an interview

Rodriguez answers IOL readers' questions

Rodriguez: (Pre-interview chatting) What I do like is Ray Charles and BB King, those cats. I'm just average as a guitar player. I'm just average, but the thing is: I'm real lucky. I've been able to give here, you know. I've had luck. That's the only way I'm able to account for all this stuff. (Laughs.) Here in Cape Town, here in South Africa, there were 20 000 at six concerts (for my 1998 SA tour).

The setting: The Po-Na-Na Souk Bar, upstairs balcony, Heritage Square, Shortmarket Street, Cape Town.

The time: 12.30pm - 1pm, September 25, 2001.

The company: Music journalist Stephen ("Sugar") Segerman of and; IOL entertainment editors Sandy Shepherd and Jeremy Dowson; IOL digicam photographer Gayle Curtis; Rodriguez's Israeli-based ex-Australian manager Zev Eizek.

Sandy: I read in your press release that you were hoping to go to small towns (in South Africa).

Rodriguez: Yeah. Pietersburg was cold. The building was cold. They tell me their stories. The soldiers tell me their stories (about when they first heard my songs). I hear all that stuff, everything. I try and sign autographs for them. One guy wanted me to sign his chest and I said (laughs): I don't do this stuff! Magic marker, you know. And then his girl - and she's called Sarah – she says we have this bet going, and she wants me to sign her chest too and actually it was so funny and, like, wild, I tell ya. I get a chance to meet them, and it's exciting! Yeah!.

This time we were doing the Garden Route thing. And they even invited me into the cockpit in one of the flights. That's a lot of trust…..that's a lot of trust! (Laughs). They pointed out the different areas we were going over. It's been an incredible journey, yeah.

Stephen: IOL has invited its readers from SA and all over the world to email questions for you, and we've chosen six or seven of the very best ones.

Rodriguez: I glimpsed at them and they're basically asking about the writing, I think.

Stephen: Here goes: IOL reader Judy Crockett has asked: “Who or what inspires your mind or soul to write and sing such beautiful music?”

Rodriguez: I like writers, musicians and performers, all in one, y’know, it's like that. I think you’re doing more to the art form. That’s the kind of concentration. And you try and write something, you know, general. I think rock guitar is central to me. And I think in modern music it’s central to the scene. It's the guitar, for me, that’s the focus. But it’s all the sounds. They have different expressions. I'm self-taught. I've watched them (musicians) each perform. The ability (to perform and make music) is in everybody, I believe. To me, music is something I’m brought up with – but it’s in everybody. Judy's question is, I think, a question about life, y'know.

Stephen: Here's a question from Warren Papas. He calls you Rod. Here it is: “Rod! I would just like to know if the fame is worth everything they make it out to be?”

Rodriguez: Ah, it gets busy, it gets real busy! (Laughs.) It happened to me like this - there's no blueprint for success in music. And it's global now. That's the difference, too. There's nothing happening for me now in the States, so it's like I have two identities. One over there and one over here.

Stephen: But that's going to change. You've got a lot of fans in America already.

Rodriguez: Yeah, sure.

Stephen: Question three is from fan Mike Biagio of Johannesburg, who asks: “Which song do you personally feel deepest about? And why? And have you stopped dreaming, or have you recently got a kickstart again?”

Rodriguez: Well, when you write you get it off you... y’know, it's like letting off steam, y'know, and it becomes something outside of you, and then you can kind of take it off your mind for a while. That's the licence, you know - you can do that. What song do I like? I like (A Most) Disgusting Song. I try to compare it to John Lennon's Rocky Raccoon – I wrote it in that kind of light. Everybody affects everybody else musically.

Stephen: There's a lot of narrative imagery in A Most Disgusting Song.

Rodriguez: Yeah. And I try and limit it to, like uh, two and a half, three minutes. 'Cos I mean you can go on for seven, eight minutes and get caught up with it, like gospel or disco. I try and keep it in, ah, a brief form. I mean, you can revamp all you want. Basically you try and keep it easy.

Stephen: And you mentioned that your Halfway Up The Stairs (from After The Fact) was the first song you ever wrote. Would that have a special place in your heart?

Rodriguez: Yeah. And you know in all there’s only 25 of them (songs he ever wrote).

Stephen: And have you stopped dreaming?

Rodriguez: Well, who would have believed that we’re here? If anything, it's all like an incredible dream! But now we're here performing. We're changing it, we're having different renditions of things, like, we're revamping stuff, changing it up - and I let the musicians go, play. I've played with Australian musicians, Swedish musicians …yeah…South African musicians - and now with some British musicians.

