The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 5 by Steve Louw

Tony Visconti wore leather pants, his greying hair slicked back. I was straight out of two years of smoky, sweaty clubs and other dives. He was straight out of stardom, working with David Bowie. I had been asked by my record label to look after him during his trip to Johannesburg to record local stars, Ymage.

Steve Louw 1990
Steve Louw 1990

At the time, I was working on the songs that would become “Waiting for the Dawn” and Kevin was coming back to South Africa to produce it. He had been away in Australia for a year making a name for himself as a recording engineer.

Visconti had split his recording project into two parts, and Kevin and I would go to Cape Town with Godfrey Mcinga, Jimmy Mngwandi and Don Laka to cut the tracks of the album’s songs at UCA studio, while he went back to London. He was demanding. I was a bad gofer and was glad to be back at UCA’s studio with the three great players we had met in Joburg, making music. I felt good about the songs, and we, Kevin and I, thought that we could break through with a song like “Waiting for the Dawn”. Kevin was booked to fly back to Australia, via London, once the album was mixed by Shelly Yakus (Tom Petty, Patti Smith).

Steve Louw & Big Sky – Waiting For The Dawn

I sat at the bar having a beer with my brother Ardi, before leaving for London. He had introduced me to the music of Lou Reed, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin, and I had highjacked his Gallotone guitar and learned to play out of Alfred’s Chord Book. He looked into my eyes, saying: “Looks like you are going to make it, Boetman, I’m proud of you.” We had had a tumultuous fist-filled relationship, but we were finding our way back to each other again, and I felt like he thought my music had some worth. “Thanks, I think so too,“ I replied. It would be the last time I looked into his eyes.

Kevin put his arm around my shoulders as we walked through Hyde Park. I felt broken and numb. I had just heard that, as we flew to London, the 747 plane my brother was flying back to South Africa on, had blown up near Mauritius. It felt like the world had stopped turning. Everything seemed still and I couldn’t hear any music.

In late October 2011, I was journeying through The Grand Canyon on a raft atop a raging Colorado River with a group of friends who were serious adventurers, all about 20 years my junior. They had done first descents of remote Alaskan rivers, skied down 14 000-foot mountain peaks in Wyoming and kayaked over 200-foot waterfalls in Patagonia. I was glad to be invited along and glad there was a guitar to play every night.

This trip was a walk in the park for them, but serious adventuring for me. I felt I was deep near the Earth’s beating heart’s core, and for 21 days she and I were one. I left the river with my mind wiped clean and the rhythm of it in my heart.

Steve Louw – Crazy River

When I heard “Crazy River”, playing over the studio speakers 10 years later, I was right back in the Canyon carved by the Colorado River. I could see the night sky and full moon; I could feel the Earth’s heartbeat. The song’s beat was the Earth’s heartbeat, the rivers were the Colorado, Amazon and Nile combined. Wild, free, places always moving from the mountains towards the sea of change and greater possibility.

Spotify Playlist: The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 5

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Steve Louw

Steve Louw is a South African singer-songwriter and rock musician. Winner of Best South African Rock Act, and a member of the SA Rock Hall of Fame, Steve is one of SA rock’s most talented and unassuming singer-songwriters. He and his band Big Sky appeared on stage with Rodriguez on the sold-out South African tour in 1998.

Top Tracks by Steve Louw

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 3 by Steve Louw

Little Steven - Voice Of America
Little Steven – Voice Of America

It was a hot summer in 1984 in Johannesburg when Little Steven (aka Miami Steve van Zandt) looked straight into my eyes through the lens of my camera. He was listening to the live recording of my band, All Night Radio, and I could see he was into it. His leopard print coat, snakeskin boots and silk bandanna were all too hot for the Johannesburg summer heat, but he looked like the coolest person I had ever seen. 

He was in South Africa to promote Voice of America, his second album. He had recently quit the E-Street Band to launch his solo career and I was interviewing him for a local newspaper. We had been talking for hours about studios, recording and his work as a producer with Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and Gary U.S. Bonds, and his two Little Steven albums, Men without Women, and Voice of America.

The UN cultural boycott of South Africa was in place, and he was visiting South Africa to see for himself what was happening in the country. Voice of America was a political album, and tracks like “Checkpoint Charlie” and “Los Desaparecidos” dealt with the regimes of East Germany and Argentina. The Sun City album would become Little Steven’s natural progression of that work, and after Peter Gabriel’s “Biko”, one of the most significant protest songs against apartheid.

