‘Sugar Man’ Sixto Rodriguez wins battle for royalties payout ahead of 80th birthday | Mirror Exclusive


Sixties rocker Sixto Rodriguez, who found mainstream fame in the documentary Searching for Sugar Man, is finally enjoying the fruits of his labours at the age of 80

Sixto Diaz Rodriguez performs on stage at Clyde Auditorium
Sixto Diaz Rodriguez performs on stage at Clyde Auditorium (Image: Redferns via Getty Images)

By Graeme Culliford, 4 June 2022

He is a best-selling musician few people in the northern hemisphere had ever heard of until his story was told in 2012’s Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

Even Sixto Rodriguez himself didn’t know how famous he was in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand… because the money wasn’t exactly rolling in. Now the mystery of his missing royalties has been solved at last, and the 70s folk rocker – likened to Bob Dylan – has finally been paid his dues.

The American singer spent decades working as a builder and had no idea he was famous until he was tracked down by a couple of obsessed fans from South Africa. His records bombed in the States and his record label failed to alert him to the fact that he had developed a cult following overseas.

Now, ahead of his 80th birthday next month, we can reveal that Rodriguez has finally been paid the royalties he was owed and – after decades of living hand to mouth – he has made enough money to retire. But he still lives in the same modest house in Detroit and refuses to let his fame go to his head.

Searching for Sugar Man
Searching for Sugar Man (Image: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock)

Stephen Segerman, 67, is one of the fans who tracked him down. The pair are now friends, and record shop owner Stephen says: “He’s a very philosophical about what happened and I don’t think he’s held on to any anger.

“He’s a lovely, humble guy and, although success happened very late for him in life, he’s just happy people found out about his music and that he’s now famous around the world.

“There was a court case that sorted out his publishing, so he started getting all the money he deserved.

“He knows that his life is just about as good as it can be – and there is no doubt his is one of the most amazing stories in rock history.”

Rodriguez wrote his seminal album Cold Fact in 1970, swiftly followed by Coming From Reality a year later. His lyrics delve into inner-city poverty and drug use – Sugar Man is the first track on Cold Fact.

Sixto Rodriguez performs on stage
Sixto Rodriguez performs on stage (Image: WireImage)

Music producers had high hopes he was the next big thing and he was signed by famed Sussex Records boss Clarence Avant, who had previously worked with soul star Bill Withers and was known as the Black Godfather.

Rodriguez, however, was cripplingly shy and turned his back on the audience while playing on stage at a key concert in Los Angeles. He sold only six records in the US, according to Avant.

He faded into obscurity and went back to working in the construction industry in his hometown of Detroit.

Rodriguez later said of his decision to quit: “I would have loved to have continued, but nothing beats reality, so I pretty much went back to work. I do hard labour, demolition, renovating buildings. I do enjoy it. It keeps the blood circulating and keeps you fit.”

Simon Chinn and Malik Bendjelloul, winners of the Documentary award for "Searching For Sugar Man" at the Academy Awards
Simon Chinn and Malik Bendjelloul, winners of the Documentary award for ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ at the Academy Awards (Image: Getty Images)

Little did he know that a few copies of his albums had made their way to the southern hemisphere, where they became a huge hit.

In South Africa, a number of his songs were banned by the apartheid government as they became a soundtrack to the revolution that eventually led to the fall of the regime in 1994. “In the 80s, every liberal white teenager in South Africa had a copy of Cold Fact,” says South African fan Karin Wright, 50. “It was blasted out at every party. We had no idea Rodriguez wasn’t a massive star worldwide.”

In Australia and New Zealand, rare copies began changing hands for hundreds of dollars.

His albums sold 500,000 copies in South Africa alone. They are said to have outsold both Elvis and the Rolling Stones in that country, and in New Zealand and Australia too.

Yet Rodriguez remained an enigma, a mystery lurking behind sunglasses. Fans could find out little about him.

Rodriguez and Stephen "Sugar" Segerman
Rodriguez and Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman (Image: Getty Images)

Rumours abounded that he had set himself on fire on stage, died of a drug overdose or joined a left-wing terrorist group. Stephen had no connection to Rodriguez when he decided to solve the mystery with music journalist Craig Bartholomew Strydom.

In 1997, Craig spoke to a US producer who told him Rodriguez was still alive. Stephen then set up a website dedicated to the singer that caught the attention of his daughter Eva, who got in touch.

Stephen said: “When Craig and I set out on our search, all we wanted to know was, ‘How did this guy die?’

“Then one day, at 2am, the phone rang and I knew it was him straight away, because I knew his voice. It’s impossible to describe how I felt. Can you imagine Elvis calling and saying, ‘This is Elvis.’ How would you feel?”

In 1998, Rodriguez flew to South Africa to play a series of sold-out concerts to enraptured fans. He went on to tour the world, including London, earning hundreds of ­thousands of pounds. Then Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul got wind of the story and contacted Stephen to ask if he could help him shoot a documentary.

Rodriguez performs at the CityFolk Festival
Rodriguez performs at the CityFolk Festival (Image: WireImage)

Searching for Sugar Man won Best Documentary Feature at the 2013 Academy Awards, as well as a BAFTA that year.

Intensely shy Rodriguez refused to attend the ceremony in LA, claiming he was busy playing gigs.

Two years later a lawsuit was filed in the States that eventually settled the issues of royalties, according to Stephen. The acclaim the documentary achieved has allowed Rodriguez to retire. Tragically, director Malik took his own life in 2014.

Stephen said: “When we went to the Vanity Fair party after the Oscars, we were so out of our depth. I was standing in the middle of this party watching Robert De Niro going past. There was an elderly guy with a buzz cut across the table, it turned out it was astronaut Buzz Aldrin. I felt like I’d landed on the moon.

