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).
Almost all the recent fan messages on the Sugarman.org website are from people saying they have never heard of Rodriguez before. Many even apologize for not listening to him in the 1970s.
I can’t remember when exactly I first heard ‘Cold Fact’. For me his music just always seemed to have been there. A number of the mixtapes from my teenage years show “Sugar Man”, “Rich Folks Hoax” and “I Wonder” as being from 1973/74 when I was about 14/15.
I was wrong, of course, but didn’t know that until much later.
A long time ago, I compiled a series of C90 mixtapes called The Story Of Rock, with all the information lovingly catalogued and hand-written in hard cover books.
Page 13 of Book 7 shows the track listing for “The Story Of Rock 1973 to 1974” and includes the following songs:
Long Train Running – The Doobie Brothers
We Live – Xit
Sugar Man – Rodriguez
Radar Love – Golden Earring
Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple
Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
The Ballad Of Casey Deiss – Shawn Phillips
Rich Folks Hoax – Rodriguez
We’re An American Band – Grand Funk Railroad
Other artists include Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers Band, Yes, Focus, Chicago and more. And Rodriguez was the only one that got two entries! The next page shows “The Story Of Rock 1974 to 1976” and includes “I Wonder” alongside songs by Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher, Pink Floyd, Genesis, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Uriah Heep, Nazareth and others.
I am finding it impossible to imagine what it must be like to not grow up listening to his music alongside all those other well-known classic rock bands. I know I never heard him on the radio, but that wasn’t that strange as a number of my “Story Of Rock” artists didn’t get much radio play any way.
But that he wasn’t famous in the rest of the world, didn’t cross my mind. When I first discovered the internet during the 1996 Festive Season, I could find information on Pink Floyd and Deep Purple, however I could find nothing on Rodriguez. And that started me on a quest, that just seems to be continuously having happy endings.
Without trying to sound too melodramatic, I would not be living the life I do now, and earning my income from doing what I love, if it was not for Rodriguez and all the sparks that he ignited.
Woman please be gone You’ve stayed here much too long Don’t you wish that you could cry Don’t you wish I would die
Seamy, seesaw kids Childwoman on the skids The dust will choke you blind The lust will choke your mind
I kiss the floor, one kick no more The pig and hose have set me free I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree
I kiss the floor, one kick no more The pig and hose have set me free I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree
The inner city birthed me The local pusher nursed me Cousins make it on the street They marry every trick they meet
A dime, a dollar they’re all the same When a man comes in to bust your game The turnkey comes, his face a grin Locks the cell I’m in again.
I kiss the floor, one kick no more The pig and hose have set me free I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree I’ve tasted hate street’s hanging tree…
[Song published by Interior Music (BMI)]
This song was not actually written by Rodriguez, but sure sounds like it could have been. It was written by Gary Harvey, Mike Theodore (‘Cold Fact’ producer) and Dennis Coffey (guitarist on ‘Cold Fact’). “Hate Street” actually refers to the famous “Haight/Ashbury” area of San Francisco, the famous Hippie hang-out during the late 60’s “Summer Of Love”.
…for years the title ‘Hate Street Dialogue’ has been bothering me, when I listened to the song I gathered the lyrics were referring to the famous hippie street in San Francisco: Haight/Ashbury, however the title on the album is spelt “Hate”. Rodriguez said (on a SA radio phone-in show in March 1998) that although the lyrics of that particular song were not written by himself they did refer to the Haight and not to the opposite of love.
– Stelios, 1998
PIG AND HOSE
In this song Rodriguez sings about being set free by “the pig and hose”. Could this mean a policeman (“pigs” was hippy slang for cops) and a piece of hose-pipe?
The quote: “pig and hose to bust our game” from the song “Hate Street Dialogue”, refers to the continual harassment of the hippy-subculture by the San Francisco police department on the Haight-Ashbury youth in 1967. “Pig” was the referrel to the POLICE, and “hose” was in reference to the length of “garden-hose” used to beat the citizens into submission [usually in the confines of the police station. The title was changed in spelling from “Haight Street”, to “Hate Street” to further emphasize that feeling of alienation, by both sides of the establishment, at that time.