Little Steven’s Sun City video

I thought Steve would be cool with helping me get further up the road. He was, and he suggested we record with the engineer who had just finished his new album, and which I thought sounded great. Six weeks later we were in UCA studios in Cape Town with John Rollo, the engineer on Voice of America, and long-time associate of The Kinks. I had left NYC, figuring that recording and gigging with the great musicians I knew back home would break us through to some sort of recognition. John knew how to make a live rock ’n’ roll record, and we were ready, after a year of gigging in clubs. We stripped the UCA studio bare, brought up the freight lift, put the drums near its metal mouth, stripped off the toms and we rocked. Ten days later we were mixing at the House of Music New Jersey, and in August 1984 All Night Radio made its radio airplay debut.

All Night Radio (left-to-right): Rob Nagel, Steve Louw, Nico Burger, Richard "Dish" Devey, Pitchie Rommelaere
All Night Radio (left-to-right): Rob Nagel, Steve Louw, Nico Burger, Richard “Dish” Devey, Pitchie Rommelaere

We brought in our great drummer, Richard “Dish” Devey along for the tour and rehearsed on the stage of the now-defunct Three Arts Theatre where I had seen Ray Charles, José Feliciano and Tina Turner from backstage, with my school buddy, Dereck Quibell, the theatre owners’ son. 

We hit the road for a national tour, and from where I was sitting, behind the wheel of a VW panel van, the future looked great.

FEBRUARY 2019: “You’ve got songs, Stevie, and before I see you you’ll write more. Just be in Nashville the last three days of February next year, and we’ll make a record”. I put down the phone. Kevin (Shirley) was in Abbey Road studios with Joe Bonamassa, and I had a year to get myself together before leap year 2020 rolled around. The music started playing in my head again.

Kevin Shirley
Kevin Shirley
The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead #3

Read the Complete Series


Steve Louw

Steve Louw is a South African singer-songwriter and rock musician. Winner of Best South African Rock Act, and a member of the SA Rock Hall of Fame, Steve is one of SA rock’s most talented and unassuming singer-songwriters. He and his band Big Sky appeared on stage with Rodriguez on the sold-out South African tour in 1998.

Top Tracks by Steve Louw

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 2 by Steve Louw

All Night Radio (early 80's) with Steve Louw (centre)
All Night Radio (early 80’s) with Steve Louw (centre)

AUGUST 1981: The Stones’ ‘Start Me Up’ echoed off every wall, and blared out of every cab window and shop door in the hot August weather in New York City. Their groove and the pulse of the city seemed to be superimposed, laying down a thick backbeat. Keith Richards’ guitar owned the city. I had listened to that sound since buying the seven-single of ‘Satisfaction’. His groove felt like the heartbeat of Africa. His sound took me to Elvis and Duane Eddy.

I had arrived from Cape Town, with a guitar, demos of my songs and an intro to legendary engineer and producer Phil Ramone (Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan). I knew I was closer to the heart of the music I loved, than ever before.

Phil owned A & R Recording Studios, where engineers Shelly Yakus and Bob Ludwig began their careers. Our paths would cross, but now as I listened, my music filled the control room of the legendary studio where Dylan had sung the songs which would become the masterpiece Blood On The Tracks. I knew Phil recognised that I still had a long way to go. That was OK, I wasn’t in a hurry, and just being there in that room was good enough for me.

A & R Recording, Inc. Analogue 1/4 inch tape master
A & R Recording, Inc. Analogue 1/4 inch tape master

NEW YORK CITY March 2020. The 5th March 2020 was our wedding anniversary. I had just got back to NYC from Nashville recording the songs that would become the album ‘Headlight Dreams‘ with Kevin ‘The Caveman’ Shirley. We had made five albums together, and been friends since playing small Cape Town clubs in the early 1980s with our bands ‘All Night Radio’ and ‘The Council’. Kevin had gone on to become a world-famous producer and engineer (Aerosmith, The Black Crowes, Led Zeppelin), but he had always looked out for me, and we had had a great time making records together.

