Rodriguez- Coming In From The Cold- Better Late than Never

by Lee Gonnella on February 14, 2013

Imagine a songwriter who writes socially conscious songs that change the way people think, actually inspires them.  Imagine he comes along at a critical time in a certain counties history, sells hundreds of thousands of records, and his work becomes the seed that helps induce great changes in human rights. Imagine the place is South Africa at the end of Apartheid.  The beloved songwriter, whose records are incredibly well known, is sadly not around to witness these world-changing events, as he is dead, allegedly in some kind of bizarre on-stage suicide in years prior.

Now imagine an older man who lives alone in an old house, in the battered downtown of Detroit, Michigan. He owns no car, and is often seen walking the streets, a guitar on his back.  He’s been around for so long that he’s almost invisible.  He lives a very simple and humble life and is mostly un-noticed.  There was a time though,  about 40 years ago, when he had plenty to say……

Sixto Rodriguez,  known simply as “Rodriguez” on his records, never set himself on fire during a concert.  He didn’t shoot himself on stage, or shoot-up and die, as the many rumors surrounding his alleged death suggested.  He was quite simply doing what he always had done…..living in his home in Detroit and working lower wage jobs when he could get them.  His songs addressed the challenges of working-class poor and minorities, and were drawn from his own personal experiences.  He had no idea there was any interest in the 2 records he’d made in the 1970′s, nor that they’d both  been re-issued several times in South Africa.  There’s nothing to really compare his story to…. I try to imagine a forgotten Zimmy,  shuffling around Cape town with fond memories of the times he spent making those first two records.  It doesn’t make any sense.

In 1998, two big things happened that eventually brought Rodriguez and South Africa together physically.  First, “Sugar Man”, one of Rodriguez’s most loved songs, was covered and made a hit by the band Just Jinjer.  Then, Rodriguez’s adult daughter stumbled onto a South African radio stations web-page that was dedicated to her father.  There on a simulated milk-carton, was her father, one of the folk heroes to a generation of South Africans!

From there, it didn’t take long until Rodriguez finally made his rendezvous with the fame that had somehow eluded him for so many years.  Sold-out tours followed, first in South Africa & Australia, and more recently here in the USA.  Rodriquez has been on 60 minutes, Leno & Letterman, and is the subject of the Sundance award winning film, “Searching for Sugar Man“, which is now available on DVD.

“Searching For Sugar Man” is a fantastic story, a classic case of truth out doing fiction.  Rodriguez himself, a noble and caring man, makes the story even more amazing, because by the end of it, you can’t imagine anyone more deserving.  He is so genuinely gracious,  still the same down-to-earth guy who was happy to clean construction sites in Detroit.

Not surprisingly, Rodriguez never received any payments from any of the record companies who sold his records overseas.  Rodriquez himself seems unfazed by the injustice of this.  That he carries no bitterness for this speaks volumes for the way he carries himself.  He made those records because he had something to say, and he’s happy that his message was heard, somewhere.

It’s also no surprise that the  people who were involved with Rodiguez’s first two albums, all compared him to Bob Dylan, mainly for the lyrical content and Rodriguez’s ability to take on social injustice in song.  Like early Beatles songs, and most great Creedence songs, Rodriquez’s best songs are quite simply, easy for 5 or 10 thousand people to sing along to.

As I listen to  songs like “Sugar Man” and “I Wonder”, it seems  unbelievable that Rodriguez didn’t make it big here at home in the 70′s.  There’s a triumphant moment in the film, where Rodriguez and his daughter fly over to South Africa for the first series of concerts. They are hoping for at least a modest turnout, hoping not to lose money on the tour. Instead, they are mobbed by thousands of fans at the airport.  When Rodriguez steps to the mic to sing at the first show of an entirely sold out theatre, the fans know all the words to every song!

