Sugar man // The incredible journey of Sixto Rodriguez

Sugar man // The incredible journey of Sixto Rodriguez

By noisyhype team, March 03, 2021

The journey of any musician can be a rollercoaster ride of euphoric highs and incredible lows but few could be as engaging, emotive and ultimately; as uplifting as the life and career of Sixto Rodriguez…

Born in the early 1940’s in Detroit as the son of hard working Mexican immigrants, Rodriguez never earned the success his music deserved in the USA; he was good, very good in fact. His lyrics were poetry, his voice emotive in a way that might make Johnny Cash envious.  However the two albums he released stateside didn’t fare well and just two weeks before the Christmas of 1971 he was dropped by his label Sussex…

He made the choice to simply walk away… And little was heard from him again, his part-completed third album was never finished.

But there are other chapters in the story of Rodriguez, chapters that reach out beyond his home city of Detroit and beyond America. His story isn’t simply of a man who tried and failed and it should serve as inspiration to every emerging artist in the world today.

Rodriguez didn’t know at the time, but his music was a success, a pretty big success in fact in other parts of the world. In South Africa, he sold more vinyl than Elvis, He was spoken of in the same breath as Dylan and Cat Stevens and his music served as a soundtrack to the anti-apartheid movement. Australia and New Zealand loved him too.

Rodriguez wasn’t aware of any of this, and no one knew where he was to share the news. Rumours even surfaced that he had taken his own life. But he hadn’t, he simply turned his back on the world of big albums, recording studios and the clamour for success.

Success however, finally found him anyway…

It took a while though, almost thirty years had passed when his eldest daughter came upon a website devoted to her father and his music, then it finally became clear his early albums really had earned the recognition they deserved…

Tours followed, in South Africa to thousands of fans he’d only recently learned he had, and his unique story was the subject of a television documentary the same year, appropriately entitled Dead Men Don’t Tour: Rodriguez in South Africa 1998.

Suddenly, his music was being covered, sampled and discovered by other artists, his hit Sugar Man featured on the soundtrack of the film Candy starring Heath Ledger in 2006.

The 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man tells the story of two fans and their attempts to find out what happened to Sixto Rodriguez, whether rumours of his death were true and if not, where in the world he might be living his life. After opening at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, the work was met with critical acclaim, winning a BAFTA award for best documentary, along with an Oscar at the 85th academy awards in the same category.

Sixto “Sugar man” Rodriguez is still touring, he never really stopped. Even in the quiet years when much of the world had forgotten him, he enjoyed playing local clubs and bars. Often these days he takes his family along.

Is there a moral to the story of Sixto Rodriguez? Perhaps, you could say it speaks about the power of never giving up, you could say that it’s good to hear someone getting the recognition as an artist that they deserve.

However the story of Sugar Man affects you, you can’t deny it is inspiring..