I looked at my phone and saw an email headed: Bob Ludwig Master. A wedding anniversary present from Kevin! I clicked on the link and ‘The Wind in Your Hair’ played out across the NYC winter streets. “What a great song, vocal and band, this album sounds extra real like you-all were having a lot of fun” was the note with the link from Bob.

Steve Louw – Wind In Your Hair (feat Joe Bonamassa)

I had written the song after spending a few months alone looking after our farm, and Erna being back in Cape Town looking after our young children. She had decided to make the six-hundred-kilometre road trip alone to come and see me. Walking down the farm road I saw the dust of a car approaching and then stop. Squinting into the sunlight I realised who it was, and my eyes filled with tears. The most beautiful radiant smiling eyes looked back at me.

Forty years later the NYC streets seemed as though they were welcoming me back. It would be the last few days before the city would be locked down, and a global pandemic would strike. I walked out on the streets thinking of myself as the 25-year-old kid trying to hustle his way into a music career. I passed the building where the club ‘The Bottom Line’ had been and where I had seen so many riveting performances by artists I had followed for years from South Africa. I crossed Washington Square and headed uptown to where Phil’s studio had been.

It was great to be alive.

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead #2

Read the Complete Series


Steve Louw

Steve Louw is a South African singer-songwriter and rock musician. Winner of Best South African Rock Act, and a member of the SA Rock Hall of Fame, Steve is one of SA rock’s most talented and unassuming singer-songwriters. He and his band Big Sky appeared on stage with Rodriguez on the sold-out South African tour in 1998.

Top Tracks by Steve Louw

BELOVED SOUTH AFRICAN SINGER / SONGWRITER STEVE LOUW RELEASES NEW VIDEO / SINGLE, “CRAZY RIVER”

Steve Louw

April 6 2021, Capetown, SA: Today, much-revered South African singer/songwriter/guitarist, Steve Louw releases, “Crazy River,” the first track from his forthcoming album, Headlight Dreams to be released in May via BFD/The Orchard. 

Steve Louw - Headlight Dreams

The song itself is an upbeat, transcendent ode to the beauty of a river, its timelessness against the impermanent world it runs through, and the aspects of ourselves that long to be just like it. Louw, with a rich lifetime of music making under the belt, gets it and embraces the moment. The video puts him occasionally front and center, singing and playing with millennial enthusiasm, yet with the confidence that experience brings, his image juxtaposed with footage and stills of lives lived large against a backdrop of mountains, valleys and rapids. So lush is it all that one could just jump at the screen before getting a hold of themselves. 

Says Louw of the song, “I 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.” 

From the moment he jumped into the South African music scene in the eighties, he was swimming with the best of em. At that time, he fronted All Night Radio, a group that would release two hit records, The Heart’s the Best Part (1984) and The Killing Floor (1986) and establish Louw as a force to be reckoned with on the SA music scene. But in 1990, Steve achieved legendary status after forming Big Sky, who won the honour of Best South African Rock Act in 1996 and were subsequently accepted into the SA Rock Hall of Fame. In 1998, they supported Rodriguez on tour and were incidentally featured in the film, Searching For Sugar Man.

In 2003, Steve collaborated with Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), Anastacia and Brian May (Queen) on a song called “Amandla” that was performed for the Madiba’s 46664 concert in Cape Town by Beyonce and Bono.

He also played and recorded with the aforementioned Rodriguez, Blondie Chaplin and Kevin Shirley, who produced Headlight Dreams. The new album also features a guest spot from heroic guitarist Joe Bonamassa on “Wind In Your Hair.”

Stream/download “Crazy River” here: https://orcd.co/SteveLouwCrazyRiver 

Pre-save/pre-add/pre-order Headlight Dreams here: https://orcd.co/SteveLouwHeadlightDreams 

For more information, please visit: http://stevelouw.com/

Twitter @stevelouwmusic 

And for any media inquiries, please contact: 

Martin Myers / Jason Curtis 

083 448 4475 / 082 555 5993

Steve Louw

Sugar Man by Riskology Radcliffe

Dear Sixto and Team

My name is Jay, I am a rapper living in the UK, and I was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in South Africa in the post-apartheid, ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ era. I spent my youth watching Cheech and Chong films and Listening to Sixto in various shebeens around Johannesburg, smoking good weed.

