I’m at my favourite record store in Cape Town bemoaning the lack of decent second-hand vinyl these days, when the conversation shifts to collectable South African records – is there such a thing you may ask, as a collector’s market for SA vinyl?
Among aficionados both local and international one thing is certain – LP’s from around the world have become more and more collectable when it comes to certain artists, but more importantly, SA vinyl from the early 1950’s onwards has not escaped the attention of serious collectors worldwide.
“So, what’s the value of a decent copy of Time to Suck by that notorious band SUCK, on the Parlophone label?” I ask.
“Well,” says the owner, “we’ve recently sold a copy to a Russian collector for 20 G’s.”
“Whaaaaat?” I croak, choking on my croissaint!!! 20000 rand for a piece of plastic!!
In 1970 when the record was released, you could buy a new copy for R1.99 at the local record shop, so do the math – it’s about a million and some percent profit over 50 years.
Even cryptocurrencies can’t beat that performance it seems, so what’s going on?
And here’s the story: during the late 60’s local Johannesburg-based music promoter Clive Calder saw currency in 5 of the then ” happening ” groups of the time viz. Freedoms Children, Hawk, Otis Waygood Blues Band, Abstract Truth, and ominously, SUCK.
They began recording for Calder at EMI and each released albums over a period of some 5 years, in the process creating some of the most vital and original music ever to be released on these shores.
In most cases only very limited numbers were stamped at EMI’s plant and sold to the public, and unlike European and American markets, were never released again. This is why their values have skyrocketed over the years. In most instances the groups themselves never became wealthy individuals, Calder later built a multi-million-pound music empire in the UK.
Unlike cryptocurrencies which have become huge investment traps, vinyl has some unique qualities which are much more attractive: you get something tangible. a large piece of plastic with a concentric layer of grooves, a central label identifying artist and record company, and most importantly – a hole in the centre!
Removed from a sleeve, most of which are visually gratifying to the eye, the shiny disc is placed on a turntable and the phono cartridge does the job of conveying the music to your ears. Unlike your cryptocurrency, the LP record doesn’t spin out of control over bad news in the marketplace, it keeps appreciating in value over the years with successive hearings.
The thing that really intrigues me with the Suck album is this – essentially, it’s a collection of heavy rock cover versions, only one original song on the entire record. Played with some ferocity, you can’t help thinking these are some pretty mean dudes involved. The cover doesn’t help, a young boy sitting in front of somebody’s bass drum.
That drum belonged to Savvy Grande, who whacked the skins for Suck, along with cohorts Andy Ionnides, Louis “Moose “Forer and Steve Gilroy.
Open the cover and there you see the gringos in all their glory, in the heyday which saw them become the most notorious group in the country: they beat a path of musical mayhem and destruction around the country, eventually disbanding because no theatres would allow them to play.
“I certainly didn’t get any money from Suck” says a chagrined Savvy, “instead I invested in the restoration of motorcycles, some of which are sold to collectors around the world, some ending up in museums in countries such as Portugal”. Cryptocurrencies don’t interest me at all, I prefer to earn a living using my hands and my technical skills.
Steve Gilroy, a savvy Englishman who came to SA in the 60’s has a different story:
After Suck disbanded, he started a publishing company in Johannesburg, and then began experimenting with home-made beer-making. After several years he expanded his skills into brewing fulltime. He established Gilroy’s in Muldersdrift, which has become popular for his craft beers and his Up Yours poems.
Talking it up has been the making of cryptocurrencies worldwide, but the vinyl revival has ensured that collectors around the globe have achieved more than satisfactory returns from their own collection investments – probably on a far greater measure both aurally and visually.
For those who have SA collectibles the news is good – those shiny plastic discs contain gold – kids, check out dad’s or grandpa’s record collection, there’s bound to be something valuable in there – so much more exciting than sitting on the pc chasing after shadows in the crypto world!
Garth Chilvers / Tom Jasiukowicz
Garth Chilvers and Tom Jasiukowicz published History of Contemporary Music of South Africa, 1994, Toga Publishing.
One of the most noteworthy final albums ever recorded might never have been made had Steve Rowland not been sitting in the London office of music publisher Freddy Beanstalk one day in the summer of 1970.
