The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has revealed its 2021 Inductees, celebrating the most diverse list of Inductees in the history of the organization. To be eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame, an individual artist or band must have released its first commercial recording at least 25 years prior to the year of nomination. The induction ceremony will take place on October 30, 2021.
Those nominees areare:
Tina Turner Carole King The Go-Go’s JAY-Z Foo Fighters Todd Rundgren
Clarence Avant, the Godfather of Black Music, is cool, savvy, confident, and fearless – someone who makes the impossible possible. He’s served a variety of roles during his illustrious career, including manager, label owner, concert organizer, event producer, political fundraiser, and mentor. Avant is the quintessential impresario, with an uncanny ability to connect people, open doors, and provide opportunities to countless musicians, actors, and politicians. Bill Withers summed up his impact by declaring, “He puts people together.”
Avant’s career began in the 1950s when he served as the manager for Little Willie John and jazz organist Jimmy Smith. In late 1969, he launched Sussex Records, a label that soon achieved a Top Ten hit with Dennis Coffey’s “Scorpio.” The most notable artist on Sussex was Bill Withers, who released his first three records for the label, featuring the hits “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” and “Use Me.” In 1971, Avant launched Avant Garde Broadcasting, one of the first Black-owned radio stations in the country.
Always recognizing the power of music, Avant served as executive producer for the 1973 concert film Save the Children. This historic concert was filmed at Rev. Jesse Jackson’s PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) Black Expo and was notably one of the few festivals to feature artists from Motown, Stax, and Atlantic Records. Avant spent much of the 1970s serving as a consultant to major record labels, fighting for more equitable and lucrative deals for their roster of Black artists. Beginning in the 1980s, he became a mentor to the songwriting/production teams of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and L.A. Reid and Babyface. He served in a key promotional role for Michael Jackson’s 1987 Bad world
tour and eventually became chairman of the board of Motown Records. In a business historically fraught with distrust, Avant has been trusted and respected by all. He has spent a lifetime helping artists understand – and earn – their true value. (Ends.)
It is interesting to note that this above bio of Clarence Avant makes no mention of, or reference to, one of his most famous artists, Sixto Rodriguez.
There is also a 2019 documentary on the life and work of Clarence Avant, called ‘The Black Godfather’, directed by his daughter Nicole Avant. In this article, below, on the film, there is also no reference to, or mention of, Sixto Rodriguez.
Sixto Rodriguez was signed as an artist by Clarence Avant to his label, Sussex Records, in 1970. After the move to Sussex, his professional name was changed to simply Rodriguez. Rodriguez recorded two albums with Sussex, ‘Cold Fact’ in 1970 and ‘Coming from Reality’ in 1971. But after both albums sold very few copies in the US, he was quickly dropped from the label.
However, Rodriguez and his two albums achieved cult status in South Africa and Australia, where those two albums sold thousands of copies in the following years. Clarence Avant is interviewed about his business relationship with Sixto Rodriguez in the film ‘Searching For Sugar Man’.
So, it is puzzling that no mention is made, in either of these articles, about Sixto Rodriguez who in the past decade has achieved belated worldwide success thanks to the 2012 Oscar-winning documentary on Rodriguez called ‘Searching For Sugar Man’.
Anyone who supported local South African music will remember All Night Radio, the blues rock band from Stellenbosch who were truly world class. I have been meaning to interview Steve for the longest time and now that he is about to release a new album it seemed like the perfect time to interview him now. I would like to give a big shout out to Martin Myers and the sterling work he is doing as CEO of Music Exchange and Triple M Entertainment. Martin is handling the PR for Steve Louw and is also his manager. I contacted him about doing this interview. Thanks Martin 😀
By way of introduction many of you should remember this song, recorded live at Ellis Park Stadium, 1985….
Ernesto: Howzit Steve, hope you are doing well? No need to ask if you are still rocking as I am really thrilled to hear that you have a new album coming out soon but more about that later… I believe ANR started at Stellenbosch University where you met Nico Burger and Rob Nagel and your combined love for the Blues and Rock ‘n Roll got you out there and playing with David Kramer and Lesley Rae Dowling in various clubs and student venues. When was this exactly and what songs did you play at those early gigs? Did you play any covers or only original songs? How did you get involved in music and who were your main influences?
Steve: Hi Ernesto, Great to hear from you! I met Rob Nagel and Willem Moller in 1976 at the Stellenbosch Folk Club and we have been friends ever since. It was great place to get heard and there was always an enthusiastic audience of music lovers. Most of the artists wanted to showcase their own songs, but there were also versions of other artists’ songs. I can remember doing a cover of Gallis Pole (Gallows Pole) on 12 string guitar, thinking I was covering a Zeppelin song! I never dreamed that 25 years later my bud Kevin Shirley would be working with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant! My Dad had a DJ friend in Johannesburg, and one day he brought home a copy of Duane Eddy, ‘Have Twangy Guitar Will Travel’ and I was mesmerised by the sound. Another of my earliest memories is hearing Fats Domino sing Blueberry Hill on my Mom’s car radio and I felt that I was being taken to another mysterious and beautiful place. I started playing piano when I was 8, and when I found my brother’s discarded GalloTone guitar that was it. Willem and I had a band called Rockaway which gigged doing originals and covers. Willem was always into recording, and we started doing demos of our songs between gigs.
I formed ANR in 1983 with Rob, Pitchie Rommelaere and Nico (Burger), as Willem had left Cape Town for Johannesburg with his band Nothing Personal, which had started to do well. Our first drummer was Ronnie Milne, a great Scottish drummer. I had started recording with Willem at a Studio in Cape Town in 1979 and 1980, and we did demos of my songs and then focussed on two songs which we thought had a shot. I finished them up when I moved to New York City in 1981. After trying to get going in NYC, and having some interest from A+M Records, I decided to come back to Cape Town and form All Night Radio.
E: ANR broke up and Steve headed for New York City and Rob Nagel went to Hamburg, Germany. Two years later Rob and Steve decided to return to Cape Town and, re-uniting with Nico, used the Mother City as the base for their assault on the record industry. Then came months of all-night rehearsals, live gigs to test the songs, more rehearsals, more gigs, and live recordings until the band felt they were ready to record.
Why did the band break up? Did you and Rob intend going overseas to gain experience before returning to give it a full go in South Africa? Did either of you play live while overseas or did you go and see as many bands as you could, or both? What bands really blew you away and inspired you with All Night Radio?
S: So we formed ANR, when I came back to Cape Town in March 1983. When I was in NYC, I saw so many great bands! It was a really inspirational time and also quite tough to survive! I met lots of musicians and recording engineers, and we would go into their studios during quiet times, like a Sunday afternoon, and work on songs. I remember walking in the streets of New York in 1981 hearing the Stones’ Start Me Up blasting from every car, shop and taxi wherever you went. It was incredible! Springsteen released Nebraska in 1982 and it played over and over on my cassette machine. The songs really resonated with me and I realised that the art of songwriting and storytelling were one.
That album really inspired me and I bought a 4 track cassette recorder and started making demos. All the first demos of the songs that were released on the first ANR album The Heart’s the Best Part were recorded on that machine, which I still have! I also remember a stand out gig by Elvis Costello, during his Imperial Bedroom tour which was just mind blowing. I knew that I had to really focus on songwriting to connect with people.