I unfortunately ended up in Jail which led me to the UK, upon my release. I then followed a path of music to steer my life away from drugs and the perils that come with it. I decided to do a ‘Sugar Man’ remix, which is an ode and a story of my perils with a modern era take, with the original chorus to keep authentic and change the verse to rap style vocals.

I have registered and released the remix and obviously Sixto is the beneficiary of this, which I am more than happy with. I am writing to request an opinion or a short moment for feedback. The album and song in particular were such a huge part of my up-bringing and being from South Africa, where the story is Legend, I was hoping I may get a moment of feedback.

In truth it took me over ten years to complete, as one, I was on a journey (sure you can relate) and two, I wanted it to be a worthy offering. There were various different versions made between bpm’s etc, however it took ages to get to the point where I thought I would one, hopefully keep the essence and make Sixto proud however and  two, still reach this modern generation. So, to get some feedback would be awesome, please.

I also hope I have not offended anyone in this process, as  it was done with pure love and inspiration in mind and,  as I mentioned, Sixto is the beneficiary who I am happy to send info relating to.

I also have a cool artwork animation on my insta profile (@riskology) where the artwork of the table and menu all become interactive and trippy.  I have attached a short animation of the artwork that my biz partner, Rowan L Designs, made for the release , it took her years to perfect and this artwork took hours/months to produce as each item is an individual layer and all parts interact, she did an amazing job.

See artwork at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tyN5tHuiecuPyFW9_pkHIp9XE5oI48VJ/view

Anyway – I hope this email finds you all well in these crazy times. And, on behalf of my whole generation, Thank You for the love, light, and inspiration, I look forward to hearing back from you 1love,

Jay Radcliffe


Email: 1riskology@gmail.com

Lockdown Blues – The Bottom Barrel Blues Band

Featuring Robin Auld, Steve Walsh, Simon Orange, Tonia Möller, Schalk Joubert, Willem Möller, Kevin Gibson, Mauritz Lotz & Nico Mac

“Lockdown Blues” is a blues song created and performed by the Bottom Barrel Blues Band – a collaboration of prominent South African contemporary musicians. It was recorded individually by the artists in isolation during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
True to the nature of the blues, “Lockdown Blues” is an uplifting, bitter-sweet tune depicting the challenges of life under lockdown regulations. It is produced by the Cape Town Music Academy (CTMA), a Cape Town based not for profit company, creating opportunities for local contemporary musicians.

During the Covid-19 pandemic many musicians have experienced a harsh decline or complete halt in income due to lockdown regulations and the ban on public gatherings. But despite these challenges, musicians will always express themselves, practice their craft and collaborate.
We therefore urge you to please support your local musicians by continuing to buy their albums, follow their online and streaming initiatives or by making a financial donation.

For more info on how you can donate to contemporary musicians in South Africa, please contact the Cape Town Music Academy at info@ctma.co.za.

“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” ― Billy Joel

Credits:
Music by Robin Auld
Lyrics by Nico Mac/Robin Auld/Simon Orange
Video created & edited by Schalk Joubert
Arranged, Mixed & Mastered by Robin Auld
Executive Producer – The Cape Town Music Academy

Robin Auld – Vocals, Guitar & Harmonica
Simon Orange – Vocals & Keyboards
Steve Walsh – Vocals
Tonia Möller – Vocals
Kevin Gibson – Drums
Schalk Joubert – Bass
Willem Möller – Guitar
Mauritz Lotz – Guitar

Sugar Man song featured in trailer for “Moffie” film

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.

Follow us on social media:

https://www.facebook.com/moffiefilm/

https://www.instagram.com/moffiefilm/

https://twitter.com/moffiefilm

Ghosts Of Berlin by The Lyzyrd Kyngs

Written in Berlin in the Summer of 2013 by Piet Botha. Recorded in South Africa August 2014. Piet Botha on Vocals & Guitar, Arthur Dennis on Guitar. Rudolph Dennis on Drums and Vocals. Adrian John Graham on Bass. Recorded and produced by Peter Pearlson with Charl Wentzel assisting. Footage of their Tour with Freygang in East Berlin.

New Lyzyrd Kyngs album is due in November 2014.

www.lyzyrdkyngs.com

Cause It’s the Greatest Last Song Ever Recorded

By Mark Worth ​

Coming From Reality
Coming From Reality

 

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.”