Rowland looked on Beanstalk’s desk and saw a copy of an album hardly anyone had ever heard of, by a singer-songwriter from Detroit who was just as obscure. Rowland borrowed Cold Fact and listened to it.
“I said to Freddy, is this guy Rodriguez gonna do another album? Because if he is, I’d like to get in line and be the producer. I really, really am into this,” Rowland recalls telling Beanstalk.
“Freddy said, ‘Be my guest, man, because nobody’s really interested.’ I said, well, I don’t understand that, because this guy is great.”
That fall, Rodriguez was on a plane to London. Within three weeks of meeting him for the first time, Rowland had put together Coming from Reality, Rodriguez’s second and final record. The closing track, “Cause,” was the last song Rodriguez would ever record for an album.
Rowland, who has produced more than 20 albums and dozens of singles that span the musical spectrum, says “Cause” is the saddest song he’s ever heard – sad enough to have made his girlfriend at the time, actress Sally Farmiloe, cry when she heard Rodriguez record it in the studio.
Forty years later, “Cause” nearly brought Rowland himself to tears while being interviewed for the documentary Searching for Sugar Man. The profile of Rodriguez elevated to international fame the near-destitute construction worker whose two albums were total failures in the US, only to learn nearly 30 years later that he was a superstar in South Africa whose anti-establishment lyrics helped bring down Apartheid.
The “Cause” scene is one of the Oscar-winning film’s most lasting moments: Rowland, sitting in his home in Palm Springs, California, plays the song for filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul. Rodriguez’s opening line – Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas – visibly stuns Rowland as though hearing the song for the first time. He manages only to shake his head and say, “Oh, man…”.
After collecting himself, he explains that Rodriguez was dropped from his record label shortly after Coming from Reality was released in 1971 – “as if premonition,” Rowland says, two weeks before Christmas.
A song that is held between happenstance and genius, “Cause” has become the five-and-a-half-minute, 239-word anthem for the improbable, almost impossible story of Sixto Diaz Rodriguez.
Setting Sail into a Teardrop
The 10 tracks on Coming from Reality were recorded in the fall of 1970 at London’s Lansdowne Studios, which has also hosted the likes of John Lennon, Maynard Ferguson, Rod Stewart, Sex Pistols and Rowland’s own band, Family Dogg. The studios had been installed inside a former underground squash court with thick walls 20 feet high.
“When the studio was built they didn’t tear those walls down, so the sound in that studio was completely original. You would get a sound that nobody else had. Lansdowne was known for that,” says Rowland. “It provided the overall ambience of the whole album, and you can hear it especially on ‘Cause’. There’s a majestic quality to it, and it comes from that studio.
“I suppose today, with all the digital stuff, you could probably re-create the sound. But nothing is as good as natural.”
Lansdowne, since closed, wasn’t far from Abbey Road Studios, where The Beatles recorded their final album track a year earlier. “The End” evokes emotion with hope: And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. “Cause” does it with despair:
Cause they told me everybody’s got to pay their dues
And I explained that I had overpaid them…
So I set sail in a teardrop and escaped beneath the doorsill
Cause the smell of her perfume echoes in my head still
It was lyrics like this that moved Rowland to produce “Cause” and the rest of Coming from Reality in a way that completely went against the grain during that era.
With the advent of concept albums and new technologies – not to mention lavish studio budgets – many bands would spend months or even years working on a record. Instrumental tracks were obsessively laid over each other to the point that the instruments drowned out the vocals. An experienced actor who placed a high value on the spoken word, Rowland made sure Rodriguez’s lyrics stood out from the music – so that every word was discernable.
“We tried to get a dramatic effect without overpowering the vocal. That’s so important. Because for my money, good production is: less is more.”
The only music that can be heard on “Cause,” in fact, are Rodriguez’s gentle picking and strumming on his converted, hollow-sounding classical guitar, and a simple, undulating string arrangement composed by a young violinist named Jimmy Horowitz.
“We worked a long time on ‘Cause’. The strings were written and recorded to match Rodriguez’s vocal,” Rowland said. “He seemed to be completely thrilled with what was coming out. He loved those arrangements.”
