Sixto Rodriguez is an enigma. A relatively undiscovered artist (he records under the name Rodriguez) who released 3 studio albums and 4 live albums between the years of 1969 and 1998. His first album, Cold Fact is one of my favourite albums of all time. An amazingly original and inspired piece of acoustic work, laced with sixties anti-establishment and insightful lyrics and bluesy, melodic guitar. Believe me, you want to get hold of a copy of this album. You may know one or two of the songs already (Sugar Man and I Wonder), but Rodriguez only ever really cracked the Antipodean market, notably in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe. How he did not go on to become as big as Cat Stevens, I don't know. But perhaps he was so solidly opposed to the driving force of capitalism that he never really pushed himself commercially. Indeed even his own daughters never really took much notice of his music career, because he never put much effort into pursuing it full time, instead concentrating on teaching and "working on his consciousness" and studying for a degree in philosophy.
There was a widely believed myth that Rodriguez was dead. Shot himself on stage in a protest of some kind during the eighties. Of course when I heard that he would be touring South Africa in 1998, I had to either believe he was alive or that this person touring under his name was an impostor.
A classified ad from Q Magazine, June, 1996:
Looking for any info on US singer Jesus Rodriguez,
who had a large cult following in South Africa,
wrote all his work in prison and shot himself on
stage after quoting from his song, "Thanks For Your Time"
John E. Gainney, Southport.
I went to the concert in Johannesburg and was also lucky enough to meet him in Durban at one of the radio stations I was working for. After hearing him sing and sitting in on a radio interview with him, I needed no further convincing. This was Rodriguez. So, he is still alive and kicking. And apparently living in Detroit. During the interview he laughed at the mention of the rumours of his death. He seems to have no idea how they got started either. He has the delicate looks of a Guatemalan Indian. He was wearing tight black jeans, cowboy boots, long straight black hair and a permanent huge grin. Maybe he was just overwhelmed that there was this country stuck away on the tip of Africa that refused to let go of his music, even decades after he himself had. Apparently the 1998 South Africa tour only materialised after some dedicated fans in the music promotions industry went out and tracked Sixto down in Detroit and convinced him to tour once again.
It is also mistakenly believed that his name is Jesus Rodriguez (pronounced 'Hey-soos' in the Mexican way). His full name is Sixto Diaz Rodriguez (pronounced 'Seestoe', meaning 'sixth' - he is the sixth child in his family) but on the album Cold Fact he credited the song writing to Jesus Rodriguez, his brother, for some copyright and release-related reasons. He was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan to Mexican parents, both working class. He himself has always been working class too, doing various stints building roofs, working gas stations etc. He also trained as a teacher and taught for a while too. He is very politically active and attempted to run for various city and state political offices including those of city councillor and Mayor of Detroit.
Why his albums were so well received in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe but failed dismally in the USA and Europe, I don't know. Perhaps Europe and the States were saturated with folk orientated artists at the time Rodriguez released Cold Fact into these markets. Perhaps they just didn't get it. Perhaps he never really pushed hard enough to succeed in such competitive markets. Either way, I don't mind, as it was kind of nice to have him tour South Africa after decades of absence, and to see how overwhelmed he was that everyone knew him and sang along to all his songs at the concerts. He was clearly deeply moved by the fact that people knew his music. Which is fitting, because knowing his music deeply moves me.
This is Not a Song it's an Outburst: Or the Establishment Blues from Cold Fact.
The mayor hides the crime rate
Council woman hesitates
Public gets irate but forget the vote date
Weatherman complaining, predicted sun, it's raining
Everyone's protesting, boyfriend keeps suggesting
you're not like all of the rest.
Garbage ain't collected, women ain't protected
Politicians using people, they've been abusing
The mafia's getting bigger, like pollution in the river
And you tell me that this is where it's at.
Woke up this morning with an ache in my head
Splashed on my clothes as I spilled out of bed
Opened the window to listen to the news
But all I heard was the Establishment's Blues.
Gun sales are soaring, housewives find life boring
Divorce the only answer, smoking causes cancer
This system's gonna fall soon, to an angry young tune
And that's a concrete Cold Fact.
The pope digs population, freedom from taxation
Teeny Bops are uptight, drinking at a stoplight
Miniskirt is flirting, I can't stop so I'm hurting
Spinster sells her hopeless chest.
Adultery plays the kitchen, bigot cops non-fiction
The little man gets shafted, sons and monies drafted
Living by a time piece, new war in the far east.
Can you pass the Rorschach test?
It's a hassle is an educated guess.
Well, frankly I couldn't care less.