All Night Radio’s first release was the double A sided single: Breaking Hearts/Sea Side Love which was released on 1st September 1984 and what a great song it was…
This was on the other side and my own personal favourite…
E: That was a really good single Steve and though the blues influence was there these tracks have a real ’80’s feel. Were you listening to ’80’s music at the time because I can hear a little Billy Idol, Springsteen and Simple Minds influence on these tracks; meant as a compliment of course 😉. I believe your intention was to go back to basics with your sound and this was the first result of that….
S: Yes, the 80’s; what happened was the sound of drums completely changed. Everybody was competing to be heard on the radio and the drums, particularly the snare just got massive! When we recorded The Hearts the Best Part, we put a mike on the metal freight elevator wall, took all the toms off the kit, and placed the kit in front of the lift’s gaping mouth! It seemed like a good idea at the time, and that why the drums are so in your face. Luckily the 80’s passed!
E: The single received a very favourable review from Andrew Donaldson in his review in the Cape Times of 5 October 1984: “The first single from All Night Radio’s debut album was released last week. The double A-sided rocker, Breaking Hearts, c/w Sea Side Love, is a no-nonsense uncompromising recording debut, and an exciting glimpse of what the group intends to offer on its forthcoming album. Produced in Cape Town by New York-based John Rollo, “Breaking Hearts” is probably the noisiest and freshest-sounding rock single produced in this country to date. Guitarist Nico Burger effortlessly establishes himself as wunderkind here in one neat and fluid solo. ANR think they’re a great group. They probably are.” All Night Radio Released their first album, The Heart’s the Best Part in 1984 and you can listen to the album in full here but please go out and buy the album….
E: There is a very interesting story connected to the first ANR single and album and I can remember reading about that in the Argus Tonight newspaper and instead of repeating that article I will try to tell the story in my own words. So, Steve Louw was going to Joburg at the same time as Little Steven (Van Zandt) was in South Africa. A local journalist from Cape Town could not go to Joburg so he drew up some questions, arranged a meeting with Little Steven and gave these to Steve. Louw saw this as the perfect opportunity to promote his own music and looking for a break, dumped the questions and when he did meet Little Steven he asked “Will you produce my band?”.
Steve also insisted that Little Steven listen to the tapes (of the first album) to which Steven replied: “Er, I’d really like to,” said Little, “but, you see, I just can’t spare the time…” Unperturbed, Louw expressed his band’s willingness to wait. The persistence and determination paid off as Van Zandt told Steve that he could not do it but he could introduce Louw to the co-producer of his album, John Rollo. (Rollo was a British producer who lived in the USA who had produced: Little Steven & the Disciples Of Soul, Roberta Flack, Stevie Nicks, The Kinks and George Benson amongst others). Transatlantic phone calls followed, finance was discussed and after listening to the tapes, Rollo came out to Cape Town while leaving George Benson waiting…. Watched by Louw, Rollo completed the mixing of the single and subsequent album in his New Jersey studio, and that is why it sounds so good.
E: Phew Steve, that must have taken a lot of guts. Were you nervous meeting Little Steven but also determined not to miss out on this career altering opportunity? Did you really just drop the interview questions completely and just ask him to produce your first album? He must have been dumbfounded and impressed at the same time?
S: No, I was freelancing as a record reviewer for The Cape Times, so that I could get all the new releases from the Record Companies. I offered to interview Little Steven for the Cape Times and they said sure. I was really keen to meet him as I loved his work as an Arranger/Producer with Springsteen, Southside Johnny and Gary “US” Bonds. I also loved his debut first album, and he had just released Voice of America his second album. We had a great time talking music, studios and production and a 20 minute time slot stretched into hours. He asked me if I was gigging and recording, and said he would love to hear some of the songs. I had the cassette of our live 4 track recordings with me, and the band sounded good after a year of gigging. He listened to the set while I took photos to go with the piece on him. I can still see him in his bandana and leopard print coat looking into the camera while listening to ANR on my walkman. It was a great moment in my life. Anyway he liked what he heard and put me in touch with John Rollo in New Jersey. John agreed to come to Cape Town and work with us on Little Steven’s recommendation, so that meeting was the start of my career.
E: Rollo must have been impressed right off the bat with your sound that made him come out to South Africa and produce your album though I am sure a few words from Little Steven helped that project on its way 😉. Do you know if Van Zandt ever heard the album and I sure hope that you sent him a copy…..?
S: Yes, he came back to South Africa for a second visit in August 1984, (I first met him in May 1984), before starting on his Sun City project. I brought the album, which had just been pressed, (literally hot off the press), to him at his hotel in Johannesburg. Journalist Andrew Donaldson also published a review of the album in the Cape Times Funfinder of 9 November 1984; “All Night Radio’s The Heart’s The Best Part is a thunderous debut, with its hard-driving snare-drum guitar orientated sound (Springsteen a la mode). Forget the “well-produced, technically perfect” spiel (it is a remarkable album in that aspect) and listen to the songs. Singer Steve Louw displays a talent for crafting songs that are free of obvious and clichéd hooks. They’re energetic, they’re thoughtfully constructed and, what’s important, they have a shelf life that takes you far past the first listening.”
E: Jip, I agree. It is a true South African classic. The second ANR album; The Killing Floor was released in 1986 on Previous Records and was produced by Cape Town’s own Kevin “Caveman” Shirley who has produced albums by Journey, Iron Maiden, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart, Marya Roxx, Dream Theater, The Springbok Nude Girls, HIM, Tyler Bryant, Mr. Big, and Europe.
Did All Night Radio ever play any gigs with Kevin’s band The Council or did you only meet him later on as a producer? Your album must have been one of the first albums that he produced?
S: Yes we were often on the same bill at festivals, and he had been blown away by how our first album sounded, and was keen to do our second album. Kevin had already done a lot of albums. He has always been really busy.
E: Awesome. Did the above musicians come in and do their parts or did you jam and record with them in the studio? Who were the Glee Singers? Rob Nagel had left the band at that stage to join the Blues Broers hadn’t he?
S: We used Richard Pickett on our first album, and Richard Devey played live with ANR in 1984/1985. ANR stopped gigging in early 1986, but I still kept writing, and I love recording, so Kevin offered to produce an album with me. He put the band together and we cut all the tracks live. I love Tim’s solo on The Killing Floor. The Glee Singers were a gospel group that came in and sang Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica in the studio. Rob formed the Flaming Firestones after ANR.
E: The album contained seven Louw originals with a storming cover of Here Comes the Night by Them (which featured Van Morrison) (also covered by David Bowie on his Pin Ups album) and The Killing Floor by Howlin’ Wolf and here is the original of the latter…
E: Listen to the album in full here but please go out and buy people. Support our own…
E: The Killing Floor features the cream of South African musicians including: Steve Louw: Vocals and acoustic guitar, Nico Burger: Electric Guitar, Slide Guitar, Dobro, Mike Campbell: Electric Bass, Tony Drake: Piano, Organ, Synthesisers, Herman Eugster (of Ella Mental): Drums, Mike Faure: Saxophone, The Glee Singers: Choir on ‘Fire of Reign’, Tim Parr: Guitar on ‘The Killing Floor’ and André de Villiers, Tracey Dogon, Mynie Grove, Tam Minter: Backing Vocals.