Sixto is a cool customer
Sixto is a cool customer

“This whole thing has been a trip and such a wonderful experience. The only real downside to this story is that Malik is not around to see the effect his movie had. Malik was just a fun dude who came here and said, ‘I want to make this movie.’ Me and him drove around Cape Town with a camera woman shooting it.

“It’s so sad because he had the world at his feet and his movie helped bring Rodriguez to a whole new audience.

“A few years ago, I met two teenagers from China. They had watched a pirated version of the documentary and decided to buy a campervan and drive across Asia and Africa, all the way to my front door. That is the effect this story has on people.

“Rodriguez is delighted that people found out about his music and that he got to tour the world.”

26 thoughts on “‘Sugar Man’ Sixto Rodriguez wins battle for royalties payout ahead of 80th birthday | Mirror Exclusive

Add yours

  1. Rodríguez me parece un ser humano de los mejores. Me encanta su música. Trasmite emociones. Su vida es digna


  2. After you mentioned that he was also very famous in Australia and New Zealand, I was surprised that you didn’t mention that Australians had tracked him down in the 70’s and brought him over to do sold out tours around 1980 and then he disappeared again.
    The docudrama leaves it out because the story sounds better if he made his albums at the start of the 70’s then disappeared until the South Africans finally tracked him down. It is after all a film and some creative license has been taken as you’d expect but it seems the films story has superseded his real life story. If Rodriguez realises a biography I think many readers will be quite surprised.


    1. Wow I had no idea !! Interesting point , and a very big thing to leave !! If that’s true , then very disappointing. I was at his first concert in Cape Town 1998 !! Amazing to say the least .


  3. My family are Dylan mad…..but when I heard Sixto on the radio at first I thought it was Dylan. And being a South African I tried to get a copy of his music but disappointed….all sold out. Then he disappeared and the music was not played so much anymore. So pleased to know he has come back to his music fans


  4. Any connection to anti-apartheid sentiments of activism is greatly exagerated. White kids were his only fans in South Africa and they were not anti-apartheid activists, for the most part. Sugarman was banned because of its drug fulled content.


    1. He started a movement! Unless you from South Africa and lived the 70’s 80’s and 99’s you have no clue what your talking about! And that’s a COLD FACT!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s exactly because I lived in SA in those years that I know my facts. What movement did he start? A movement of stoners sitting around dark rooms strumming along to his music? That’s not exactly an anti-apartheid movement.


    2. It was mainly white geographic!! But the reason they banned it because it was anti establishment. The government hid all international media way from us . They did not want us to know what the word new ! We were shielded from the world . This music was banded because of lyrics and help open our eyes to apparteid ! That concert 1998 was unreal , and will always cherish it .


    3. You did not have to be an activist to be anti-apartheid. Activists vanished into the cells at John Vorster Square. However you may be surprised to know that Apartheid still thrives in South Africa since it is an economic system guaranteeing cheap labour


    4. You have no clue how true your statement is and there’s a lot of other things left out like my mother his girlfriend and business manager who signed him to Sussex records and help him with his crippling ability she was his everything and that got left out conveniently, much success to him and what he deserves but don’t just leave everybody else out not fair at all


  5. Loved the documentary! Grew up in South Africa listening to him all day! Love his music, in my late 40’s living in the USA now and still play cold fact!


  6. I beg to differ Françoise I’m not a ‘white’ South African, definitely a fan. But what would you know…I do however agree that his music was banned because of its connotations to drug usage

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Rodriguez was also huge in Rhodesia..With the youth, mostly white, The popularity of his music had nothing to do with liberalist activists. I would say it was more due to being unusual, catchy lyrics and a great singalong..

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I was an anti Apartheid white kid with many black friends who listened to he’s music and used it for protest…. NO EXAGGERATION AT ALL….


  9. Well Sixto, I hope theres enough bucks in the back payment of Royalties to keep you in health and comfort for the rest of your life.
    Like so many of the comments, I have always loved your music, as did my contemporaries.
    Your albums are included in the USB that lives in the player in both my cars and I love it when one of your songs come up.

    Sending you much love and light.

    ‘The moon is hanging in a purple sky……….’


    1. I’m 64 now, I’m one of those young adults who was mesmerized by you Sixto. Still one of my most favourite albums ever. Your songs are on my Playlists; spotify & USBs
      So wonderful to hear that what you deserve is coming your way!


  10. It’s rare to feel real shivers at a music concert, but when he came on stage in Durban, there was an electric ripple through the crowd. It was such a vibe. Great songs Sixto, thank you!!


  11. Wrong Françoise…loads of colourful people listened to his music, I was definitely not the exception. I personally believe he was the wrong colour and his followers were mostly dope heads. You had to be the exception if you didn’t smoke at the time and listened to his tunes ✌

    Liked by 1 person

  12. As a South African living in Joburg in the 70s I was certainly aware of Rodriguez and learned to play Sugar Man but Rodriguez, whilst he did have some fanatical fans, was not remotely in the same popularity league in South Africa as say Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen.


  13. I’m 69. Liberals and verkramptes were listening to Sixto. Record shops were promoting and with word of mouth he grew fast. Shawn Phillips had released Second Contribution. Liberals were reading Melody Maker and New Musical Express imported for international music edification at the CNA. We’d heard Stones. Beatles and Black Sabbath. We’d grown up musically mature and had entered the evolved era of Prog Rock and further. We certainly were not musically naive. When Sixto arrived we were ready for him. Oh but they’ll take, their bonus pay, to Molly MccDonald….


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