Stephen Segerman speaks to Daily Maverick about Malik Bendjelloul

From Daily Maverick

Malik Bendjelloul, the Swedish director of ‘Searching for Sugar Man’, has committed suicide aged 36. It’s just over a year since the documentary about folk musician Rodriguez won Bendjelloul an Oscar and captured the hearts of viewers all over the world. REBECCA DAVIS spoke to Bendjelloul’s subject and friend, Cape Town record-store owner Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman.

The last time I interviewed Stephen Segerman in his den in Oranjezicht, it was July 2012, just prior to the official release of Searching for Sugar Manin South Africa. At that time Segerman gave the impression of a man both bemused and exhilarated by the success of the film, in which he features prominently as one of two South Africans who made it their mission to track down Rodriguez.

Shortly before the interview, he’d been to the Sundance Film Festival with Bendjelloul and Rodriguez, where the film received a standing ovation. “It was just a magical night,” he told me at the time.

Watch: Searching for Sugar Man trailer

Almost two years later, the fairytale seemed even rosier. Searching for Sugar Man won the Best Documentary Oscar at the 2013 Academy Awards. Rodriguez, who languished in obscurity for years, today has fame and fortune locked down. It was the ultimate feel-good story.

And then, on Tuesday, shocking news broke: Bendjelloul, aged just 36, was dead.

“You know, with some people you have inklings and maybes. With Malik? Suicide? Impossible,” says Segerman, shaking his head. “I thought he must have died in his sleep or something. When I heard, well…” he trails off. “I’ve been seeing the comments. This dude had the world at his feet, he had an Oscar…”

Malik Bendjelloul was a teen actor in his native Sweden, starring in a show which Segerman describes as the Swedish version of America’s Family Ties. As an adult he worked as a TV reporter for Sweden’s public broadcaster, specialising in making short films about visiting rockstars. Then he left to travel the world, looking for richer stories.

Segerman first heard from Bendjelloul in late 2006, when he emailed the record-store owner to say that he was coming to Cape Town, and asked if they could meet. He had learnt about Segerman’s involvement in the Rodriguez tale through a piece in the Guardian, and wanted to hear more.

“At that stage we had a shop on the corner of Long Street with lekker big glass windows,” remembers Segerman. “I can still see him coming around the corner and saying: ‘Hello, I’m Malik!’”

In an interview with Movie Scope Magazine in July 2012, Bendjelloul described the encounter:

“I met Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman, the guy who first started to look for Rodriguez in Cape Town, and when he told me the story I was just blown away. It was just so beautiful and touching. Just the one-sentence summary was pretty strong: ‘A man who doesn’t know that he is a superstar.’”

For his part, Segerman instantly warmed to the lanky Swede.

“He just had such a lovely energy: tall, bright-eyed…He reminded me of Tintin,” he says.

Segerman took him up Table Mountain and Bendjelloul filmed a short sequence of Segerman telling the story of the hunt for Rodriguez. Then he disappeared off to Sweden, and Segerman didn’t hear from him for six months. At that point, Bendjelloul emailed to say: that’s the story we like in Sweden.

Bendjelloul returned to Cape Town and shot a one-minute trailer in Segerman’s den. He took it to the Sheffield Documentary Festival, where aspirant filmmakers pitch their stories. Bendjelloul won. A full-length documentary was on the cards.

Segerman points to a photograph pinned to a cabinet. It shows Segerman, Bendjelloul and camera woman Camilla Skagerström. “That was the team,” he says. “Just them. They came here and shot, then went to Detroit. There was barely any budget. Just – excuse the cliché – passion.”

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Photo: Stephen Segerman, cinematographer Camilla Skagerström, and filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, pictured in Segerman’s den in Cape Town.

In Detroit, there was the tricky business of persuading the reclusive Rodriguez to feature in the film at all. Bendjelloul worked his way in by meeting the musician’s family members one by one. He got his way eventually through sheer charm, Segerman says. Even so, filming Rodriguez had certain unique challenges. There’s a scene in the film where Rodriguez is fiddling with a video microphone while he talks. It still had to be used: there was no question of a do-over.

“There was always only gonna be one take,” Segerman chuckles. “No way was Rodriguez going to say all those things all over again.”

For over a year, Bendjelloul sat in his flat in Stockholm making the film. People promised funding and backed out. He ran out of money for animation, so he had to do the animation work himself. It’s the stuff of legends now that some scenes in the documentary had to be filmed using a $1 Super-8 iPhone app.

