Music, Film, and the Extraordinary Renaissance of Rodriguez - OurVinyl

Music, Film, and the Extraordinary Renaissance of Rodriguez

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And the winner for best documentary feature goes to……Searching for Sugar Man.

With the release of the Academy Award winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man, Rodriguez has finally emerged out of obscurity and the quiet desperation of the decaying Motor City and discovered the success he initially pursued in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The story surrounding Rodriguez reads like rock n’ roll Dickens, with the integrity of the forgotten and underappreciated rising up to finally grab what’s rightfully theirs’. Rodriguez is a yarn not even a master storyteller could spin, as rodriguez searching for sugar manit’s a story that began 40 years ago with a new chapter being written today. Searching for Sugar Man tells the incredible true story of Rodriguez and his music, but to understand what is finally happening to Rodriguez and his brilliantly crafted blend of prophetic rock-soul-folk-country, take a deep breath and read on to this synopsis of sorts…

A Detroit singer-songwriter named Rodriguez is discovered in local clubs in the late 1960’s. He then releases two albums (1970: Cold Fact, 1971: Coming From Reality) on the small label Sussex Records. These albums don’t do anything in terms of sales and are not pushed by heavy touring. Consequently, Rodriguez gives up on his music career and returns to working odd jobs in inner-city Detroit. Meanwhile, a copy of Cold Fact appears in South Africa, quickly becoming popular amongst the young, anti-Apartheid white population of the 1970’s. South Africans loved the poignant idealism and anti-establishment lyrics, but know nothing else of Rodriguez. Sussex Records folds in the mid-70’s. Rodriguez is still working odd jobs in Detroit, raising his 3 daughters, while popularity for these two albums swells from South Africa to Australia, New Zealand, then Rhodesia-now Zimbabwe and Botswana. Still no one in these countries knows anything of Rodriguez or his story.

Rodriguez’s “Sugar Man”

Popularity keeps growing abroad. Imported copies of both albums become harder to find. The Australian label Blue Goose Music buys distribution rights and continues to circulate copies for popular demand. By the late 1970’s a rumor circulates that Rodriguez committed suicide.  Fans abroad continue to love Rodriguez, while he remains unknown in America. Fastforward to 1997. Two dedicated fans, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and Craig Bartholomew in South Africa set out to discover the real story of Rodriguez. They set up a website as a forum for information. One of Rodriguez’s daughters writes them informing them that he is alive and well and living in Detroit. Rodriguez calls the two South African fans. Jubilation ensues. Rodriguez informs them that he had no idea of his success abroad. A relationship between Rodriguez and Segerman and Bartholomew develops. Rodriguez is urged to visit South Africa, after being told he is held in the same regard as the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan there. Rodriguez visits South Africa in 1998 for the first time and performs 6 sold out concerts throughout the country to thousands of adoring fans. He then returns on a few more tours of South Africa and Australia, all of this in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Returning to his home of 40 years in Detroit after each successful tour abroad, Rodriguez remains unknown in America.


This is Rodriguez’s story; a career that began at one point, was abandoned, and yet continually became more successful in foreign countries unbeknownst to the artist himself. Rodriguez left music and worked jobs his daughters describe in the film as “jobs no one wanted”. Ever committed to the Detroit community, Rodriguez ran for city council at one point after leaving music, although unsuccessfully. Rodriguez also pursued and attained a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy from nearby Wayne State University during the 1980’s. All the while his music was lending to the backdrop of the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa.

rodriguez searching for sugar manThe film Searching for Sugar Man, directed by Malik Bendjelloul (Swedish) and produced by Simon Chinn and John Battsek has collected numerous awards at various film festivals, in addition to last night’s Academy Award, and in the process has opened American eyes to the brilliance of an overlooked and forgotten artist; an artist whose unique voice and socially relevant lyrics leave us as Americans wondering how we managed to miss this guy. Although I’m sure some have heard of Rodriguez in the US and have cherished the only two records available, this film is justly giving Rodriguez the notoriety he so deserves. Rodriguez continues to sell out venues abroad, and is now embarking on a US and world tour that features appearances at the historic Beacon Theater in New York City, the Warfield in San Francisco and the Ogden Theater in Denver, in addition to stops in South Africa, Australia and Europe.