Stephen: Grant Sutherland is a South African who lives in British Columbia, Canada.

Rodriguez: Yeah, that's just up the road from Detroit.

Stephen: He asks: “What inspired the overall mood of your songs, and where were you living when you wrote most of your songs?”

Rodriguez: Detroit. I'm based out of Detroit, born and bred there. I graduated from school there. It took me 10 years to get my four-year degree. It was something I wanted. I'm self-taught as a musician. I didn't go to school on a music ticket. I wanted to hear – and learn. And they keep raising tuition. They keep raising the prices of books. I mean, how are they going to solve anything if they keep raising the prices of books? How are they going to get people to even achieve? And it hasn't changed.

Stephen: So what inspired the overall mood of your songs? Most of your songs were written in the '60s presumably. How much of the 60s and what was happening at the time affect the mood of your songs?

Rodriguez: Oh, everything, you know, in every way. I talked to my close close friend Tammy and she says the mood now is so eerie (as it was back then). There’s no planes overhead, it’s like when they killed Kennedy. It’s like that now. It’s the mood of it. But things have changed a great deal (since then). There’s violence out there, so much of it – who would have thought?

Waiter: Here you go (serves drinks). It's an honour to meet you.

Rodriguez: Thanks, thanks! Hey, hey, it's a pleasure to meet you.

Waiter: Any more drinks?

Stephen and Rodriguez: Same again, thanks.

Stephen: Well, Donald McLellan from Melbourne, Australia writes: “Why did you stop making music?”

Rodriguez: I guess there was nothing happening for me there (in the US) and I had to get to work, get myself together there. But then, over here (in South Africa) this is happening. It’s crazy. And they’re so good to me, they’re so sweet. They give me stuff, they buy me drinks. Checking out my hair. (Laughs.)

Stephen: So you stopped performing but you never stopped playing, is that right?

Rodriguez: Yeah, yeah.

Stephen: And you always had a guitar with you, wherever you were?

Rodriguez: Yeah, always. And it’s been my companion, very much something that's constant. It’s with you, you feel music, whatever, and you resolve it. So yeah, I use it.

Stephen: And as Darryl Buckby from Cape Town asks: “Any plans for a new album?”

Rodriguez: Yeah, I'm working on stuff. I don’t go back and play that (old) stuff, except when I’m on this tour. I consider myself a writer, but I want to give something real good. I am disciplined, y’know, despite all... I know I do a lot of wine, and such and such, I smoke and - I mean, how do you think I get there? (Laughs.)

I turned down a recording contract because they had a clause in there that said not only that the song company owns the song but that they wrote it. I researched that contract, I have a formal education, y’know. But there's a whole lot (about the music industry and recording contracts) that you don't learn in school, you know.

Stephen: Roedean says: “It's very hard to believe that your music’s not popular in the United States.” What’s your explanation?

Rodriguez: At the beginning, they (my record company) said maybe it was distribution. That was the first product on that label. But we have a publishing deal happening right now (in the US). Let's see what happens.

Stephen: I just want to add that the label went into financial difficulties quite quickly, so the album didn’t really flop or not succeed, it just never really had a chance.

One last question. It's from Ken van Ginkel of Cape Town. He says: “Fortune has treated me terribly unkindly this past week. It is with deep regret that I am unable to attend Rodriguez's concerts due to work commitments. In the late '80s our whole dormitory would listen to his music before going to the Heidelberg (a pub in Observatory, Cape Town) to listen to Josh Sithole play cover versions. I am heartbroken that I won't be able to see Rodriguez perform. Do you have an email address or website that I can use to apologise to him directly?”

Rodriguez: (Laughs) Well, he's apologised already. What a line! These guys, you know. (Laughs again.) Keep talking, baby!

Stephen: Okay, the website to use is, and anyone who wants to mail Rodriguez can do so through me, my address being:

By the way, I was working with Jeremy at an Internet company in Cape Town about five years back when we set up the original South African website to find you. We tried to do it without one of our bosses finding out. Eventually we decided just to put it up, then went to our boss and told him what we'd done, expecting him to go apeshit. To our surprise he said: "That's really great – put it up!" Within a month of the website going up, you (Rodriguez) and I had made contact (via email), and Jeremy and I realised that this is how the Internet actually works. It puts people in touch with others so easily.

Rodriguez: It's amazing how all this new technology has helped stimulate interest in music and so many other things, isn't it? The Internet has become a new market almost. Things are changing, moving. We're at the start of it, almost. It's great.

Stephen: Any final words to your online world audience?

Rodriguez: (Laughs) Stay real, y'know - stay real! Um, and drive safely. Yeah.


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