What made you decide to include those two covers, though you do them really well? Were they live favourites perhaps?
S: Kevin thought they would be great songs to cover, and he was right!
E: When and why did All Night Radio stop/split and when did you start with your Big Sky project/band? Big Sky was essentially your band, a solo project where you were joined by some of South Africa’s finest. Would I be right in saying that?
S: ANR stopped touring in April 1986, and The Killing Floor was recorded after that. I just kept doing what I always do which is write songs, and when you have ten good ones you can make an album! Some times it just takes longer to come up with at least ten good songs. Kevin and I just started making another album, and both Rob and Nico play on the album. I had come across a great band in Johannesburg, Ymage, and I thought it would be great to cut the tracks with them. So we recorded with Godla Mgcinga (drums) Jimmy Mngwandi (bass) and Don Laka (keyboards) at UCA Studios in Cape Town where I recorded the two ANR albums.
E: The first Big Sky album, Waiting for the Dawn was released in 1990 on Gallo Records and re-issued in June 2001 on the Epic label and it is indeed epic! The album was produced by Kevin Shirley again and features more of the top South African musicians including; Steve Louw: Acoustic Guitar, vocals, Nico Burger: Guitar, Honest Rod Nagel: Harp (previously on bass), Don Laka: Piano, keyboards, Robbie McIntosh: Guitar, Slide guitar, Rupert Mellor: Accordion, Piano, McCoy Mrubata: Sax, Steve Newman: Acoustic Guitar, Jimmy Mngwandi: Bass, Godla Mgcinga: Drums, Benmont Tench: Piano, Hammond organ, Waddy Wachtel: Guitar, Roy Bittan: piano on ‘Here Comes The Night’, Cape Town Highlanders (The 1000 Pipers): bagpipes on ‘Waiting For The Dawn’ . The Atlantic City Horns: Horns (arranged by Mike Campbell), The Long Street Gang: Backing vocals.
Stunning selection of South Africa’s top musicians and the legendary American Guitarist Waddy Wachtel who has played with the Everly Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Warren Zevon, Bonnie Raitt, Randy Newman, Don Henley and Jackson Browne and co-writing songs with Keith Richards in the X-Pensive Winos. How on earth did you persuade Waddy to play on your album? Did you meet him when you were in the USA or did you send him some demos?
S: When we were mixing the album, the engineer Shelly Yakus thought that ‘Diamonds and Dirt’ would sound great with Hammond and another rhythm guitar, so he called up Benmont and Waddy, and as a favour to Shelly, they came down to the studio and played on the song.
E: This is the brilliant Waiting for the dawn title track and the album also features a Radio Edit towards the end…
Another great song off the album is this one but every track off Waiting for the Dawn is really good…
and another which has a lekker South African sing along chorus…
E: The second Big Sky album, Horizon was released in 1995 and with it Louw clinched the “Best Rock Act” of 1996 award at the FNB Music Awards. The album was mixed by Rob Jacobs and Shelly Yakus and produced by Steve Louw himself. Horizon featured: Steve Louw: vocals, acoustic guitar, Scott Crago: drums, percussion, Mark Harris: bass, Benmont Tench: Hammond organ, piano, Tommy Girvin: electric & acoustic guitars, backing vocals, Mona Lisa & Terry Young: backing vocals on ‘One Cut With A Knife’, Kip Lennon & Mark Lennon: backing vocals on ‘Bye Bye Johnny’ & ‘Kathleen’. This is one of the great tracks off Horizon…
The album sold over 10,000 copies…
E: Well done Steve, that is probably your most successful album then?
S: Yes, ‘One Cut with a Knife’ connected with people, and ‘Kathleen’ got a lot of Airplay. My favourite is ‘Strange Room’, so there were three songs that got people listening.
E: Going Down With Mister Green, the third Big Sky album was released in 1997 by Polygram and was produced by Steve Louw. The album featured: Steve Louw: vocals, guitar, Scott Crago: drums, percussion, Mark Harris: bass, Benmont Tench: keyboards, Tommy Girvin: guitar, Tim Pierce: sitar on ‘Wasted’. Another really good selection of songs and you can listen to all of them here but please buy if you like…
E: Great album and you must have been really pleased with the result but also sad to learn that your former All Night Radio guitarist Nico Burger had died (sometime in 1996). How did that affect you and did it change or inspire the recording of this album?
S: It was really sad, and I wrote ‘Wasted’ for Nico. He was an incredible musician, really just genius! He was very intuitive both live and in the studio and came up with some incredible performances. His playing really makes the ANR albums as does his playing on ‘Waiting for the Dawn’ .
The 1999 album Best of the Decade featured the best songs Big Sky recorded and every single song is a classic. Pick your own favourite. Mine is probably Diamonds and Dirt but that changes, which shows how good the songs really are.
Were any of the songs on this best of compilation CD re-recorded, remixed or remastered or changed in any way from the versions on your previous Big Sky albums?
S: No, they were just taken from the albums, but I recorded two new songs for the compilation with Kevin, ‘Destiny’ and ‘Skin Deep’.
E: Louw returned with an album of new Big Sky songs with the Beyond the Blue album on 9 September 2002 and the album was produced by Kevin Shirley again. The album featured the ex South African musicians; Anton Fig: drums, percussion, Keith Lentin: bass, harmonica, acoustic guitar on track 9, Blondie Chaplin (The Flames/ Beach Boys/ Rolling Stones): guitars, vocals, Pat Thrall: guitars, Adam Holzman: keyboards and of course, Steve Louw: vocals, acoustic guitar. In 2003 Steve Louw composed Amandla for Madiba’s 46664 benefit concert with Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics, Anastacia and Brian May of Queen. The song was performed by Bono and Beyoncé. Here is that song from this historic concert…
E: Wow, aside from co-writing that song were you involved in Madiba’s 46664 benefit concert and did you perform there? Did you ever get the opportunity to meet the great man?
S: I was lucky enough to be on stage for the performance of the song Amandla, and it was great being backstage and watching so many incredible musicians perform. I think the highlight for me was watching Johnny (Clegg) sing ‘Asimbonanga’ for Nelson Mandela in the audience. It was a riveting performance.
E: The Trancas Canyon album was released in 2008 by Sony Music and was recorded in a house in a canyon in Malibu, California, over three days. The album featured: Steve Louw: vocals, acoustic guitar, Blondie Chaplin: guitar, backing vocals, Pat Thrall: guitar, Rick Melick: keyboards, Anton Fig: drums, Keith Lentin: bass. You can listen to the here but please buy…
E: Always thought that this album has a real warm, easy flowing homely sound as it was with the Travelling Wilburys. It sounds like you all had a lot of fun making this album. Can you tell us about the recordings?
S: The studio is up in hills above where Kevin lived in Malibu. It was done over a weekend as Anton had to get back to NYC to do his Letterman show on Monday. Its always great when Keith, Blondie and Anton get together as they are all friends for over forty years, so it is a lot of laughs ,and of course brilliant playing, from them.
