Guardian, Friday 20th February 1998
Fact: Rodriguez lives
by Craig Bartholomew
Craig Bartholomew tracked
down Rodriguez, who is alive, well, living in Detroit and planning to tour
South Africa next month.
your time, and you can thank me for mine, and after that's said, forget
it!" were the poignant last words spoken, live on stage, before
blowing his head off. That, at least, was one of the rumours. Others claimed
he murdered his wife and was now in jail. Some said he was blind ("open
the window and listen to the news"). Most of those asked were
quite sure he was dead, perhaps because of the numerous references to drugs
on both albums. A cold fact!
It was this anomaly -- one that just kept on selling albums -- that spurred
me to find the truth, and as a bonus, the man behind the truth, Sixto Rodriguez.
In 1972 the album Cold Fact was released in
the United States by a folk singer known only as Rodriguez. It sold so
badly that it was deleted. When released in South Africa though, it did
so well that the record company released his earlier "no-hit"
album Coming From Reality, disguised
and renamed After The Fact. And then came 24 long years of nothing.
No new albums, no music videos, no tours, no publicity -- only rumours.
In 1996 I determined to find the man, dead or alive. After nine months,
72 telephone calls, 45 faxes, 142 e-mails, long nights reading through
encyclopedias, music books, dead ends, loose ends and fag ends I reached
him. "Yes ... it is I, Sixto [Seez-to] Rodriguez," said the voice
on the other end of the telephone.
Finding out just where he'd been in all this time was not an easy task.
He is a private man and has his "own concept of the universe".
For someone who once sang, "The mayor
hides the crime rate ... the public forgets the vote date," it
was surprising he had actually run for mayor of Detroit seven times. And
although he hasn't released any albums since 1974 he still plays and sings,
has toured Australia twice, has fathered two daughters.
He still has long hair, is fit and is bringing out a new album. What's
more, he'll be in South Africa next month.
I spoke to him recently by phone.
Rodriguez: So, tell me about yourself!
CB: I was born in Kimberley, a very dry and dusty mining town with
a mentality to match, and literally hours after my last school exam, I
got the hell out.
R: Next question ... How do they celebrate a diamond festival?
CB: Hey! Who's doing this interview?
R: Okay, I like to tell people that I was born on Michigan Avenue,
five blocks from the centre of Detroit.
CB: I've had a hard time in South Africa convincing people that
you are alive and kicking. Why do you think this impression exists?
R: Imaginations working overtime. Your personal intervention, though,
has energised my tour to South Africa.
CB: In A Most Disgusting Song
you say you've "played faggot bars, hooker bars, motorcycle funerals,
opera houses, concert halls". Are you still playing?
R: I am working on a project with Mike Theodore at the moment (producer
on the 1972 Cold Fact album).
CB: Do you think everyone is in some way an artist?
R: Yes, art is in all of us. We all have a talent. It is up to us
to listen and draw within ourselves and pull out the words, the form or
some creative action.
CB: Your family's from Mexico, are they not?
R: Yeah, immigrated to the US in the 1920s.
CB: This reminds me of one of my favourite pieces, a song by Pat
Metheny called Sueño con Mexico.
R: Yes, "I dream with Mexico". I've heard the piece. Overlapping
guitars. In my opinion, the guitar is central in popular music. Guitars
have evolved, changed shape, become electrified. It is one of the most
unifying language tools in the world. I'd be lost without one.
CB: Your daughter Eva says she has fond memories of you and your
brothers sitting on your father's porch jamming and singing Mexican music,
James Taylor, Billy Joel, Hank Williams and others. What's your earliest
R: I began playing at 16 on a family guitar and it altered my life.
CB: There's something wonderful about trying to understand a new
culture. Tell me about your summer with American Indians.
R: It was a great summer. We went swimming in Grand Bend and to
pow-wows (a magical Indian ceremony) throughout Michigan. As far back as
1974 I was involved in organising an American-Indian pow-wow at Wayne State
CB:... where you studied philosophy?
R: Yes, but to get back to American Indians ... theirs is a vibrant
and natural culture.
CB: What is the significance of the little grey shoe on the Coming
From Reality album cover [released in South Africa as After The
R: The shoe had no real meaning. The photographer, Hal Wilson, came
in from New York. We walked around Detroit and saw the house. Debris was
laying around and the shoe was nearby. I took it and placed it beside mine.
We only took seven shots for the album cover. Milton Sincoff designed the
cover with Buddha Records and we said at the time: if the album doesn't
make it, the cover will!
CB: In your music you mention names like Jane
S Piddy, Molly MacDonald and
Willlie Thompson. Who are they?
R: The people are fictional. I tapped on the writer's poetic licence
giving them names and shape. Almost as a caricature works for the visual
CB: Coming From Reality was recorded
Britain, yet I could not find one single copy there.
R: We spent 30 wonderful days recording the Reality album.
We stayed in Belgravia, London. I really don't know what happened with
the distribution, though.
CB: Why was your masterpiece, Cold Fact,
largely ignored in the US?
R: "Masterpiece"? You're too kind. It was the first product
released on the Sussex label owned by Clarence Avant [today's Motown head].
It's all right that it happened this way.
CB: What is your view
on drugs such as cannabis, as in your song Sugar
R: Clearly alcohol is a much more destructive substance. Weed is
a natural substance. Less harmful and helpful in some cases. The way I
see it is when the law catches up with reality, change will come. There's
a group in Michigan called Normal trying to "decriminalise" dope
and a guy on the West Coast running for governor of California who produces
the substance for medical purposes.
CB: I heard that there's some link between you and the band Midnight
R: I feel that Midnight Oil is a top band. I first watched them
perform in 1981. I witnessed their powerful stage performance at past two
in the morning in the freezing cold of the Australian wind. It was so cold
that as Peter Garrett performed steam was rising from his head. It was
almost phantom-like. He is musical, political and international. I also
love the Stones. For me, Mick Jagger is king, but Peter Garrett is also
high on the list of music aristocracy. I've been lucky to have been backstage
with Midnight Oil on several occasions. We were on the same bill in Australia
in 1981 ... it was a trip!
CB: Detroit is a city of soul music. Strange that you got your first
recording break there?
R: There is a wide range of labels that pick up on Detroit talents.
From a macro perspective, I feel we live in the age of sound like the Bronze
Age or Stone Age. Today, we are all given so many clues about life through
Reprinted here with kind permission from Sophie Perryer at
See the original interview at the Mail
& Guardian archive.