The strings are orchestrated to coincide so closely with Rodriguez’s lyrics that they can actually influence how you hear the song. Horowitz’s arrangement begins to soar lightly just as Rodriguez sings the line, And give a medal to replace the son of Mrs. Annie Johnson. The gently rising strings conjure the first glimpse of a sunrise, so subconsciously you may hear sun instead of son. The orchestration and melody reach a calming resolution, as though the sun has finally climbed above the horizon.
After this moment passes, you realize what Rodriguez is saying. The government gave Mrs. Johnson a medal because her son had been killed in the Vietnam War.
“Rodriguez is saying it in a sardonic tone, but it’s a front for how he really feels. He’s being very sardonic and cynical. Yeah, give a medal to a mother for the son she lost in Vietnam,” says Rowland. “What he’s really feeling is: how can a country do something like that? The country had no feeling for the actual person himself.”
The juxtaposition of the music and the message brings more power to both. “The arrangement is the complete opposite of the lyrics, and that’s how we looked at it,” Rowland said. “Rodriguez loved it, and it worked.”
Drowning the Sun
The son of a film director and great-nephew of MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer, Rowland was a teen star during the 1950s, appearing in TV’s Bonanza and The Rifleman, and a number films including Battle of the Bulge and the original The Thin Red Line.
After crossing over into music in the ’60s, he went on to produce a string of hit acts including Jerry Lee Lewis, The Pretty Things, P.J. Proby and the British pop band Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, which charted 13 Top 10 hits. Rowland discovered Peter Frampton and The Cure, worked with Elton John when he was a young session pianist named Reggie Dwight, and had a hit single with his band Family Dogg – the choralized, minimalist “Sympathy.”
It would take an effort on the scale of producing Coming from Reality to overshadow what Rowland achieved at Olympic Studios in London the previous year. In September 1969 he was producing Proby’s album Three Week Hero when Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham played on the psychedelic-tinged “Jim’s Blues.” It was the first occasion all four members of Led Zeppelin, then known as the New Yardbirds and barely into their 20s, performed together in the studio. Days later, they began recording their eponymous first album.
Though he had worked with many musical greats and was himself a top-selling performer, Rowland was aware that the unknown but sheerly gifted Rodriguez would present him with a new set of creative openings and tests.
Rodriguez arrived in London with his manager/girlfriend at the time, Rainy Moore. (The story goes that the album was named spontaneously when Moore was asked where Rodriguez was coming from.) At that first meeting, Rowland remembers, both he and Rodriguez were on guard.
“I was apprehensive about the whole thing because I wanted to do the album so badly. I wanted to make sure that he believed in me as a producer. But when we started to talk, he was very shy, quiet, very introspective. He’s an intellectual. He thinks before he speaks. He’s not a guy who is outgoing. I guess he was trying to suss me out as well.”
Despite having worked and crossed paths with Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Fonda, James Dean and many other legendary figures, Rowland confesses he was star-struck by Rodriguez.
“We as artists and creators have our heroes, too. And we get just as awe-inspired by our heroes as people who aren’t in the business get inspired by big movie stars or rock stars or sports stars,” says Rowland. “And when you meet them, you know, it’s always overwhelming. Well, that’s how it was for me with Rodriguez, because I really, really was into the way he was writing. I was into the way he thought.”
Within a day or two, when Rowland and Rodriguez began going through the songs together, the barriers fell and the two began an intense collaboration. “I said when we were in the studio, let us – in music – show the guy’s soul. Let’s show what this man really is,” says Rowland. “How can I make this guy felt in the music? That was my main objective. How can I get people to feel him?”
In “Cause,” Rodriguez reveals his soul through wrenching lyrics about lost loves, despondent friends, resignation and drugs:
While the rain drank champagne / My Estonian Archangel came and got me wasted
Cause the sweetest kiss I ever got is the one I’ve never tasted…
Cause I see my people trying to drown the sun in weekends of whiskey sours
Cause how many times can you wake up in this comic book and plant flowers?
Rowland, in a way few others have, came know and understand the aloof Rodriguez, the son of Mexican immigrants who earned most of his living demolishing buildings and who reportedly lives in the same broken-down house he bought in the 1970s for $50.