E:Heart & Soul was a live DVD “Recorded live in front of a sell-out crowd at Cape Town’s historic Little Theatre. The show captures iconic South African songwriter Steve Louw and his band performing classic material from their other albums as well as previously unreleased songs.” This took place in 2009 and the recording featured : Steve Louw: Acoustic Guitar and Vocals, Willem Moller: Electric and Slide Guitars, Jacques Steyn: Double Bass, Electric Bass and Mandolin, Simon Orange: Keyboards, Tea-Chest Bass, Rob Nagel: Harmonica These are the videos from that show…
E: So good to see you at home in Cape Town playing with your blues buddies and having fun. Did you enjoy that performance? Did you do any more shows like that at the time or was this a once off performance?
S: It was a once off show at the Little Theatre, and as you can see we had a blast!
E: What have you been doing since this live performance and the release of your latest album? Were you in South Africa during the Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa in 2020?
S: Yes I have been living in South Africa the whole time trying to come up with ten good songs! Yes, I left New York on March 7  right at the very end of the beginning of the time before.
E: On 6th April 2021 Steve Louw returned with a new single; Crazy River and you can watch that right here…
E: Louw says of the song “once took a long canoe trip down the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon and out again. It was a very spacy spiritual place and it felt like I was on a journey to the middle of the earth. I wrote this after the trip. On one level the song is about the river trip and the journey deep inside the raw power and beating heart of nature, but it also reflects on time, our time on Earth, how we experience it, and how the bonds of deep personal relationships with our fellow travellers nurture our souls. I played the acoustic guitar using a few African-style riffs and the band picked up on that feel. Guitarist Rob McNelley contributed beautiful slide guitar.” The song is from Steve’s new album; Headlight Dreams which is due to be released on May 7, 2021. The album can be pre-ordered right here…. https://orcd.co/SteveLouwHeadlightDreams
The album was produced by Kevin Shirley and mastered by Bob Ludwig.
Can you tell us about the latest album Steve? I believe the song, Wind In Your Hair features the legendary Joe Bonamassa on guitar. Awesome, who else plays on the album with you? Where was the album recorded?
S: We recorded in Nashville with a great band that Kevin put together. Greg Morrow on drums, Alison Prestwood on bass, Rob McNelley on guitar, and Kevin McKendree on Keyboards
E: Are you going to have a South African launch for the new album or at least a few shows in Cape Town? I know a lot of people would like to see you perform live in Cape Town again…
S: I would love to, it just depends on how things pan out.
E: Well, I think we have pretty much covered your career and recordings but if there is anything we left out please tell us about that. What would you say has been the highlight of your career, the defining moment that you will never forget? Also, any funny incidents during recordings or live shows that still make you smile?
S: I think meeting Stevie van Zandt in 1984 was a career defining moment for me.
E: Any last words for all the people who have followed your career? What do you still hope to achieve musically and do you have any future plans after this latest album has been released?
S: Keep looking forward to the next ten good songs.
E: Thanks so much Steve and I wish you everything of the best for your future endeavours. Check out Steve Louw’s website here…. http://www.stevelouw.com/ Soundcloud… https://soundcloud.com/stevelouw Twitter @stevelouwmusic Thanks everybody. It is always a humbling experience interviewing someone as good as Steve Louw because he is just as good as any international musician out there. I can not stress how important it is to support our artists like Steve because the music was made by a South African and mostly recorded in South Africa for the South African people which means you and me.
Ernesto Garcia Marques, Hout Bay, Cape Town, South Africa, 9th April 2021
Hi folks at sugarman.org 🙂 I tried sending the below to the fanmail email for Rodriguez but it bounced. I know it probably won’t reach Rodriguez here but thought I’d give it a shot anyway.
Hi Sixto Rodriguez (or whoever reads your fanmail!),
I hope this email finds you well in the absurd reality of the covid world!
I am in the middle of my final year of a Music and Human Development degree in Dublin. I decided to do my musicological research dissertation on your music and its effect in South Africa during aparthied. It’s such a fascinating story and I’m delighted to get to delve into your music a bit more, and the complexities around the social and cultural phenomena in South Africa which endeared your music to so many there.
I have read all about you of course. I’ve focused on your music career but was interested that you got a BA in Philosophy and ran for Public Office. Such a well-rounded life you’ve had! It must be very strange for so many people to know so much about you, but having read the many forums on the Sugarman.org website, it’s clear that all who know you truly admire you and love your music. I have studied some philosophy as part of my Human Development course and am an introverted deep thinker in general (something I inherited from my Dad). I also write music, sometimes about the boy-girl stuff, as you say, but I also incorporate other issues which affect me. I think your music is great and I often sing your songs to myself. I hope to learn to play some on the guitar.
Well, I just wanted to say that you’re an inspiring man and musician and it’s been a pleasure listening to and studying your music. It’s amazing to see what an eye-opening effect you had on South Africans and how your music really got them through difficult times. My brother lives in Cape Town with his wife and I hope to visit next year and walk some of the paths you did when over there. I shall be making a trip to Stephen’s record shop, too!
This mix opens with a recent cover version of “Sugar Man” by South African singer Rebekah Thompson.
This version plays under the closing credits of the 2019 film “Moffie” which is about a young man drafted into South Africa’s military, but he knows he is different and must keep himself hidden.
1. Sugar Man (from Moffie) – Rebekah Thompson 2. Heart Of Glass (Crabtree remix) – Blondie & Philip Glass 3. Adagio In G Minor – The Doors 4. Oblivion – M83 feat Susanne Sundfør 5. The Black Page #1 (piano version) – Ruth Underwood 6. Love Scene (from Zabriskie Point) – Richard Wright 7. The Rains Of Castamere (from Game Of Thrones) – Ramin Djawadi & Serj Tankian 8. Skyrim (Dragonborn) – Tina Guo 9. Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) – Emily Browning 10. Chasing The Dragon – Epica 11. Nymphetamine (Fix) – Cradle Of Filth feat Liv Kristine 12. Crazy In Love (2014 version) from Fifty Shades Of Grey – Beyoncé 13. Tomorrow Never Knows (from Sucker Punch) – Alison Mosshart & Carla Azar 14. Oh! Darling – Peachy Keen 15. Sugar Man – Barbara Moleko
Probably Rodriguez’s most well-known song. Rodriguez himself is also often referred to as The Sugar Man. A great song with superb instrumentation. This slow bluesy rock song is a paean to his drug dealer, however Rodriguez said on a TV interview in March 1998 that this song is “descriptive not prescriptive”. Great imagery and use of hippy slang, like “silver magic ships” and “sweet Mary Jane”, ensure the listeners’ interest. The psychedelic freak-out section in the middle reminds me of similar sections in Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and Uriah Heep’s ‘Gypsy’. – Brian Currin, 1998
“Cold Fact” opens with the ultra trippy Sugar Man, which may well have been straight out of an acid trip. “Sugar man met a false friend on a lonely dusty road, lost my heart, when I found it, it had turned to dead black coal” suggests just where exactly the inspiration came from as he goes on to list jumpers, coke and sweet Mary Jane. More than any other Rodriguez song, it is Sugar Man which personifies the artist in the minds of those who have always wondered. The eerie moog synthesizer, whistling in the background, the lazy and simple guitar chords and the dreamy nasal voice place the listener firmly in an era of fantasy. It sets a perfect tone for the album and the myth. – Andrew Bond, 1998
I’m not for drugs, I never advocated drug taking – Rodriguez, March 1998
What’s that song about anyway? – Rodriguez, 22 September 2001
This track was the first encore song on the 1998 South African tour. It was preceded by much chanting of “Su-gar Man, Su-gar Man…”. Were we calling for the song or the Man? Who knows, but he came and he sang and we loved it.