– Gary W Harvey, June 2002
BLACK EYED SUSAN
South African Indie melodic grunge-rockers Black Eyed Susan recorded the album ‘Back Stabbers & Money Grabbers’ in January 1998 and released it in May 1998. Included on their album is an uptempo remake of this classic ‘Cold Fact’ song. Not actually written by Rodriguez, this song of urban decay and loneliness fits perfectly on Black Eyed Susan’s album of otherwise original material. A great version on an even greater album. If you like your rock modern-but-retro, grungy-yet-tuneful, this album is for you.
GARY W. HARVEY 4th September 2001, Darin J. Harvey wrote:
I was amazed that I finally found something about Sixto Rodriguez on the net and that I could finish a long quest with the help of your website.
Two years ago my father, Gary W. Harvey, mentioned while I was visiting him in Detroit, that he received a check for percentage for the lyrics of a song he wrote some thirty years ago! He wasn’t sure about the facts and he could only tell me the name of the song (which he thought was “Haight Street Dialog”) and that he originally wrote that one for a guy named Rodriguez. But the check was for a cover version from a band of South Africa!
Back in Germany, where I live, I started my search with the weak information I had! As I couldn’t find any hint for Rodriguez or that song I stopped my search after a few weeks! Now nearly two years later, I remembered my search and tried again! And yep, I got some hits!
My first hit was, that the song wasn’t named “Haight Street dialog” but “Hate Street Dialogue”, which brought me on the trail of “Black Eyed Susan” and finally lead me to “Sixto Rodriguez”!
So I read the facts you collected in your website and after all I could buy me a copy of ‘Cold Fact’ through Amazon.com, Germany (which was amazing that they could supply it in Germany). Two days later I received the album and now I really love it – as it’s interesting, unique and simply good music!
It turned out that my Dad also wrote the lyrics from the song “Gommorah”. He really was amazed that I could find the stuff we talked about two years ago and as I forwarded the links to him, so he could surf through by himself!
If you ever have the chance, get yourself a copy of the first Rare Earth Album “Dreams/Answer” on Verve Records! You might find some parallels as it was produced by the same team back then!
28th September 2001, Darin wrote again:
I would be pleased if you quote my e-mail on your website and your e-mag!
I’m so happy that I could expose some old stories and connection with the help of your work and website!
Meanwhile I got contact with Francois Bredenkamp from the “Black Eyed Susan” and even with Mike Theodore, the Producer of “Cold Fact”.
Francois Bredenkamp was very surprised and pleased to receive my mail and promised to send me a copy of their album. Unfortunately his band doesn’t exist anymore!
This is what he wrote me:
It’s a great surprise and pleasure to hear from you. We fell in love with the song lyrics and decided to make a remake. We are a South African based independent band, but unfortunately Black Eyed Susan does not exist anymore. I don’t know if you are aware of this but Rodriguez is an legend in our country. He is currently touring here till the end of September and I will watch him in Pretoria this Sunday.
This was definitely the most rewarding mail we have ever received for our efforts as a struggling rock band. (Francois Bredenkamp)
A few days later I received a mail from Mike Theodore (who’s still working as a producer in New Jersey, USA) and I was very amazed, as I didn’t try to contact him! He got information through my Dad, that I searched for Rodriguez and Black Eyed Susan!
Since I have the Rodriguez album ‘Cold Fact’, I introduced it to some friends and co-workers and everyone liked it and thought it’s very unique! They’ve been surprized that he’s totally unknown here, and that he’d never made it in Germany.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN tells the incredible true story of Rodriguez, the greatest ’70s rock icon who never was. Discovered in a Detroit bar in the late ’60s by two celebrated producers struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics, they recorded an album which they believed would secure his reputation as the greatest recording artist of his generation. In fact, the album bombed and the singer disappeared into obscurity amid rumors of a gruesome on-stage suicide. But a bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa and, over the next two decades, he became a phenomenon. The film follows the story of two South African fans who set out to find out what really happened to their hero. Their investigation leads them to a story more extraordinary than any of the existing myths about the artist known as Rodriguez.
