunate for Fowley that the one song he co-wrote with Van Halen, titled ‘Young and Wild’, never made it onto their first album – although they demoed it when they signed to Warner Bros., and it exists on bootlegs. The album would go on to sell somewhere approaching 20 million copies worldwide. No doubt he would have reaped a healthy royalty cheque if it had made it onto the album.
From Van Halen: Exuberant California, Zen Rock’n’roll (pp.32-35):
In West Hollywood during the 1970s the real rock stars hung around at The Troubadour, or in the exclusive bar upstairs from The Roxy Theatre, which was aptly named On the Rox. Inside it wasn’t unusual to find the likes of Keith Moon, Alice Cooper and John Lennon – then on his infamous eighteen-month-long ‘lost weekend’ – getting uproariously drunk together. In fact, in mid-April of 1974 Rolling Stone magazine had just run the story of the forcible ejection of Lennon from The Troubadour club on Santa Monica Boulevard for behaviour said to be more fitting to an Irish pub – insults were hurled, punches thrown and glasses smashed.
In a sign of these times, perhaps, Lennon had, in Barney Hoskyns’s words, ‘rampaged through Hollywood like a one-man hurricane’. But in the midst of the less-than-vibrant music scene, the most distinctive eruption of teen culture since 1967 was catered to inside the four walls of Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, which was located on Sunset Boulevard, but just off the Strip far enough to signify its real distance from the social world of venues like The Troubadour.
Rodney Bingenheimer, who would come to play a significant part in Van Halen’s emergence from the rut that was Gazzarri’s, had been around on the 1960s Hollywood scene and in many ways represented the bridge between the two decades – if not the changes that had taken place at both ends. He had once served, in Danny Sugerman’s words, as an ‘aide-de-camp to Sonny and Cher and as Davy Jones’s stand-in on The Monkees’, but was also a plugger for a number of Hollywood record companies. During a 1971 stay in London, when he was acting in a promotional capacity for the then little-known David Bowie, Bingenheimer had been inspired by the emerging UK Glam Rock scene and, with Bowie’s encouragement, returned to Hollywood to open his now infamous club in 1972.
The English Disco was concealed during the daytime behind an inauspicious looking shop front that had a single wooden door for an entrance – it might have been a hardware shop. At night, though, flashing light bulbs illuminated the words ‘Rodney Bingenheimer’s’ on the main sign. Inside the latest hits by the likes of T-Rex, David Bowie and The Sweet provided a soundtrack to which glammed-up, platform-shoed teenagers danced. They, in so many ways, were the stars of this place. A Warholian touch on Bingenheimer’s part was to hang the walls on the dance floor with screens that played a slideshow of the teenage regulars, who appeared next to visiting stars from the UK or regulars like Iggy Pop.
One notable witness and insider was Hollywood pop music hustler, Kim Fowley – once described memorably as ‘the éminence grise of rock’n’roll pimpdom’ by Barney Hoskyns. Fowley had already been around and seen the ups and downs of the previous fifteen years in Hollywood. Many years later he recalled that Bingen heimer’s place was distinguished most of all by a unique kind of culture; a new and more determined lunge towards teenage decadence. It was the routine sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, but with the addition of a setting in which teenage groupies became the bait for the many stars who visited the club, whether they were there to gawp in amazement or for more lurid reasons. They, and the scene – ‘the circus of the LA queens’ – were captured by Led Zeppelin in ‘Sick Again’, a song that appeared on Physical Graffiti (1975). It told of the ‘painted ladies’ that were ‘not yet sixteen’ throwing themselves at the rock stars of the day.
Inside The English Disco events were often literally overseen from a raised seating area above the dance floor by none other than the stars who provided its soundtrack, including ‘the visiting Led Zeppelins or Bowies or Bolans’ who could be found sitting alongside ambitious young groupies. Elvis Presley even visited Bingenheimer’s club on one occasion to check the scene out for himself. Danny Sugerman, a publicist for Elektra Records who was then acting chiefly as chaperone for one of Hollywood’s more unpredictable characters of the time – the permanently zonked Iggy Pop – summed up the decadent atmosphere in an image of disengaged oblivion as he recalled ‘sitting in a vip booth getting wrecked on champagne, snorting cocaine out of a vial behind the menu’, all the while casually catching glimpses of the action on the dance floor below.
Given the rock star misbehaviour taking place elsewhere in Hollywood – what with John Lennon making headlines for his drunken revelry – it perhaps seemed that the night life of the Strip was descending into an extended bout of alcohol- and cocaine-fuelled self-destruction. If Iggy Pop, for instance, was not to be found inside The English Disco or The Whisky A Go Go, there was every chance that he’d be found outside somewhere, lying in the street and perhaps clad in the dress he had taken to wearing around Hollywood at the time. Witnesses recall seeing him on the sidewalk, hitching up his skirt at passers-by to reveal the ‘family jewels’ (as he was apt to do onstage, too, as it happens), as he slugged from a bottle of cheap wine. Ray Manzarek, The Doors’ keyboard player who was then trying to put a band together with Iggy Pop – or Jim, as he usually called him (Iggy’s real name was Jim Osterberg) – recalls appearing at the Hollywood police station to bail the singer out, after the police had picked him up for vagrancy, only to see a figure emerge clad in the infamous dress:
I looked at him and said, ‘Jim, is that a woman’s dress?’ And Iggy said, ‘No, Ray, I beg to differ. This is a man’s dress.’ Danny and I grabbed him and said, ‘You asshole, c’mon, let’s get the hell out of here.’ And you could hear the cops kind of smirking and kind of guffawing and stifling laughs and shaking their heads as out go Sugerman and Manzarek, with Iggy Pop in the middle.
With the Hollywood sign a near ruin, and rock’n’roll decadence in the air, the downward spiral was summed up . . . Kim Fowley later recounted, in the blasé attitude that seemed to prevail,
Joan Jett told me she was walking past The English Disco one night when someone had just been murdered in front of it and she could still hear ‘Devil Gate Drive’ playing inside. She said to herself, ‘This is Rock’n’Roll!’
While Bingenheimer’s club played the kind of music that served as an antidote to the new rock aristocracy of the so-called ‘cocaine cowboys’ – many of whom lived behind Sunset Strip in the hills of Laurel Canyon, and whose mellow offerings had come to dominate music on the West Coast and the airwaves beyond – it was a short-lived home for Glam, and closed in 1974, barely two years after opening. The reality was that country rock and the singer-songwriter scene ruled the day and dominated the West Coast record industry. It meant, in Fowley’s words, that the likes of Linda Rondstadt and the Eagles appeared all of a sudden to be the ‘Vanderbilts and Rockefellas of rock and roll’. For many, Fowley included, it seemed that rock’n’roll on the Strip had passed a point of no return.
There’s a lot more on Fowley and his connection to the Sunset Strip of the 70s in John Scanlan’s Van Halen: Exuberant California, Zem Rock’n’roll.