South African band Just Jinger also did a great cover of this song on their March 1998 EP “Something For Now”.
There have also been cover versions recorded by American band The Monkey Wrench and Australian band Stella One Eleven.
Kris Kristofferson recorded a completely different song called “Sugar Man” in 1972. Released on the “Jesus Was A Capricorn” album.
In 1991 The Escape Club also recorded a song titled “Sugar Man” (no relation to the Rodriguez song) on their “Dollars And Sex” CD.
In 2001 Rapper Nas sampled “Sugar Man” for his “You’re Da Man” track off “Stillmatic”.
In the December 2002 issue of UK music mag, MOJO, in the list “The 100 Greatest Drug Songs Ever!” “Sugarman” was at number 34.
You’d Like To Admit It
Extremely rare b-side of a seven single recorded in 1967 and credited to Rod Riguez.
This classic folk-rock song is the one that most people seem to associate with Rodriguez. Used as the show opener on the 1998 and 2001 SA tours. Simple in composition but penetrating in it’s lyrics.
It came as no surprise then that when “Cold Fact” hit the record racks, it became a hit, simply because it contained a phrase which would muddy the country’s sexually chaste waters and serve as a mantra to the youth: I wonder, how many times you’ve had sex… – Craig Bartholomew, 1997
Generation EXT’s slow hip-hop rap version of I Wonder was released on the compilation CD “Dance Connexion 17” in September 1998.
Only Good For Conversation
Classic fuzz metal guitar riff by Dennis Coffey opens this song, reminds me of Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke On The Water’. A harsh bitter song of lost love (..you’re the coldest bitch I know..), this track really rocks! Great bass line and a superb guitar solo. – Brian Currin, 1998
Climb Up On My Music
My favourite Rodriguez song and also one of my all-time favourite songs. Brilliant title and great lyrics. Excellent rock guitar from Chris Spedding and jazzy piano (by Phil Dennys?) make this song a classic. Wonderful production by Steve Rowland and superb stereo imaging. Listen to it!!
When performed live on the 1998 South African tour this track became a classic rock song of anthemic proportions. Willem Möller’s guitar solo is one of my magic moments in music. – Brian Currin, 1998
A wonderful instrumental duet for acoustic guitar and violin. Used as the intro for “Lifestyles”. Written by Rodriguez for his 2 daughters, Sandra and Eva. Sometimes mistitled as Sundrevan Lullaby.
…the musical part of Sandrevan Lullaby touches my heart (named after my sister Sandra and me)… – Eva Rodriguez, 1997
Rehearsed for the 1998 SA tour, but not performed (I know ‘coz I was there!) – Brian Currin, 1998
Rich Folks Hoax
Great song, what more can I say – listen to the words.
Craig Bartholomew told me that in 1987 when he was busking his way around Spain, this song received the best response, and the most money into his open guitar case!
Not written by Rodriguez, but sure sounds like it could have been. “Hate Street Dialogue” actually refers to the famous “Haight/Ashbury” area of San Francisco, the famous Hippie hang-out during the late 60s “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 South African 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
Could this be “Janis Pity” – a sort of tribute to Janis Joplin? Read the lyrics and see the similarity to Janis and her lifestyle. Lyrics like “now you sit there thinking, feeling insecure…” and “…don’t bother to buy insurance, coz you’ve already died…”. Great imagery and biting prose. Read more about this song and ‘Like Janis’.
To Whom It May Concern (1979 live version)
A wonderful, almost progressive rock version with jazz-blues flute and even a bass solo. Recorded in Australia in 1979. This track is over 8 minutes long and the band is introduced on this song. Really great version.
Heikki’s Suburbia Bus Tour
After a conversation with my father, I wanted to share a short story…
In the sixties, there were these people called hippies. It can be said that a long hair, dark skin, free thinking musician, like Rodriguez could have been labelled one. In my youth, I recall hearing about how the “rich folks” (those living in the suburbs), would come down to the inner city of Detroit to actually see these “oddities” in their natural environment. Maybe even take a picture or two. This happened to be my neighborhood and some of my people.
Rodriguez had a very good friend named Heikki. I remember a large man with long blond/brown hair. He had a very nice home, a wife named Linda and two huge bull mastiff dogs. Despite stereotypes, Heikki was a mathematician from “Estonia” (Estonia is a republic in North-Eastern Europe, near Finland) who rode a classic motorcycle. In fact, one of the places that Rodriguez played, a “motorcycle funeral”, was for one of Heikki’s friends. The motorcycle club was called “The Penetrators”.
Anyway, someone had made fun of Rodriguez’s friend. Protective of Heikki’s feelings, Rodriguez organized what I consider to be a peaceful form of retaliation. A bus was chartered, full of hippies, four gallons of wine, etc. The group went to Grosse Point, Michigan and surrounding areas where they visited suburbian malls and neighborhoods on a tour of their own. The rest, is in the music. The story made the newspapers in Detroit and also reached Florida (a southern U.S. state). – Eva Rodriguez, 1997
A Most Disgusting Song
In “A Most Disgusting Song” the people are like someone we all know. I think it was a depiction of a place Rodriguez played, a bar called “The Sewer” near the Detroit River, that was demolished a long time ago (In the song “Cause” Rodriguez speaks to Jesus (his brother?) at the Sewer). One of the places that Rodriguez played, a “motorcycle funeral”, was for one of Heikki’s friends. The motorcycle club was called “The Penetrators”. – Eva Rodriguez, 1997
The 1967 version of I’ll Slip Away was released on The Best Of Impact Records CD (Collectables COL-5883) in November 1997. Also released as a bonus track on Sugar Man: The Best Of Rodriguez (South Africa) in September 2005.
The 1967 single features more upfront Byrds-type jangly guitar, vocal harmonies and a subdued organ in the background, when compared to the early 70’s version. The strings that are so prominent on the later version are absent on the 1967 version.
I’ll Slip Away: As far as the Rodriguez Impact single, “I’ll Slip Away” is concerned, I would highly suspect that both sides of that single were probably recorded at Terra Shirma Studios, since most of all of the later Impact records were recorded there. But it is possible that it may have been recorded at United Sound Studios in Detroit, since Harry Balk recorded many of his artists there as well.
The “B” side of the Impact 45, “I’ll Slip Away” is a song titled, “You’d Like To Admit It”. Both sides were produced by Harry Balk (the owner of Impact). To my knowledge, the record was only issued as a “promotional” 45, and not sold commercially to the public (see note below). The record is “near-impossible” to find, due to the fact that few copies were pressed, and Impact records went out of business shortly after the record was released. By the way, the song, “You’d Like To Admit It” was also written by Rodriguez.
