Rodriguez - The Myths and The Mystery

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January 2001

Cold Fact - Sixto Rodriguez
by Tim Forster

Until recently a mysterious figure, Sixto Rodriguez was born in Detroit,Michigan in 1942 to Mexican immigrant parents - his first name chosenbecause he was their sixth child. Possessed of an distinctive voice,Rodriguez was a singer / songwriter steeped in the folk and blues traditionsof his times and comparisons with Dylan and Donovan are inevitable and notundeserved. However, a profoundly working class upbringing in thisindustrial - and musical - heartland helped to make his work quite unique.

I'll Slip AwayIn April 1967 he recorded five original songs for the local Impact label.The A-side of the resulting single, 'I'll Slip Away' (later re-cut in themid 70s), was an atmospheric number with considerable commercial potential,the B-side, 'You'd Like To Admit It', a contrasting folk-rocker in which thesinger berated an ex-girlfriend for going off with a 'hick'. Unfortunately itbecame Impact's penultimate release before the label went under. Of theremaining tracks 'Forget It' would later be re-recorded for his first LP and'To Whom It May Concern' for the second, but the intriguingly titled 'ThatDiscotheque' remains unreleased in any form.

Undaunted, two years later Rodriguez found himself signed to the newlyfounded Hollywood label, Sussex (Bill Withers' first label), and the classic'Cold Fact' LP emerged as their first release. Recorded in 1969 and skilfullyproduced by two other Impact refugees, Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey, itopened with the trippy but dark 'Sugar Man'. Over a subtle backing ofacoustic guitar and electronic effects Rodriguez's lyrics were starklyhonest:

"Sugar man, met a false friend / On a lonely dusty road / lost my heart whenI found it / it had turned to dead black coal. / Silver magic ships youcarry / Jumpers, coke, sweet Mary Jane / Sugarman, you're the answer / Thatmakes my question disappear / Sugarman, 'cos I'm weary / Of those doublegames I hear."

The themes of many other songs on the album can be gleaned from the titlesalone: 'Crucify Your Mind' (drugs), 'This Is Not A Song, It's An Outburst:Or, The Establishment Blues', 'Inner City Blues' and 'Rich Folks Hoax'(social unrest and political apathy), but there were also beautiful,bittersweet love songs in 'Forget It' and 'Jane S. Piddy'. Rumour has it(although Rodriguez has denied the connection) that 'Like Janis' wasinspired by Janis Joplin. The brutally direct 'Only Good For Conversation'stands out as a great fuzz rocker, but for the most part the album givesprominence to Rodriguez's acoustic guitar and powerful lyrics.

'Coming From Reality', which was recorded at London's Lansdowne Studios, camein a striking die-cut gatefold sleeve. However, despite featuring someexcellent musicianship - especially the lead guitar work courtesy of acesession man Chris Spedding - it somehow contrived to be less interestingthan its predecessor. The most immediately striking tracks are undoubtedlythose where the band is in full flight - 'Climb Up On My Music' and'Heikki's Suburban Bus Tour' for instance - but the more restrained acousticnumbers repay repeated listening. 'Sandrevan Lullaby - Lifestyles' (thetitle is a conflation of the names of Rodriguez's two daughters) and 'Cause'were both subtly orchestrated and their lyrics echoed the dark emotionalthemes of the debut album.

Three further tracks recorded in the mid-seventies - a new version of theImpact single 'I'll Slip Away', 'Can't Get Away' and 'Street Boy' - wereeach the equal of any of his previous works, but none were released at thetime. After neither album made any impact in the States, Rodriguez seemed tosimply disappear. That, however, was really only the beginning of the mostextraordinary phase of his career. When, in 1970, some enterprising folk atFestival Records imported 400 copies of 'Cold Fact' to Australia they rapidlysold out. The LP was subsequently issued by A&M in 1971 and as its famespread it gradually acquired a cult following amongst the disaffected youthboth there and in countries like New Zealand and South Africa. When it wasfinally issued on CD in those markets it went platinum and Rodriguez was sowell known by the beginning of the 80s that he even toured Australia withMidnight Oil. After disappearing into temporary obscurity once more - duringwhich increasingly bizarre rumours circulated about his demise - he recentlyreturned to South Africa for a sell-out stadium tour. Both albums havesubsequently been reissued in all formats in those countries, while a CD'Rodriguez: At His Best' (Blue Goose VPCD 6748) collects together highlightsfrom both LPs and adds the three unreleased mid-seventies tracks for goodmeasure. The A-side of the Impact single, meanwhile, is available on 'TheBest Of Impact Records' (Collectables CD COL 5883).

This article originally published online at:
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