Sugar Man: Detroit’s Own Sixto Rodriguez
June 15, 2013
Next Saturday (June 22nd) I get to be part of a neat moment in the annals of Michigan music when I work with my partner Laura, the wineries of Traverse City and a fantastic team of workers & volunteers to host Sixto Diaz Rodriguez at the 5th annual Traverse City Wine & Art Festival.
Thanks to the global stardom of Rodriguez, hero of the Academy Award winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man, our festival sold out easily. You still have a chance to see this beautiful film though:
In 1968, two producers went to a downtown Detroit bar to see an unknown recording artist – a charismatic Mexican-American singer/songwriter named Rodriguez, who had attracted a local following with his mysterious presence, soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics. They were immediately bewitched by the singer, and thought they had found a musical folk hero in the purest sense – an artist who reminded them of a Chicano Bob Dylan, perhaps even greater. They had worked with the likes of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, but they believed the album they subsequently produced with Rodriguez – Cold Fact – was the masterpiece of their producing careers. Despite good reviews, Cold Fact was a commercial disaster and marked the end of Rodriguez’s recording career…
A bootleg recording of Cold Fact somehow found its way to South Africa in the early 1970s, a time when South Africa was becoming increasingly isolated as the Apartheid regime tightened its grip. Rodriguez’s anti-establishment lyrics and observations as an outsider in urban America felt particularly resonant for a whole generation of disaffected Afrikaners. The album quickly developed an avid following through word-of-mouth among the white liberal youth, with local pressings made. In typical response, the reactionary government banned the record, ensuring no radio play, which only served to further fuel its cult status.
The film tells the story of the search and rediscovery of Rodriguez. He’s now in the midst of a world tour that has seen him appear on 60 Minutes (great piece), Letterman & Leno and legendary concert venues as the Montreaux Jazz Festival, the Orpheum Theatre in LA, the Hammersmith Apollo in London, Radio City Music Hall … and our festival in Traverse City.