I’m afraid that I can’t help you out with the lyrics to the song (read them here),”You’d Like To Admit It”, because I don’t own a copy of the single. In my many years of collecting records, I have only seen ONE copy of that record for sale, and it was much too expensive for me to buy. (IT WAS ABOUT $175.00 U.S. DOLLARS!)…
— Jerry Schollenberger, “Best of Impact Records” CD producer, May 1999
I can confirm that a regular (NOT a promo) release of Impact #1031 does exist. A speculation to the contrary exists on your Sixto R. page. Thanx for the info on this artist that you supplied; you have added to my enjoyment of record collecting, and listening.
— Steve Jones, Canada, August 2003
I’LL SLIP AWAY
And I’ll forget about the girl that said no Then I’ll tell who I want where to go And I’ll forget about your lies and deceit And your attempts to be so discreet
Maybe today, yeah I’ll slip away
And you can keep your symbols of success Then I’ll pursue my own happiness And you can keep your clocks and routines Then I’ll go mend all my shattered dreams
Maybe today, yeah I’ll slip away
Cause you’ve been down on me for too long And for too long I just put you on Now I’m tired of lying and I’m sick of trying Cause I’m losing who I really am And I’m not choosing to be like them
And if you get bored or got loneliness Or it’s dislike for me you express I won’t care if you’re right or you’re wrong I won’t care cause you see I’ll be gone
Willem Moller became known as the guitarist in Johannes Kerkorrel’s Gereformeerde Blues Band but over the years he’s worked with many other musicians. Time to find out who . . .
Hi Willem, good to see you again. Where and how did it all start for you?
A: Hi Ernesto. When I was a little kid, sixties pop was all over my elder siblings’ radios and record players. Certain records had such an exciting beat that I just had to start banging things along! By the age of eight I’d gotten a pair of drum sticks and was hitting anything I could find. Many years later I learnt that those records with the drumming that made me so excited (Beach Boys, Byrds, Monkees, Mamas & Papas, Fifth Dimension etc) all featured studio legend Hal Blaine, so you can blame him for all the noise I’ve made since! My eldest sister was studying music and teaching piano at home so I was also hearing classical music a lot and she taught me the basics of music theory, so I had that understanding of music since I was young. It definitely gave me an advantage. When I was 12 and in Standard 6 (Jan van Riebeeck Hoer, Cape Town) I started my first band, the magnificently named Septic Daisy, with the very talented Conrad Kuhne, who could sing and play piano and guitar, and me on drums. We tried our hand at anything we could – Creedence, Stones, Beatles tunes. The next year we were joined by Izak van Zyl on bass, and a few years later by the late great Nico Burger on lead guitar, by which time we were covering more challenging Led Zep, Deep Purple and prog material. During all this time I was also learning to play guitar.
Q. What inspired you to pick up the guitar?
A. My musical memory goes back to before the Beatles when instrumental guitar pop was big (the Shadows, the Ventures, Duane Eddy), so twangy electric guitar is in my genes! By the late sixties I was listening to Hendrix and the Who and then I saw the Woodstock movie . . . Jimi, Pete, Carlos! When I turned 12, I started getting R5 pocket money (for the month!) New albums cost R4.99 at the time (for a crappy local pressing) so the first time I got R5 I set off for the old Musica in Adderley Street, which then was a really hip record store that stocked everything and had staff who knew about the various genres and new release, and you could listen to an album on headphones before buying. I chose Live Cream simply because I like the cover, I actually didn’t know who the people in the band were. I was really into this heavy blues music but the minor pentatonic scale confused me; it didn’t fit into my understanding of music theory. But on Live Cream there’s a slow blues called Sleepy Time Time with a riff that goes from minor to major, and suddenly I understood how that minor scale works with major chords to establish the blues sound. A light went up! But that song gave me another epiphany: Eric Clapton’s unbelievable guitar solos made me feel an intense emotion every time I listened to them. I couldn’t really explain it but I suddenly saw a very clear goal for myself: I want to know how to do that – play guitar that make people feel emotion.
And this is Sleepy Time Time…
Q. Did you have guitar lessons or were you self taught?
A. I was self-taught, with the help of the many mates I jammed with – we all taught each other. We were forever seeking out new people to jam with as they might know chords or riffs we didn’t! And I listened to records and tried to work out and copy riffs and licks. I was also taking music theory as an extra subject at school, and that knowledge definitely helped me to understand what I was learning. So by my late teens I was the ou in the band who’d work out the arrangements and parts.
Q. What albums inspired you in this regard?
A. When Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness at the Edge Of Town came out the lyrics connected with me in an incredibly powerful way. To this day Badlands has me in tears by the first chorus . . . that album opened my eyes to the impact songs can have when combined with focused arrangements and production. It changed how I listened to music. I guess I started to think like a producer, looking at the bigger picture rather than individual parts or sounds – everything must serve the song; if it doesn’t it must go.
Here’s one of the songs off Darkness that really moved Willem:
Q. You’ve said that you consider the track Adam Raised a Cain to be punk.
A. To me punk is an attitude more than a musical style, and that song certainly has that attitude. I love punk, but then I love all genres – just when I think I don’t like a genre I hear a track that I have to admit is really cool! But there are many artists and tracks I don’t like, for many reasons – mostly to do with them being derivative/unoriginal/formulaic/boring/dishonest, and you find those things in any genre. Actually the word genre has become meaningless; the interesting things are always when people come up with stuff that doesn’t fit into any ‘genre’! In the early seventies I got into the Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter scene big time – Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, James Taylor etc – and by the late seventies I’d gotten bored with loud blues rock and was immersing myself in jazz, particularly post-war jazz and more particularly what Miles Davis, John Coltrane and John McLaughlin were doing in the 60s and early 70s. I’d also discovered the real blues artists that all these loud longhairs I’d been listening to were copying, and immersing myself in that. So I wasn’t paying attention when punk happened in England in 76/7, but I caught up big-time a year or two later. I love the Pistols, Clash, Jam, Ramones, MC5 . . .
Q. How were you introduced to jazz?
A. I first heard Django Reinhardt when I was 12 or 13, and a year or two later I heard Inner Mounting Flame by John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra . . . the guitar playing was just beyond me. Also at the time drums were my main thing, and Billy Cobham changed the game! From there various roads led to Miles Davis . . . Miles’ 60s quintet is the highest level of musicianship I’ve ever heard, for me listening to that stuff is a spiritual experience. I also got big time into Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus and many others, and other guitarists like Larry Coryell. Listening to so much jazz changed the way I hear music and particularly the way I play guitar; my chord work is influenced by jazz pianists and my single-line playing by horn players, particularly Miles. I don’t consider myself a jazz musician though, although I’m a capable improviser and can hold my own with modal stuff.
On that note, this may be of use to guitarists out there . . .
