Sixto Rodriguez Biography
In the 1990s, determined South African fans managed to seek out and contact him, leading to an unexpected revival of his musical career. Their story is told in the 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man, which has also helped give Rodríguez a measure of fame in his native country.
Rodríguez was born in Detroit, Michigan. He was named 'Sixto' (pronounced seesto or seexto) because he was the sixth child in his family. Rodríguez's parents were working-class immigrants who had come to the U.S. from Mexico in the 1920s. In most of his songs he takes a political stance on the cruelties facing the inner city poor.
Rodriguez earned a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Wayne State University's Monteith College in 1981.
Domestic record career
In 1967 (under the name Rod Riguez) he released the single "I'll Slip Away" through the small label Impact. He did not produce anything for another three years until he was signed to Sussex Records, an offshoot of A&M records.
It was after the move to Sussex that he changed his professional name to just Rodríguez. Rodríguez recorded two albums with Sussex: Cold Fact in 1970 and Coming from Reality in 1971. But after both of his albums sold very few copies, he was quickly dropped from the label, which folded in 1975. At the time of his firing, Rodríguez was in the process of completing an album that has yet to be released.
After this happened, Sixto discontinued his music career and stayed in Detroit. There, he worked in several industries that revolved around manual labor such as demolition, yet always stayed close to a state of poverty. Having remained politically active and motivated to improve the lives of the city's working class inhabitants, Sixto registered and ran for city council in Detroit in 1989. However, the county misspelled his name on the ballot.
It was revealed in 2013 that Sixto has written 30 new songs and is in discussions with Steve Rowland, the producer behind some of his old albums. "I've written about thirty new songs," Sixto told Rolling Stone magazine. "He told me to send him a couple of tapes, so I'm gonna do that. I certainly want to look him up, because now he's full of ideas."
Belated fame abroad
After failing to make an impact in North America, Rodríguez gave up his career as a musician. However, although he was relatively unknown in his home country, by the mid-1970s, his albums were starting to gain airplay in South Africa, Botswana, Rhodesia, New Zealand, and Australia.
After imported copies of his Sussex albums ran dry, an Australian record label, Blue Goose Music, bought the Australian rights to his back catalogue in the mid-1970s. Blue Goose released his two studio albums plus a compilation album At His Best (featuring unreleased recordings from 1973 "Can't Get Away", "I'll Slip Away" [a rerecording of his first single], and "Street Boy").
With a new buzz around Rodriguez, in 1979 he toured Australia with the Mark Gillespie Band as support. Two shows from the tour were later released on the Australian-only album Alive—the title being a play on the rumours caused by his public obscurity that he had died years ago. After the ’79 tour, he returned to Australia for a final tour in 1981 with Midnight Oil before quietly slipping back into normal life.
Unbeknownst to Rodríguez, "At His Best" went platinum in South Africa, which at one stage was the major disk-press interest supplying his music to the rest of the world. He would often be compared to successful contemporaries such as Bob Dylan. Additionally, some of his songs came to serve as anti-Apartheid anthems in South Africa, where his work influenced many musicians who protested the government. It has been reported that anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko was a Rodríguez fan.
In 1991, both his albums were released on CD in South Africa for the first time, which helped perpetuate his already existent fame. However, even in South Africa, few details of his life were known to his fans and it was widely rumored and believed that Rodríguez had killed himself during a concert in the 1970s.
Despite the magnitude of his success abroad, Rodríguez's fame in South Africa had remained completely unknown to him until 1998, when his eldest daughter came across a website dedicated to him. After coming into contact with the authors of the website and learning of his long-standing fame in the country, Sixto played his first South African tour, playing six concerts in front of thousands of fans. A documentary about the tour, Dead Men Don't Tour: Rodríguez in South Africa 1998, was later screened on SABC TV in 2001. Later he played in Sweden before returning to South Africa in 2001 and 2005.
In 1998, his signature song, "Sugar Man", was covered by the South African rock band Just Jinjer. In 2002, the song was used by DJ David Holmes to open his mix album Come Get It I Got It, gaining Rodríguez international airplay again. "Sugar Man" had previously been sampled in the song "You're Da Man" from rapper Nas' 2001 album Stillmatic.
In April 2007 and 2010, he returned to Australia to play the East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival, as well as shows in Melbourne and Sydney. His song "Sugar Man" was featured in the 2006 film Candy, starring Heath Ledger. Cornish singer-songwriter, Ruarri Joseph, covered Rodríguez's song "Rich Folks Hoax" for his third studio album. Rodríguez now continues to tour in various countries.
Rodríguez's albums Cold Fact and Coming from Reality were re-released by Light in the Attic Records in 2009.
Recent success in the United States
Since the theatrical release of Searching for Sugar Man in 2012, Rodríguez has experienced a flush of media exposure and fan interest in the United States, as well as Europe. Most prominently, perhaps, Rodríguez appeared as a musical guest on the Late Show with David Letterman on August 14, 2012 performing "Crucify Your Mind", and later performed "Can't Get Away" on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Friday, Jan 11, 2013.
Prominent news coverage has included a mid-August 2012 CNN feature story with an interview of Rodríguez discussing his life and career resurgence. Even more notably, on October 7, 2012 Rodríguez was featured on the highly-rated U.S. television news program 60 Minutes. On November 18, 2012 Rodríguez was interviewed on the U.K. Sunday morning topical news program The Andrew Marr Show, where he also played a short song over the closing credits. Additionally, he has performed on the web on such notable web series as "The Weekly Comet".
On September 3, 2012, a Change.org petition was launched to have Rodríguez awarded a Kennedy Center Honor.
In addition to concerts in Australia and South Africa, Rodríguez's current tour schedule for 2013 includes his most notable U.S. concerts to date, such as a stint at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in April and a spot at this year's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California.
Searching for Sugar Man
In 2012, the Sundance Film Festival hosted the premiere of the documentary film Searching for Sugar Man, from Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul, detailing the efforts of two South African fans to see if his rumored death was true—and if not, to discover what had become of him. The Simon Chinn- and John Battsek-produced documentary went on to win the World Cinema Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award, World Cinema Documentary.
In addition to playing at other films festivals including the True/False Film Festival and the Traverse City Film Festival, the film opened in New York and Los Angeles on July 27, 2012, before a larger domestic theatrical run. It was also screened as part of cinema programs in some European music festivals during the summer of 2012, including the Way Out West festival in August, where Rodríguez also performed. In November it won both the Audience Award and the Best Music Documentary Award at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.
The Searching for Sugar Man soundtrack features a compilation of Rodríguez tracks from his Cold Fact and Coming from Reality albums, in addition to a previously unreleased single from his third album. The album was released on July 24, 2012.
On January 13th, Searching for Sugar Man was nominated for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards.
Searching for Sugar Man also won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary on 10th February 2013.