Ever heard of Sixto Rodriguez? Neither had I. But his album 1970 debut album “Cold Fact” apparently did not ever completely go away. Oh, it never took hold as a music masterpiece here in the United States, but apparently it was HUGE in apartheid South Africa, where the themes of political and racial injustice struck a nerve with the populace. Sold more copies there than Abbey Road! He was more popular than Elvis! And he never knew it! Unfortunately, he died on stage… Or committed suicide….
Well, that is what his South African audience thought. There were tons of rumors about Rodriguez dying in some rock-n-roll fashion. But it wasn’t the case. After a couple of years, he simply dropped away from the music business. Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, searching for a captivating topic for a documentary project, stumbled upon this story, stumbled across this story and knew he struck pay-dirt. The documentary “Searching For Sugarman” is being released this month, and it sounds like a wonderful film.
The movie presents Rodriguez as a figure of mystery who is assumed to have died, perhaps onstage, in a dramatic fashion. Only thanks to the persistence of South African fans and the burgeoning Internet was he finally located in the 1990s alive and well in Detroit, living humbly as a father of three daughters who had earned a living through non-music work like construction. His lifestyle was so spartan and simplified, the film reveals, that he didn’t even have a phone.
That’s the story that Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul stumbled onto when he quit his TV job and traveled the globe for six months in search of potential movie topics. Once he heard about Rodriguez, his late introduction to his own fame and his eventual triumphant visit to South Africa, he was off on a four-year mission to make “Searching for Sugar Man.” (The title references a song called “Sugar Man” on Rodriguez’s 1970 “Cold Fact” album.)
“I was like, this is the best story I’ve ever heard in my life or that I’m ever, ever, going to hear. I was like, no way. It was a beautiful, beautiful story,” says Bendjelloul.
The director was able to convince a hesitant Rodriguez to participate in the film, meeting him for the first time in 2008 and eventually coming to Detroit about a half-dozen times.
“He (said), ‘Malik, you already have interviews with all the other people. You don’t need me. I’m not important,’ ” says Bendjelloul. “I was like, ‘It’s your film, it’s your story.’ ‘Yeah, but you already have so much from the others.’ He’s a guy who used to perform with his back to the audience. He’s a private man.”
For all these years Rodriguez live in obscurity, but none-the-less doing what he considered important work for his Detroit community and beyond as a construction worker and a political activist. While he did play a number of gigs in 1981 with Australia’s up and coming band Midnight Oil, he didn’t play outside his beloved Detroit until the late 2000′s. He chose to live his obscure life, and he like it that way. Well, that is going to be more difficult now. Fame has finally caught up to him. He will appear on Letterman this month.
Here is one of his songs from Cold Fact, Sugarman.
And there is some good YouTube banter too!
“The BBC brought me here actually.
This sounds? like a Bond opening. I love it.”
On those who registered “dislikes” on the YouTube post:
14 people have never smoked? weed
I thing this is an even better song:
So, I end this post with a question: When I finally get my solo album finished and released, I wonder which country I’ll become world famous in????
Hat Tip: NBCNEWS
PS. My older brother has gone on tour with several pretty well known recording artists, such as the Church and Tripping Daisy. He went on tour a couple of times with Gilby Clark, the guy who had replaced Izzy Straton in Guns and Roses for a short time. “Gibly” as he is lovingly referred to, was at one point on tour with the revived Aerosmith in Brazil. Apparently Gilby is bigger there than the much better known American juggernaut. So yeah, even though American and Europe are the sweet spots as far as the record industry is concerned, there is world out there full of music, and ready to embrace those artists the west would so quickly throw away.