Though Rodriguez personally denied this when I asked him, I believe ‘Jane S. Piddy’ is a deliberate misspelling of “Janis Pity” – a sort of tribute to Janis Joplin. Rodriguez said in March 1998: “The people [in my songs] are fictional. I tapped on the writer’s poetic licence giving them names and shape. Almost as a caricature works for the visual artist.”
However if you listen to the lyrics of ‘Jane S. Piddy’ you can hear 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…” are echoes of Janis’ well-documented excessive lifestyle. Remember that Rodriguez wrote this song in 1969 before Janis died on the 4th October 1970. And what about “Like Janis” – another reference? Absolutely.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN is a film about hope, inspiration and the resonating power of music. In the late ’60s, two celebrated producers who were struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics discovered a musician in a Detroit bar. They recorded an album that they believed was going to secure his reputation as one of the greatest recording artists of his generation. In fact, the album bombed and the singer disappeared into obscurity amid rumors of a gruesome on-stage suicide. But a bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa and, over the next two decades, it became a phenomenon. Two South African fans then set out to find out what really happened to their hero. Their investigation led them to a story more extraordinary than any of the existing myths about the artist known as Rodriguez. This soundtrack consists of a selection of songs featured in the film but originally found on Rodriguez’s records COLD FACT and COMING FROM REALITY. – Amazon.com
1. Sugar Man
2. Crucify Your Mind
4. I Wonder
5. Like Janis
6. This Is Not A Song, It’s An Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues
Visitor Comments: Rodriguez – I found you through the Grantland.com article about the documentary and bought your album on iTunes today. I cannot stop listening. It has brought me immeasurable joy already and cannot wait to see the film here in Denver!
Entry #: 864
Entry Date: 2012-06-28 18:10:21
Visitor Comments: Rodriguez!
Wow. I wish I had words to describe exactly what seeing your film was like. I was handed free tickets to it on the street at random when I was visiting Austin, Tx for SXSW. I had NO idea I was in for such a gift! I think your story is one of the best ever untold. You are so wonderfully talented but synchronically humble and grounded, just like one of my most favorite musicians, Johnny Cash. I can’t believe you weren’t famous when you released your albums un the U.S.; it seems like an atrocity of the music culture not to immediately give you the fame you deserve, but, as I’ve thought about it, God works in mysterious ways, and I think about how this amazing story of yours never would have been what it is without that temporary lack of fame. I’m so glad you did NOT light yourself on fire! I remember my joy when you were just ten steps away from me in the Paramount theatre in Austin that night as you ascended the stage. I am so glad that you are indeed here with us to keep making music. I’ve never been able to see you perform live, and I would love the chance to! I attend Baylor University here in Texas; if you ever did a show here, I would be ecstatic.
Thanks for sharing your gift! Christ bless you!
Entry #: 863
Entry Date: 2012-06-27 23:46:45
Visitor Comments: Just come back from watching ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ and, boy, was it good!
Coming into this movie cold I was on the edge of my seat as tis story unfolded but I was knocked sideways by the actual music – truly inspired songwriting.
I walked out wanting to buy your 2 albums but hestitated because I didn’t want to fill the pockets of those that exploited such soulful Art. PLEASE tour because I think you’ll be very popular – you don’t even need a band – just a guitar – I can see you on ‘Live on Jools Holland’ which is a very big credible music show in the UK.
And put out a new record. you’re a free agent now and I know will have so much new things to say.
Thank you so much for sharing your music and your story.
Entry #: 862
Entry Date: 2012-06-27 12:16:44
Visitor Comments: Funny thing….dug my old vinyls out recently to store on my HDD and came across my COLD FACT….I saw the show in Melbourne some 32 years ago and I remember it well…you could hear a pin drop through out the gig everyone was so blown away by your sound…some woman from the balcony screamed out something in Spanish and you and her spoke briefly and then with a laugh you told us all she gave you her phone number…..never forget that gig.