This was a completely uplifting movie.   “Cold Fact” and “Coming from Reality“, Rodriguez’s 2 original albums, still stand up today.  The songs are crafty and smart, and have a message.  Treat people, including yourself, fairly.  You never know that old man standing behind you in the grocery store might be…

Rodriguez is currently touring South Africa & Australia, but is playing across the USA  in April, including shows in New York, Arizona, and California.  If you can’t see him live, at least there’s this wonderful documentary that will make you wish you could.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

Roy Buchanan- American Axe- from Pixley to Washington,DC

by Lee Gonnella

In death, as in life, Roy Buchanan is a mystery.  For anyone interested what his life was like, there’s not a lot out there.  Thankfully,  Roy Buchanan, American Axe by Phil Carson is well done and thoughtful as a good Roy solo. Carson certainly did his homework on this one.  Through extensive interviews with family members, friends, [...]

Read the full article →

Saying Goodbye to Ed Cassidy, Spirit’s “Mr Skin”

by Lee Gonnella

It’s a brand new year, but before we move on, I’d like to say good-bye to Ed Cassidy. If you lived in the classic rock era, among your records was at least one Spirit album, “The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus“.  No decent record collection was complete without it.    It was record that mixed psychedelic [...]

Read the full article →

The Little Drummer Boy – Gifts and Smiles

by Lee Gonnella

It’s officially Christmastime! Right now the Big Guy is  going through his list for the second and final time.  I’m fairly sure most of my readers are on the “Nice” list, and this makes me proud.  I thought it would be fun to share a few of my favorite versions of one of my very [...]

Read the full article →

Happy Chanukah from Drive It To The Moon

by Lee Gonnella

Happy Chanukah everyone!  Tonite is the first night of the “Festival of Lights” and the perfect time for some Chanukah songs. Let’s start off with Adam Sandler and probably the most well-known Chanukah song of recent times, and dedicate it to “all 3 Stooges”….. I found this Rabbi Itche Kadoozy video today while looking for a [...]

Read the full article →

Country Christmas from Drive It To The Moon

by Lee Gonnella

We’re a week into December, and it’s getting cold outside.  Chanukah is a day away, and Christmas is in less than 3 weeks ….. it’s time for some more Holiday music!  Today’s theme is Country Music and I hope you all enjoy.  Christmas has always been a big part of country music, stars like Johnny [...]

Read the full article →

Drive It ToThe Moon’s Holiday Music Kick-off

by Lee Gonnella
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnyh6i9NvmE”>3-Dog

I love Holiday music!  Love it!  I’ve been collecting it for years, and now that Thanksgiving has “come and gone”……it’s time to begin the “Drive It To The Moon Holiday Music Drive”………todays’s theme……FAVORITES This is one of my more recent favorites.  The beginning reminds me of the 3-Dog Night hit, “Shambala“.  Here’s one of the [...]

Read the full article →

Drive It To The Moon Salutes James Bond (and Ian Fleming)

by Lee Gonnella

Bond…..James Bond.  007.  The bad-ass secret-agent-man with the cool gadgets.  He saves the world on a regular basis, but it’s no big deal to him, he’s just an Englishman doing his job.  Not that it doesn’t come with some benefits.  He goes through hot supermodels like I go through boxes of Good N’ Plenty. Bond [...]

Read the full article →

Miss Becky: Doing It Her Way

by Lee Gonnella

These days, a great career move for any aspiring musician, is to simply move to Portland, Oregon.  Miss Becky Kapell  does things her own way.  Miss Becky Kapell was on her way to being a well known singer in the early days of the Laurelthirst scene in Portland.  She spent a couple of years with [...]

Read the full article →

Bob Marley Documentary – From Trenchtown to Madison Square

by Lee Gonnella

Bob Marley……the name alone evokes emotion. Peace and love, unity, freedom. The opening scene of the new Bob Marley documentary was filmed in a former slave plantation in western Africa.  A seemingly odd place to begin, but as the film progresses, it becomes, like many of the odd twists in the life and times of [...]

Read the full article →

Roy Buchanan-Still Unknown After All These Years

by Lee Gonnella
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3ZfQ47sISo”>in

Roy Buchanan…….does that name mean anything to you?  Maybe you’ve heard of him, or saw his name on a list of guitar greats.  Maybe you came across a record or heard something about him…..and maybe you know who he is….or maybe not.  He’s been dead for about 25 years now, and it’s not like he [...]

Read the full article →