“Sadness can be contained within a whole life of a person, and even some of the happiness that a person remembers in that life makes them sad as well, because it’s no longer there for them,” Rowland said. “This is how I approached Rodriguez. Because I felt, you know, here’s a guy, he lives in Detroit, which is not what you would call a paradise of the world. It’s a hard life in Detroit, and he’s lived in the same house since he was a young guy. He’s seen lots of ups and downs – probably mostly downs.”
Take Rodriguez’s lyrics, which alternate from rebellious to playful to despondent to romantic. Lay on top of this a life story that embodies these lyrics. Now, form all this into songs with melodies and structures that don’t cheapen any of it. For Rowland, producing Coming from Reality was more than a creative exercise. This became a personal responsibility – even a duty to the artist known as Rodriguez.
“I did put a lot of myself into it because I was really knocked out by what he was talking about. I believed in it that much. But actually,” says Rowland, “because I believed in him so much, nothing we did was challenging. It just flowed. I could hear it in my head.”
Perhaps because Rowland could visualize the sound and feel of the album, no song needed more than two takes to get right. The entire album was recorded in about 10 days.
It was 10 days that pushed Rowland to create something that lived up to his image, his idealized portrait, of Rodriguez.
“I wanted to make sure…,” said Rowland, pausing, “It was very important to me that I did the best I could with this man, and that I brought out everything that I saw and felt in the way he writes and sings – that I could bring that out in the record. Each one of those songs was made to give a feeling to Rodriguez. It had to be real, and I would do it again today the same way.”
The Muffinz have unleashed their mysteriously beautiful world of eclectic soul to the South African public and they are set for world domination. Listen to the debut eleven track aural adventure called Have You Heard?
First single off this debut solo album Drink In Everything featuring nine gritty songs written and composed by this old school SA music legend, who plays acoustic guitar on the CD, backed by some seriously talented musician friends.
As a writer, composer and musician, Les Javan’s work is dedicated to the fostering of an environment where cultural and musical differences are respectfully appreciated. Off his new album, Ek Is Lief Vir Jou.
World Among The Clouds is Summer Shade’s latest EP. The band (previously known as Nungarin) has remolded their already unique and refreshing sound to produce a mixture of rock, tribal, African and folk.
A track off Zillion Miles from this classically trained vocalist, composer and lyricist who is highly respected by fellow musicians in her home city of Cape Town and who has enjoyed international success as a freelance singer.
Released for the first time on CD is the long awaited retrospective of South Africa’s legendary original punk band, Wild Youth. This massive 23 track set includes all of Wild Youth’s late 70`s seminal singles, live and demo tracks plus several songs from the band’s alter ego outfit, The Gay Marines. Wild Youth are prominently featured in the film documentary “Punk in Afrika”, currently showing in key US and European film festivals.
Volume 3 of our acclaimed Astral Daze series find us in the company of some well known ‘underground’ bands (Freedom’s Children, Abstract Truth, The Bats) and some lesser known luminaries of the psych rock era (The Gentle People, Finder’s Keepers, 004’s, Wakeford Hart). The compilation is rounded off with some real classics including engineer Peter Pearlson’s 2011 remix of Hawk’s ‘Here comes the sun’ and Sharon Tandy’s psych collaboration with UK rockers Fleur De Lys.
Had a great evening on Saturday night at the launch of Rockville 2069.
Rockville 2069 is a futuristic rock musical that is at heart a love story set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world and steeped in the philosophies that characterise the rebellion of the sixties, the seventies and those that are currently shaping our world.
Rockville 2069 is a fully orchestrated production that sees over 60 artists and musicians from different cultural and musical backgrounds collaborating to bring a new, sometimes discordant, always thrilling voice to the rock musical scene. The result is an emotionally soaring journey of caution, hope, optimism, rebellion and joy. It’s a lyrical roller-coaster ride you’ll want to take again and again.
The music was written by Johnny Ray, arranged by Johnny Ray and Kyle Peterson and masterfully adapted and scored by Darryl Andrews. The album was produced by TLC productions and tracked and mixed at the Nut House Recording Studio, under the musical direction of Andrew Ford and mastered by Tim Lengfeld of TL Mastering. The CD distribution is contracted to EMI, and the release is due in early September. There are a total of 22 tracks on the album.