Entry #: 861
Entry Date: 2012-06-27 07:38:38
Visitor Comments: Hi, thank you from Australia,I brought 2 new copies,check to make sure you get paid.Come back one day let me know if you do.
Entry #: 860
Entry Date: 2012-06-27 00:54:54
Visitor Comments: This takes me back suddenly. I cannot believe it. I knew the minute I saw the name Sugarman who it was but haven’t thought of this music for 30 years. Welcome back! I really want to see the documentary and hope someone posts it on Facebook. thanks so much Janice
Entry #: 859
Entry Date: 2012-06-26 06:19:05
Visitor Comments: Thanks Rodriguez for those amazing hours listening over and over to your records so many years ago in Johannesburg South Africa. There was a connection then which was special and will always be remembered.
Visitor Comments: Hi,have been listening to an CD that was taken from both albums (i think) and am trying to find the name of a great song that starts of with the lyrics -cause i lost my job two weeks before Christmas and I talked to Jesus at the store and the Pope said it was none of damm business,olso in the is the wonderfull line about escaping in a teardrop and slidind under the door sill.Hope someone is able to help me.Many thanks Tony
South Africa was a very different place in 1971 when Cold Fact was modestly unleashed on the Southern hemisphere. Back then, nobody had heard of Rodriguez. Abba was storming the charts, TV hadn’t arrived (god forbid, it was too corruptive according to the dominees) and our current President was in jail. Music was played on turn-tables, Cliff Richard was on tour and the Hippie era hadn’t quite made it South. Violence and crime was something that happened in the townships, South African musicians were gaining modest international success and Sundays were spent at church.
“Sugar man, won’t you hurry ‘cos I’m tired of these scenes”.
Against this backdrop, an album with lyrics such as these must’ve seemed years ahead of it’s time and could only have captured the imaginations of a lost generation of South Africans. Over the next twenty five years, waves of disco, punk, new-wave, grunge and electronic music (in addition to our own ethnic music) served as soundtrack to the country’s turbulent history. Yet through it all an astonishingly simple folk album from a hitherto unknown singer crept into the hearts of many, occupying a unique place unparalleled elsewhere in the vast world of music.
The Legend unfolded on it’s own. Rodriguez dropped out of sight, lost in the haze of hippiness, and the profound lyrics left behind on Cold Fact were the only clues we had to invent the mystery and myth.
That has all been settled now, and the remarkable reappearance of this long-forgotten Hispanic American is a celebration of the enduring popularity of this album. Since it’s re-release on CD in 1991 by Polygram South Africa, it has sold a incredible 60 000 copies, encompassing several generations of fans from all quarters.
Soon you know I’ll leave you, and I’ll never look behind, ‘cause I was born for the purpose that crucifies your mind.
Like other Americans before him, notably Morrison and Dylan, Rodriguez was a hopeless romantic, inspired and troubled by the changing world around him. His lyrics were deep and poetic, yet it was the simple acoustic accompaniment that lent the album so much timeless appeal. 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.
By contrast, Only Good For Conversation is nothing short of disturbing with it’s grinding power riffs and vocal echo. In fact it is a good indication of the irony and sarcasm that Rodriguez layers thickly throughout the album. “My statue’s got a concrete heart, but you’re the coldest bitch I know” shows just how blunt the singer could be.
The moon…. is hanging…. in a purple… sky.
At times, his music was simple and beautiful, his lyrics pure poetry. Lovesickness was often the theme, but it was always from the lips of a troubled soul. In Crucify Your Mind, one of the albums most subtle songs, one gets the impression he’s begging like a scorned lover. In fact, he’s competing for a girls attention, but is sidelined by the lure of narcotics, and the boys who push them – one of many references throughout the album. “Was it a huntsman or a player that made you pay the cost, that now assumes relaxed position and prostitutes your loss, were you tortured by your own thirst in those pleasures that you seek, that makes you Tom the curious, that makes you James the weak” he asks. The appeal of Rodriguez, is his ability to state common emotions so beautifully. Always cynical and often sarcastic, he later makes a similar jibe “and don’t try to enchant me with your manner of dress, for a monkey in silk is a monkey no less” in the song Like Janis.