Q. In the early 80s you had a band called Nothing Personal. Tell us how you got together – when, where and how?
A. While at varsity I’d met a bunch of wonderful musicians, many of whom have become lifelong friends – Adriaan Eksteen, Steve Louw and Rob Nagel among them. By the early 80s I’d graduated and was doing my 2 years in the army, but I had it fairly easy and had a lot of time to myself. By that time Adriaan Eksteen and I’d been playing together for 6 or 7 years and had a good vibe going. A guy we knew from varsity, Robin Hawkins, who had a band called Artvark was living in a house in Wynberg where he had a rehearsal room with gear where we’d often go for a jam; there were always people hanging out looking for a jam. That’s where we met drummer Simon Falkiner and singer Michael Copley. The four of us hit it off and were soon putting songs together from the riffs Adriaan and I would come up with and Michael’s lyrics. We played our first gig as Nothing Personal at the Movement Too club in Cape Town in December 1982. We weren’t exactly punks but we certainly had punk attitude in buckets! Our sound was more like a mix of Live At Leeds-era Who and the Jam, with a bit of our blues influences thrown in, and we were Bruce & the E Street Band nuts . . . but we played it all with Ramones-like energy. After playing every venue in the Cape Town area for about 6 months we moved to Jozi and tried our luck there. The band didn’t last but I loved Yeoville and I ended up living in Jozi for 20 years.
Q. How did you become a sound engineer?
A. I’d studied journalism, which provided me with an alternative career and I’ve worked on and off at various newspapers and magazines over the years while also pursuing music. By 1984 Nothing Personal was over. I’d quit a copywriting gig I hated and was at a loose end. Some mates with a band and an album out were about to go on tour and asked me if I knew how to mix a band. I’d never actually done it but bullshitted myself into the job . . . basically I learnt by making mistakes! But I did know how a band was supposed to sound and once I got a hang of the technical stuff I became a pretty good front-of-house engineer. I ended up mixing a bunch of bands, permanently on tour – at once stage I lived in the back of Kombi for a year! The gear was often iffy and the venues often unbelievably crap – like the Roxy Rhythm Bar in Jo’burg. I walked in and looked at the place and thought, you seriously play live music in here? It’s a square concrete box! That’s an echo chamber, not a venue! After about 5 years of this type of thing I was asked to mix a musical production in a proper theatre, with good acoustics and equipment. After that I only worked in theatres where you can do a really good, satisfying job. I did live sound on musical productions for another 10 or 15 years.
Q. Talk about Boere Punk and the Voëlvry tour.
A. A bit of background: By the late 80s South Africa was in a terrible state – state of emergency, people being detained and tortured, people dying in townships, a cultural boycott that isolated this country, the SABC and record companies refusing to touch artists that had anything truthful to say about the apartheid regime . . . An incredibly stressful and tense time. Amid this, in places like Yeoville, people were responding with fantastic creativity – they had nowhere to go. The saviour of SA music was Lloyd Ross, who started Shifty Records to record huge talents like James Philips, the Genuines and the Kêrels when no one else would. A few venues like Jamesons let these people play there, and a small but very powerful and influential scene developed. At that time Afrikaans music was basically an embarrassment to mankind – really bad schlage (German middle-of-the-road) songs that got even worse in translation. We all loved James Philips’ Bernoldus Niemand record which, along with David Kramer’s early records, showed that it was possibly to write Afrikaans songs that rang true and had something real to say. In early 1988 trombone player Jannie Hanepoot van Tonder and I’d both heard people talk of this one-man cabaret show at the Black Sun that we should go and watch. That was Ralph Rabie, then already known as Johannes Kerkorrel, and we were blown away by his songs. Also on the bill was Andre le Toit, later to become known as Koos Kombuis. We soon got chatting and, along with their manager ‘Dagga’ Dirk Uys, concocted a plan to start a rock and roll band that could bring Ralph and Andre’s songs to a bigger audience. Hence the Gereformeerde Blues Band. Our first gig, in April that year at the Pool Club in downtown Jozi, was a huge success and we realised we were onto something. At first I played bass and Andre played acoustic guitar, but he wasn’t a band person so Jannie and I asked Gary Herselman of the Kêrels – aka Piet Pers – to play bass, and I switched to guitar. Soon I quit my other gig – I was in Wendy Oldfield’s band at the time – and we started playing lots of shows. Lloyd recorded the Hillbrow/Ry single, which took off, and in January 89 we finished the Eet Kreef album. Meanwhile Dirk had organised a tour of university campuses for the first part of 1989, which became an ongoing, national tour sponsored by Max du Preez’s newspaper Vryeweekblad and named after a Shifty compilation of alternative Afrikaans music – Voëlvry.
Q. I believe there’s an interesting story about the photoshoot for the Eet Kreef cover?
A. The idea was a play on ‘let them eat cake’. So the art director organised a table with a few crayfish (as well some plastic ones) and a few actors to portray the aristocracy stuffing their faces, and then on the back cover you see the proles (the poor band) looking at the scraps that remained. Which is exactly what happened in real life! When we got there the actors had eaten all the crayfish and we were left with plastic props! The disappointment on our faces was real.
This is Johannes Kerkorrel and the Gereformeerde Blues Band being interviewed by Evita Bezuidenhout for M-Net in 1989 – it wasn’t broadcast at the time because M-Net was scared of government repercussions! Check it here:
This is Lloyd Ross’ documentary on the Voëlvry movement and tour:
Q. I found it interesting how you guys swopped instruments around during your sets.
A. Jannie, Gary and I had all been in bands for years by that time so were pretty experienced. We could all play drums, Gary and I could play guitar and bass, and Jannie is one of the best trombone players I’ve ever heard so there was no way we weren’t gonna feature him! So it made sense to swop around; I thought it gave us an advantage musically, sonically and, on stage, visually. Ralph wrote the songs and could perform them solo at the piano, so whatever we added had to serve the song and make it better. That was the only rule. We were helluva stoked to have Piet in the band – we were huge Kêrels fans and Gary is a rock and roll legend . . .
Q. Who did you play with after the GBB?
A. In the 90s I basically became a sideman for hire. I’d started playing on all kinds of people’s records, which then often led to me working with them on gigs and tours. I worked with Nataniel for about 15 years, which was a fantastic expierence! I played guitar, bass and drums in his shows and mixed many of his big theatre productions. I’ve been fortunate to perform with so many hugely talented people, all of whom taught me things and enriched my life – Nataniel, James Philips and the Lurchers, the Radio Rats, the Pressure Cookies, Big Sky, Luna Paige . . . to mention just a few. I played on various albums with these people as well.
In 1990 I bought an analogue 8-track setup and started my first studio in the basement of my house in Sharp Street, Yeoville. To this day my studio, wherever I live, is called Sharp Street Studio. Over the years I’ve recorded, mixed and produced albums for tons of SA artists and today it’s my main activity; I don’t gig that often anymore. I’ve recorded so many talented people – the Sunshines, Valiant Swart, Henry 8, AD de Vos, the Blues Broers, Bright Blue, to name a few . . . Currently I’m working on projects by people like Dax Butler, Greg Schoeman, Belinda van Zee, Marcia Moon, Bacchus Nel, Riku Latti and Adriaan Eksteen – all great stuff!
Q. Do you remember the Hip Replacements?
A. I recorded their one and only album! Scotty, Bertie and Andrew are all old mates and I loved their tunes and sound. Bertie (Mark Bennett) is a hugely talented songwriter. I played with them a few times over the years too. I even played drums with them once, but they thought I wasn’t hip enough so they replaced me . . .