Woman please be gone You’ve stayed here much too long Don’t you wish that you could cry Don’t you wish I would die
Seamy, seesaw kids Childwoman on the skids The dust will choke you blind The lust will choke your mind
I kiss the floor, one kick no more The pig and hose have set me free I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree
I kiss the floor, one kick no more The pig and hose have set me free I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree
The inner city birthed me The local pusher nursed me Cousins make it on the street They marry every trick they meet
A dime, a dollar they’re all the same When a man comes in to bust your game The turnkey comes, his face a grin Locks the cell I’m in again.
I kiss the floor, one kick no more The pig and hose have set me free I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree…
[Song published by Interior Music (BMI)]
This song was not actually written by Rodriguez, but sure sounds like it could have been. It was written by Gary Harvey, Mike Theodore (‘Cold Fact’ producer) and Dennis Coffey (guitarist on ‘Cold Fact’). “Hate Street” actually refers to the famous “Haight/Ashbury” area of San Francisco, the famous Hippie hang-out during the late 60’s “Summer Of Love”.
…for years the title ‘Hate Street Dialogue’ has been bothering me, when I listened to the song I gathered the lyrics were referring to the famous hippie street in San Francisco: Haight/Ashbury, however the title on the album is spelt “Hate”. Rodriguez said (on a SA radio phone-in show in March 1998) that although the lyrics of that particular song were not written by himself they did refer to the Haight and not to the opposite of love.
– Stelios, 1998
PIG AND HOSE
In this song Rodriguez sings about being set free by “the pig and hose”. Could this mean a policeman (“pigs” was hippy slang for cops) and a piece of hose-pipe?
The quote: “pig and hose to bust our game” from the song “Hate Street Dialogue”, refers to the continual harassment of the hippy-subculture by the San Francisco police department on the Haight-Ashbury youth in 1967. “Pig” was the referrel to the POLICE, and “hose” was in reference to the length of “garden-hose” used to beat the citizens into submission [usually in the confines of the police station. The title was changed in spelling from “Haight Street”, to “Hate Street” to further emphasize that feeling of alienation, by both sides of the establishment, at that time.
– Gary W Harvey, June 2002
BLACK EYED SUSAN
South African Indie melodic grunge-rockers Black Eyed Susan recorded the album ‘Back Stabbers & Money Grabbers’ in January 1998 and released it in May 1998. Included on their album is an uptempo remake of this classic ‘Cold Fact’ song. Not actually written by Rodriguez, this song of urban decay and loneliness fits perfectly on Black Eyed Susan’s album of otherwise original material. A great version on an even greater album. If you like your rock modern-but-retro, grungy-yet-tuneful, this album is for you.
GARY W. HARVEY 4th September 2001, Darin J. Harvey wrote:
I was amazed that I finally found something about Sixto Rodriguez on the net and that I could finish a long quest with the help of your website.
Two years ago my father, Gary W. Harvey, mentioned while I was visiting him in Detroit, that he received a check for percentage for the lyrics of a song he wrote some thirty years ago! He wasn’t sure about the facts and he could only tell me the name of the song (which he thought was “Haight Street Dialog”) and that he originally wrote that one for a guy named Rodriguez. But the check was for a cover version from a band of South Africa!
Back in Germany, where I live, I started my search with the weak information I had! As I couldn’t find any hint for Rodriguez or that song I stopped my search after a few weeks! Now nearly two years later, I remembered my search and tried again! And yep, I got some hits!
My first hit was, that the song wasn’t named “Haight Street dialog” but “Hate Street Dialogue”, which brought me on the trail of “Black Eyed Susan” and finally lead me to “Sixto Rodriguez”!
So I read the facts you collected in your website and after all I could buy me a copy of ‘Cold Fact’ through Amazon.com, Germany (which was amazing that they could supply it in Germany). Two days later I received the album and now I really love it – as it’s interesting, unique and simply good music!
It turned out that my Dad also wrote the lyrics from the song “Gommorah”. He really was amazed that I could find the stuff we talked about two years ago and as I forwarded the links to him, so he could surf through by himself!
