Rodriguez - The Myths and The Mystery

"...the archetypal hippie folk musician..."

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Sunday Times Cape Metro, 1st March 1998

The cold facts about a man of mystery
by Graham Howe

Rodriguez, the fifty-something folk musician who flies into South Africa tomorrow to begin his first concert tour in 15 years, is a real mystery man.

Despite wild rumours of his imprisonment (allegedly for killing his lover), death and demise, he's alive and well and on the comeback trail. The singer-songwriter, an unlikely cult hero in the mid-1970s, seems as surprised as his forty-something fans to be making a comeback after decades of obscurity. What sort of a show can South African fans, who years ago took to Rodriguez like hot chewing gum to takkies, expect from the ageing artist? Speaking from his hometown of Detroit, the reclusive Rodriguez, 55, granted a rare interview this week on the eve of his departure for Cape Town. On the line, the soft tones of the crooner who once sang cynical songs like "I wonder (how many times you've had sex -- and who's gonna be next)" bring back all the good times of the warm vinyl on the family hi-fi. Those were the days when everyone had a copy of Cold Fact, his only hit album. These days Rodriguez is as cryptic as his lyrics. Ask whether he's been playing his guitar all these years, and he'll tell you: "Every bartender is a guitarist. Picking up the guitar is as easy as making love. I started both when I was 16. Rodriguez is taking it all in his stride: "Oh yeah, I was real surprised to get an invitation to play in South Africa. My daughter Eva arranged the whole thing. These days I'm usually the oldest guy in the audience watching new acts like Rage Against the Machine. Hey I'm not old, I'm ancient." Rodriguez has kept his sense of humour, too -- despite failing to win election seven times in his campaigns to become mayor of Detroit: "I'm contemporary. I read the New York Times. My material keeps surfacing. It's real simple stuff which endures. All I need is a couple of days rehearsing with my SA band (Steve Louw's Big Sky). Local fans who want to relive their youth for the night will be pleased to know that he doesn't intend to play much new material. In fact, he hasn't written much since those days. He says he'll definitely play all of their favourite songs when he performs at the Velodrome in Bellville on Friday and Saturday.

The archetypal hippie folk musician, Rodriguez is unable to fill in the missing years. "I've done a bit of this, a bit of that. I'm solid working class. I finished a BA in philosophy at Wayne State University. I joined in Indian pow-wows throughout Michigan. I stand for the American Indian in jail, for justice and I ran for election." If that sounds enigmatic, consider his musical career. The singer-songwriter has never had a hit in the US, never gone into the studio again since recording his songs, and he hung up his guitar after winning fame and fortune with his hit album in the mid-1970s. The history of the Cold Fact album is stranger than fiction. Rodriguez burst into the limelight in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand with his catchy lyrics about sex, drugs and rock 'n roll. A child of the 60s, "Sixto" Rodriguez lived up to his name. After his album flopped everywhere else, he returned to obscurity. This tour could be his final fling.

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