Rodriguez - The Myths and The Mystery

"...Sugar and the Sugar Man..."

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The Big Issue April 1998

On the trail of a living legend
by Stephen "Sugar" Segerman (edited by Raymond Joseph)

My love affair with Rodriguez's music began in 1972 at the Airforce base in Valhalla, Pretoria. I was doing my compulsory military training, when one night someone in our bungalow brought a home-recorded tape of the new album 'Cold Fact' by Sixto Rodriguez. It was unlike anything we had ever heard and it soon became our anthem - as it was for thousands of other South Africans from all walks of life - for the remaining months of our training.

Roll the movie forward almost 20 years later to December 1994 when a seemingly unimportant event set off a train of events that ended with Rodriguez, who many believed was long dead, doing a sell-out concert tour in South Africa last month. Sitting with some friends on Camps Bay beach when a woman who had been living in the USA for several years asked me if I knew where she could find a copy of the album 'Cold Fact' as she had been unable to find it anywhere in the States. I told her that she could walk across the road and buy it at the local CNA, which she did. I then set out to try and find the first Rodriguez album which I knew as 'After The Fact' but had never heard. A hunt of all the record stores in Jo'burg proved fruitless - until a friend Andre casually mentioned that he had a copy of that album in his record collection. To cut along story short, we handed over the album to PolyGram, who had lost the master tapes, so they could remaster it. We handed it over to them with some liner notes - and finally, about 3 years ago (actually April 1996), it was released on CD.

We had been unable to find a single reference to Rodriguez in any music reference book or on the Internet - the man had simply disappeared. Finally music detective extra-ordinaire Craig Bartholomew struck gold when after months of searching, he finally dicovered Rodriguez was very much alive and well and living in Detroit, Michigan.

Then, on Sunday 14th September 1997, I received an e-mail from Eva Rodriguez Koller, Rodriguez's daughter, who asked me to phone her at her home in Junction City, Kansas. She told me her father was something of a recluse and she did not want to give out his phone number without his permission - although she added he might be willing to discuss the possibility of a tour to South Africa. An hour later, the phone rang and it was Rodriguez himself, speaking with a soft American accent, asking to speak to me. I told him about his cult status in South Africa, he told me that he would love to tour South Africa as he had completed a very successful tour of Australia over 15 years ago.

In early February 1998, Eva announced via email and on the web-board that the tour details had been finalised and that Rodriguez would be touring South Africa during March 1998. People all over South Africa were stunned to hear Rodriguez would soon be walking out onto a South African stage to receive the cheers, applause and overdue adulation that he had waited so long to receive.

The rest, as they say, is history. Rodriguez played sell-out concerts in Cape Town, backed by Big Sky and a tour of Australia and maybe the US, where he has never appeared on stage, are on the cards. So watch out for Rodriguez, who just could be the next big thing out of South Africa.

Stephen 'Sugar' Segerman

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