Drifting, drowning, in a purple sea of doubt, you wanna hear she loves you but the words don’t fit the mouth.
At times, the songwriter on this album – whoever he may be – is a desperate character and it’s not surprising, sifting through these lyrics, that rumours of taking his own life abounded. In Jane S Piddy his self pity of lost love is heartbreaking. From the above lyric he goes on to describe himself “you’re a loser, a rebel, a cause without”. Similar poignancy emerges in the short and simple final track on the original side one, Forget It. At no point, does Rodriguez ever seem happy. All these clues lend credence to the incredible myth that fell into the void that his disappearance left.
I wonder how many times you’ve had sex, I wonder do you know who will be next, I wonder, I wonder, wonder I do.
It is at his most obsessive, Rodriguez is best known. The simple lyrics from I Wonder mean many different things to many different people, and yet they are all sung in unison, at the end of disco’s, around camp fires or in a beat up old combi, with the same feeling that summed up the curiosity across South Africa throughout the seventies and eighties. He says, in two and half minutes, what many young men and woman would love to say to each but never find the courage. Again, in Hate Street Dialogue, the same simple guitar makes you imagine you’re sitting around a campfire in an Indian reserve, listening to some one’s home grown ditties. “Woman, please be gone, you’ve stayed here much too long”, he chided melodically. It’s the simpleness that is so alluring.
Gommorah is a nursery rhyme, you won’t find in the book.
It’s written on your city’s face just stop and take a look.
Perhaps it is the social conscience that has such important role on this album, and most significantly suggest what sort of person Rodriguez was and is. He has managed, throughout the album, to make it clear that the world around him just isn’t quite right. “The baby’s sleeping whilst it’s mother sighs” from Rich Folks Hoax is innocent enough, but all the time it is seen through the eyes of a working class Mexican immigrant, trapped in the motor industry that encompassed his hometown – Detroit. More than anything, it is this character that best describes the man who had disappeared for 25 years. In using school children for the chorus of Gommorah, Rodriguez effectively demonstrates the irony of inner city life, as he runs through the countless problems on the street in his neighbourhood, drugs, prostitution, runaway kids and bemused rich folk tourists. His working class vitriol emerges on Rich Folks Hoax and The Establishment Blues where he states matter-of-factly that “The Mayor hides the crime rate, council woman hesitates” and “little man gets shafted, sons and moneys drafted”. Not surprisingly it emerged, upon his rediscovery, that Rodriguez now has his own political aspirations, having run for mayor eight times! His views on the wealth disparities between rich and poor in the worlds most prosperous country are never far from the tip of his pen.
Don’t say any more, just walk out the door, I’ll get along fine you’ll see.
Sixto Rodriguez (as we now know him) has moved on, we all do. The album (and it’s predecessor, Coming From Reality) never quite cracked the vast American market, and the artist hung up his guitar and talent to concentrate on other ambitions. The albums producers (and Rodriguez’s backing musicians), Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey emersed themselves in the vibrant Motown scene that was emerging at the time and the later went on to work with Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and Jackson Five.
In South Africa it’s hard to imagine that a cult figure of such importance should belong exclusively to us. To a lesser extent he is known in Australia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. Importantly, what remains is a character that didn’t really exist at all, but was created out of a time and place, spurred on by our own imagination. Cold Fact documents, with astonishing effectiveness, a turbulent America at the tail end of the sixties. The numerous drug references, the cynical tone, the frustrated lover, the disillusionment and inner city blues were a world around Rodriguez, one that he had a poetic eye for.
“Sometimes the fantasy is better left alive, it’s as unbelievable to me as it is to you” stated his daughter upon their discovery of a whole fan base at the tip of Africa. And that way it will remain, he is a deeply private person and indeed we have a fantasy that would probably be shattered. Perhaps we all took him a little too seriously when the needle scratched off those old pieces of Vinyl with the final words; thanks for your time , then you can thank me for mine and after that’s said, forget it”.