The albums Cold Fact and Coming From Reality are different records, but the beauty is in the commonality; unbelievably poignant lyrics ranging from subjects of love and pain, the search to be heard, social inequities, family, local characters in the Detroit nickelodeon, government and the difficulties of life in the inner city. The title of the film references one of Rodriguez’s more famous songs “Sugar Man”, a description of a local pusher in Detroit and the first track off of Cold Fact.

To truly understand an artist, you of course listen to their body of work, but you also have to understand where they came from, where they drew inspiration and what their journey was. In that you grasp the story. All of these factors mold into a larger image of that artist. If you haven’t heard of Rodriguez or his story, this film will immerse you into the unbelievably magical journey of Rodriguez and pull you closer to his music than you could ever be just by listening to either record. Rodriguez weaves poetry and prose into a genre-blurring diorama of music. Reviewing Cold Fact and/or Coming From Reality is unnecessary. Get your hands on Searching for Sugar Man and understand the story as you ingest the music. These two records were released in 1970 and 1971, and now, in 2013, Rodriguez is finally enjoying success from these albums, as well as being able to perform for large audiences nationwide.

What America is waking up to, is something the world has known for some time. Rodriguez is special.

Written by Allen Byrne

OurVinyl | Contributor


2013 Rodriguez Tour Dates:

Rodriguez at Grand West Arena, Cape Town, SAF

Saturday, March 16


Wellington Town Hall, Wellington, NZ

Sunday, March 17


The Logan Campbell Centre, Auckland, NZ

Thursday, March 21


Arts Centre, Hamer Hall, Melbourne, AUS

Friday, March 22


Arts Centre, Hamer Hall, Melbourne, AUS

Sunday, March 24


The Gov, Adelaide, AUS

Monday, March 25


Enmore Theatre, Sydney, AUS

Tuesday, March 26


Enmore Theatre, Sydney, AUS

Thursday, March 28


Byron Bay Bluesfest, AUS

Friday, March 29


Byron Bay Bluesfest, AUS

Sunday, March 31


Tivoli, Brisbane, AUS

Monday, April 1


Tivoli, Brisbane, AUS

Monday, April 8


Beacon Theatre, New York, NY

Tuesday, April 9


Keswick Theatre, Glenside, PA

Wednesday, April 10


The Town Hall, New York

Friday, April 12


Somerville, Massachusetts

Sunday, April 14


Coachella 2013, Empire Polo Field, Indio, CA

Thursday, April 18


Mesa Amphitheater, Mesa, AZ

Friday, April 19


Anselmo Valencia Amphitheater – Ava, Tucson, AZ

Sunday, April 21


Coachella 2013. Empire Polo Field, Indio, CA

Tuesday, April 23


The Warfield San Francisco, CA

Thursday, April 25


Neptune Theatre, Seattle, WA

Friday, April 26


Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Saturday, April 27


Wonder Ballroom Portland, OR

Monday, April 29


The Depot Salt Lake City, UT

Tuesday, April 30


Ogden Theatre Denver, CO

Tuesday, May 7


Tipitina’s Uptown New Orleans, LA

Thursday, May 9


Ferguson Hall, Straz Center for the Performing Arts Tampa, FL

Saturday, May 25



Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Zenith, Paris

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


La Cigale, Paris, France

Friday, June 7, 2013


Hammersmith Apollo London, UK

Saturday, June 8, 2013


Hammersmith Apollo

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Traverse City, MI, Arts and Wine Festival

Wednesday, June 26, 2013



Friday, August 2, 2013


Stockholm Music & Arts Festival

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Stockholm Music & Arts Festival

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Stockholm Music & Arts Festival

Thursday, August 8, 2013


The Øya Festival, Norway

Friday, August 9, 2013


Wilderness Festival, UK

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Wilderness Festival, UK

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Wilderness Festival, UK