In 1970, Sixto Rodriguez was allegedly urged by the future chairman of Motown Records to write under “Jesus Rodriguez” to avoid prior contractual obligations.
Those who have seen Searching for Sugar Man might think they know the astonishing tale of Sixto Rodriguez, but there’s an important aspect of the musician’s story that is now coming to light thanks to a lawsuit that was filed on Friday.
As the Oscar-winning documentary detailed, Rodriguez recorded a couple of albums in the 1970s that seemingly were commercial bombs. Unbeknownst to the Michigan-born songwriter was that his songs had made him a star on the scale of Elvis Presley in South Africa. Fans there embraced his songs as anti-apartheid anthems, and only decades later, after Rodriguez slipped into obscurity and had been rumored to have committed suicide, did he triumphantly make it to South Africa to discover his tremendous success.
When people gather and talk about the singer-songwriters they admire, the same familiar names usually recur: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell: all legends whose music has lasted through the decades, from the 1960s to the present day. Very few would mention Jesus ‘Sixto’ Rodriguez – unless they were South African.
For those who haven’t seen 2012’s most successful documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, let me explain. Rodriguez, a young singer-songwriter from Detroit – whose music could best be described as ‘Donovan-esque’ – released two albums, Cold Fact (1970) and Coming from Reality (1971).