“That movie is sort of a bit jerry-built – kind of smashed together,” says Segerman. “I saw it for the first time and thought: That doesn’t look anything like movies I’ve checked, slick, beautifully-made documentaries!”

But the film’s sheer heart – and the incredible story it told – more than compensated for its technical weaknesses. Some suggested that the story was a little too incredible – that Bendjelloul had conveniently omitted aspects of the Rodriguez narrative that didn’t easily fit within the rags-to-riches trajectory.

“There were two main snipes about the film,” Segerman says today. “The first was that Rodriguez wasn’t actually an anti-Apartheid hero – which I never said. The other criticism is about Australia.” Bendjelloul’s documentary left out the fact that Rodriguez was aware that he had a major fan-base in Australia, and had toured there twice in the late 70s and early 80s.

“The simple explanation, which we spoke about, is that [Searching for Sugar Man] is about the search of two South Africans for Rodriguez,” Segerman says. “I found out about the Australian tour the night that I met Rodriguez for the first time, in March 1998. If I’d known, I would have tracked him through Australia! It was not part of our story.”

Segerman says Bendjelloul was unruffled by this criticism. “It made zero difference,” he says. “For him to create something which brought so much happiness into the world…Nothing could have bothered him about that.”

Segerman and Craig Bartholomew, the music journalist who also features in the documentary as instrumental in the hunt for Rodriguez, attended the Oscars with Bendjelloul last year.

From his wallet, Segerman extracts a piece of card on which he’d jotted down ideas for an acceptance speech for Bendjelloul, since the filmmaker hadn’t prepared anything.

“I’m superstitious about preparing speeches – this has been lucky for me,” it begins.

In the end, the laconic Swede didn’t need the prompt. “Oh boy!” Bendjelloul said when he won. “Thanks to one of the greatest singers ever, Rodriguez!”

There’s a photo in Segerman’s den of the three men tux-ed up, Bendjelloul clutching his statuette, at the prestigious Vanity Fair after-party.

“Just on my left side, over there,” says Segerman, pointing at the photo, “there was this old American dude. I thought: who’s that? He obviously wasn’t an actor.” He pauses. “It was Buzz Aldrin. For a baby-boomer like me, you don’t get any better than that. I met Buzz Aldrin, and then I went home.”

Interviewed by the New York Times in May last year as part of a list of ’20 Filmmakers To Watch’, Bendjelloul hinted at the surreal aspects of having made such a successful first film.

“Since everything was the first time for me, it was a bit confusing to understand what last year was all about,” Bendjelloul admitted. “To travel around with your film is a weird experience. Filmmakers are not musicians, they can’t perform their film; you don’t even need to load the projector. It was weird to think that that year was the reward for the work. But now I realise that it’s this year that is the reward. To feel free to do exactly what you want to do without feeling too scared that your ideas won’t interest anyone or worry about the rent or having to deal with people who think they know better.”

After the Oscars, Segerman says Bendjelloul was besieged with offers.

“Malik had been turning down a huge amount of stuff. He had a lot of offers of TV commercials, that kind of thing, but he wasn’t the type of guy to sell out. Your first full-length movie wins an Oscar! What the hell do you do for a second?”

In fact, for his next major project, Segerman said Bendjelloul had turned again to a South African story. He was working on a screenplay for a feature film inspired by the experiences of conservationist Lawrence Anthony, dubbed ‘the elephant whisperer’ for his work with traumatised elephants.

“He loved South Africa,” Segerman says. “I always say he should have been an honorary Capetonian. You have no idea how many people found out about Cape Town from his movie. He made it look so beautiful.”

Bendjelloul didn’t let his newfound fame go to his head, according to Segerman. “He always looked a little bit shy, a little bit awkward. It’s not an easy thing to deal with.”

Segerman was last in touch with the filmmaker last Monday, when the two had an email exchange about a legal dispute unfolding between two of Rodriguez’s old record labels. He says Bendjelloul gave no sign at all that anything was emotionally amiss.

“You know, through the film… My little record shop became a great little record shop. Rodriguez found his destiny. Malik, I thought, had found his,” Segerman says.

“You put something like that out there. The joy that I’ve got out of it – how much more so for Malik? And it wasn’t enough.” DM

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