For more on the Hips: https://www.facebook.com/pg/thehipreplacements.za/about/?ref=page_internal
Check out Ad de Vos:
Willem played on the Radio Rats’ recent album Concise Rock and Roll Primer – for more check:
Q. Tell us about backing Rodriguez on his first South African tour in 1998.
A. Since 1990 I’d been playing on and off with my old varsity mate Steve Louw and his band Big Sky. Early in 1998 Steve called and said, ‘If Rodriguez was to tour South Africa, would you like Big Sky to be the support band?’ I said, ‘Sure, but I thought he was dead?’ Steve said, ‘Well apparently not.’ So we rounded up the band, which at that time was Reuben Samuels on drums, Graham Currie on bass, Russel Taylor on keyboards and my wife Tonia (of the Pressure Cookies) on backing vocals and percussion. Then about 2 weeks before the tour was supposed to start we got word from the promoters that not only did Rodriguez not have a band, he hadn’t played for 20 years and didn’t even own a guitar anymore! So the promoter bought him an acoustic and asked Big Sky (minus Steve) if we would be his backing band if they paid us double. Of course we all knew the songs and had played some of them in cover bands, so we listened to the records and prepared. Then a few days before the first show we were in the old Milestone Studio in Cape Town, rehearsing along with a Greatest Hits CD so we could follow Rodriguez’ voice. Halfway through a song Rod walked in, grabbed a microphone and started singing along. Someone switched off the CD player and we finished the song together! We all looked at each other and agreed, yep we can do this. The tour is legendary. It was the only time in his life the guy performed live to his full capacity – his career stalled back in the early 70s partly because he was stage-shy and wouldn’t tour to his promote his records. Once he realised that Big Sky knew and respected his material and had his back, his confidence grew and he was great on that tour. Sadly from what I’d experienced and heard of subsequent tours, his drinking often got the better of him and some shows have been disastrous – which is sad. His health also deteriorated and he’s gone blind, yet his daughters (who manage him) kept sending him out on endless tours . . . it’s unfortunate. But on that 1998 tour he was fantastic.
Check Tonia Moller’s documentary on Rodriguez’ 1998 SA tour, Dead Men Don’t Tour, which features the man in full force – the live footage in the Oscar-winning doccie Searching For Sugar Man came from Tonia’s film:
Q. How did you meet Tonia?
A. We met in the late 80s in Yeoville. I’d seen her perform with her band Khaki Monitor – which was one of the first alternative bands to use Afrikaans lyrics – and she was doing cabaret work. Then she joined the Gereformeerde Blues Band on backing vocals and percussion for the Voëlvry tour. After that the two of us had a string of blues bands and played in venues around Jozi for years, while she also formed the Pressure Cookies to perform her own songs. We got married in 1996. (Interview with Tonia coming up in a month or so – Ernesto.)
Q. Tell us about making the soundtrack for the local comedy Skeem.
A. I’d been playing with drum legend Barry van Zyl for years. He and James Stewart (formerly of the Usual) had formed a music publishing company and among other things were writing movie soundtracks. Barry asked if I’d be interested in creating the music for a new movie, and that it would involve a band improvising rockabilly jams while watching the images. That sounded like fun, so I was in. In the end the whole deal became a lot more complicated, but much of it did involve jamming some breakneck stuff while watching the movie projected on a wall in the studio, with the director, Tim Greene, jumping up and down as he directed us . . . it’s actually a fun soundtrack to listen to.
Here’s the trailer:
Q. You also worked with Andrew Kay’s band the Skyt Muties.
A. I recorded their album back in the 90s. I thought they were ridiculously good and that Andrew was a real special talent. He revived the band for a few shows a few years ago and I played 2 gigs with them. I love those songs!
Q. What have been some of your proudest moments in your recording career?
A. I’ve recorded hundreds of artists at Sharp Street Studio, especially in the 90s when I guess I was cheaper than anyone else! As it turned out a whole bunch of really talented people never released what they recorded with me and never really recorded again, so I have these gems in my archives . . . Machines of Joy, The Andy Clegg, Rear Window are 3 that spring to mind – really original and quirky material that the world should have heard but didn’t. Those recordings are close to my heart . . . Of the released stuff, there are a few I’m really proud of, such as Valiant Swart’s Mystic Boer (for me his best songs) and Kopskoot, Henry Ate’s Slap in the Face, Randy Rambo and the Rough Riders/Die Naaimasjiene, the Blues Broers’ Sharp Street, Been Around and Cellar Tapes, AD de Vos’ Diep Karoo and Wolfman . . . I also co-produced James Philips and the Lurchers’ album Sunny Skies (with Lloyd Ross), which I think is a fantastic record. I also play guitar on it. I also really love Greg Schoeman and the Comeback Kings’ In my Street and Dax Butler’s Drink in Everything and Trouble in Mind.
Willem: I love the Randy Rambo and the Rough Riders/Die Naaimasjiene stuff! We totally ignored absolutely every rule. There will probably never be another album like Die Saai Lewe . . . Randy is still at it.
Check out Die Naamasjiene’s recent material: https://soundcloud.com/dienaaimasjiene
Q. Any last words/thoughts?
I really miss those musical compadres who are no longer with us – Johannes Kerkorrel, James Philips, Nico Burger, Izak van Zyl, John Mair, Simon Falkiner, Michael Copley . . . all wonderful talents, all gone too soon. You guys rock, wherever you are.
Cheers Willem, long may you rock
Ernesto Garcia Marques 01/07/2020
The year is 1981 and South Africa’s white minority government is embroiled in a conflict on the southern Angolan border. Like all white boys over the age of 16, Nicholas Van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer) must complete two years of compulsory military service to defend the Apartheid regime. The threat of communism and “die swart gevaar” (the black danger) is at an all-time high. But that’s not the only danger Nicholas faces. He must survive the brutality of the army – something that becomes even more difficult when a connection is sparked between him and a fellow recruit.
MOFFIE, is the 4th film by director Oliver Hermanus. It is produced by South African-born producer Eric Abraham who produced the Academy Award-winning films – Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida (2014) and Jan Sverak’s Kolya (1996) and Jack Sidey of Portobello Productions. It is based on the memoir, Moffie, by Andre-Carl van der Merwe and tells the story of a conscript who embarks on his military service in 1981 South Africa. In local theatres on 13 March 2020.
A Spoonful Of Sugar And James returns to the Alma Café in Mowbray on Friday Sept 27th at 8pm. Booking is as always absolutely essential by phone on 021 685 7377. 50 seats only.
This innovative, informative and slightly irreverent performance sees the acclaimed South African singer-songwriter, James Stewart, joining Stephen “Sugar” Segerman, the man behind the rediscovery of Sixto Rodriguez and the Oscar-winning documentary, “Searching For Sugar Man”, to share their respective stories and play and sing some great Rodriguez and South African classic songs.
A Spoonful Of Sugar & James
The Glencairn Hotel
It’s been called “The Greatest Music story of the past 50 years”, the story of this wonderful and talented musician and his journey to his well-deserved and long-overdue fame. But enough about James Stewart 😉 In this innovative, informative and slightly irreverent show, James joins Stephen “Sugar” Segerman, the person behind the rediscovery of Sixto Rodriguez and “Searching For Sugar Man”, the Oscar-winning documentary about the whole story, as the two music journeymen tell their respective tales and play and sing some of the most seminal Rodriguez and South African classic songs. Willem Moller will add his special soulful flair on guitar.