If you ever have the chance, get yourself a copy of the first Rare Earth Album “Dreams/Answer” on Verve Records! You might find some parallels as it was produced by the same team back then!
28th September 2001, Darin wrote again:
I would be pleased if you quote my e-mail on your website and your e-mag!
I’m so happy that I could expose some old stories and connection with the help of your work and website!
Meanwhile I got contact with Francois Bredenkamp from the “Black Eyed Susan” and even with Mike Theodore, the Producer of “Cold Fact”.
Francois Bredenkamp was very surprised and pleased to receive my mail and promised to send me a copy of their album. Unfortunately his band doesn’t exist anymore!
This is what he wrote me:
It’s a great surprise and pleasure to hear from you. We fell in love with the song lyrics and decided to make a remake. We are a South African based independent band, but unfortunately Black Eyed Susan does not exist anymore. I don’t know if you are aware of this but Rodriguez is an legend in our country. He is currently touring here till the end of September and I will watch him in Pretoria this Sunday.
This was definitely the most rewarding mail we have ever received for our efforts as a struggling rock band. (Francois Bredenkamp)
A few days later I received a mail from Mike Theodore (who’s still working as a producer in New Jersey, USA) and I was very amazed, as I didn’t try to contact him! He got information through my Dad, that I searched for Rodriguez and Black Eyed Susan!
Since I have the Rodriguez album ‘Cold Fact’, I introduced it to some friends and co-workers and everyone liked it and thought it’s very unique! They’ve been surprized that he’s totally unknown here, and that he’d never made it in Germany.
I often joke with people in the UK that I didn’t leave South Africa of my own free will, but was actually kicked out because I was not fanatical about rugby and I didn’t drink, both activities that white South African males are meant to excel at. I could also have said in 1996, when I moved from South Africa to the UK, that a further reason for my being exiled was that I did not own a copy of ‘Cold Fact’ by Rodriguez. However no one in the UK would have understood what I was talking about.
But now with Malik Bendjelloul’s brilliant film ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ bringing Rodriguez to the world’s attention, I can mention the omission in my music collection and not be met with question mark faces. I am still not a huge rugby fan and have not taken to drinking alcohol, but I did rectify the lack of ‘Cold Fact’ problem on one of my early trips back to SA a couple of years after moving. I had been familiar with the album’s distinctive cover from many an hour spent flicking through the albums at my local record shop, but as a teenager in the 80’s I was hell bent on finding the next big New Romantic band and had no interest in ‘fossil music’ as I thought of it back then.
A further reason for the lack of ‘Cold Fact’ in my collection was that I managed to avoid military training (where a lot of guys were introduced to Rodriguez’ music) and counted my days working at the Receiver of Revenue, which I regarded as the lesser of two evils. Purchasing ‘Cold Fact’ became almost mandatory when I was lucky enough to befriend Brian Currin and Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman, both of whom played a part in discovering the fate of Rodriguez. I was drawn into the world of the SA Rock Digest, an online music magazine focussing on South African Rock music, which Brian and Sugar had set up. With two such music aficionados as friends, I quickly discovered gaping holes in my music knowledge, especially regarding the rock scene in South African in the 70’s.
I began to correct this problem so as not to look foolish in front of my new found friends and part of the polyfilla (spackling paste to those not familiar with this brand) to mend the gaps was purchasing a copy of ‘Cold Fact.’ I don’t recall ever having heard the album before that and, given its banned status on the radio, could not have unknowingly heard it there, but as the first chords of ‘Sugar Man’ wafted through my speakers, I knew the song. It was as if it was a part of the ether in South Africa and had just soaked into me whether I had heard it or not. ‘I Wonder’ was also familiar to me and the rest of the album, although less soaked in, was also striking a nagging familiar chord.
Yes, unless you believe in the collective consciousness, I must have heard the album somewhere before that ‘first’ listen, but I cannot for the life of me remember where. That said, a part of me does like to believe that the music was just in the air we breathed in SA, that it was, and will always just somehow be there, as essentially part of life as oxygen and sunshine. This image, to me, seems to fit in with the mystical and almost mythical character that is Rodriguez.