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|Belated Second Chance: Rodriguez, January 23 at Huckleberry's|
|Music - Feature Stories|
|Written by Jeff Ignatius|
|Tuesday, 20 January 2009 16:51|
On record, Rodriguez has an assured, slightly too-knowing voice, pleading to a drug dealer - "Won't you bring back all those colors to my dreams" - over a wistful, wheezing musical backdrop that gives way to agitation. The song is "Sugar Man" (available for free download at LightInTheAttic.net/releases/rodriguez/sugar_man.mp3), from the album Cold Fact, and based on them, one gets an image of a street-wise documenter of the dark sides of urban society: "The ladies on my street / Aren't there for their health."
On the phone, though, he's soft-spoken, apologizing that he needs to have questions repeated because of his phone and his hearing.
That disconnect makes sense when one knows that the gulf between Cold Fact and Americans' awareness of it is nearly four decades. Rodriguez released the record in 1970, and its follow-up in 1971, but the apathy that greeted them forced him to give up on music.
"I thought we were going to hit," he said last week. "Didn't happen, though."
Rodriguez - Sugar Man | Daytrotter Show @ Huckleberry's from Todd McGreevy on Vimeo.
Rodriguez - born Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, and now in his late 60s - actually did "hit it." He just didn't know it when it happened in South Africa. "Luckily, I got heard," he said. "And I didn't know I was being heard. That was the unusual part."
And a legend grew around him, because while his music became popular, nobody knew what had become of him. People said he committed suicide on stage.
"If they don't know what really happened, they'll create something," Rodriguez said. "After a while, it was almost like folk humor, about what happened to me."
What actually happened was pretty mundane. After he abandoned a music career, he worked in building demolition and rehab, he said. He went back to school and got a degree. He ran several times for political office in Detroit. "I failed at that, too," he said.
Rodriguez, very much alive, will perform a Daytrotter.com show at Huckleberry's on Friday on the heels of the American reissue of Cold Fact, which has been rightly well-received. While the record is undoubtedly influenced by Dylan and unmistakably a product of its musical and cultural climate, it has aged gently and well.
The artist is taking another shot at an American musical career, touring behind Cold Fact. "I'm getting a second chance at this, and so I'm going to take it," he said.
Rodriguez's comeback actually started in 1998, when some people tracked him down in Michigan. That wasn't easy, as "Rodriguez" isn't exactly an unusual name and the songwriting credits were under his brother's name, even though Sixto wrote the songs.
"It disturbed them, apparently. ‘What happened to that guy?'" Rodriguez said. "Curiosity from strangers. ... They went looking for me."
After locating him, they set up some dates in South Africa, where soldiers had traded his music on cassettes. "Apparently, my lyrics got to them," Rodriguez said. Shows followed in Australia, where he also had a following.
A similar thing happened in the United States, as fans at the Light in the Attic label worked to reissue the record here.
"It's vindication, actually, that I wasn't wasting my time," Rodriguez said.
Even though Cold Fact is nearly 40 years old, Rodriguez said he thinks the songs are still relevant; the ills of the world haven't changed much. "To me they're kind of contemporary," he said. "Although I belong to the old century, I like to think of myself as contemporary.
"It's still happening. ... It continues it seems."
And although he's written some songs between his two records and now, he's going to be a good soldier and give people the Cold Fact.
"Those songs that I wrote a long time ago seem to be surfacing, and they've allowed me to get around," he said. "I don't want to go off on some tangent. I don't want to distract any attention from it."
Rodriguez also said it wasn't difficult getting in front of crowds to perform. "It's simple stuff, really," he said of the songs, underselling them.
There's another reason he doesn't worry much.
"When I play good, they clap," he said of audiences. "And when I mess up, they still clap. They're very sweet. They treat me real nice."
Rodriguez will perform at Huckleberry's in downtown Rock Island on Friday, January 23. The show starts at 8 p.m. and also features Quiet Bears. Admission is $10.
For more information on Rodriguez, visit MySpace.com/rodriguezsugarman.
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