Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Rodriguez, Forgotten Pop Star: Two 40 Year Old Albums Become Bestsellers


Sixto Rodriguez, subject of the wonderful documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” has suddenly exploded. The two albums he made in 1970 and 1971, “Cold Fact,” and “Coming from Reality” are now at number 9 and number 21 respectively on amazon.com. The albums, originally on Sussex Records, are now with Seattle indie Light in the Attic Records. Their sales may take time to show up on Billboard and other conventional places, but the CDs are selling like crazy. Even the MP3 downloads are doing well. The Sony Legacy soundtrack to “Sugar Man” ironically is doing well but as well as Rodriguez’s original albums. Fans of the movie obviously want these mysterious, “lost” albums more than the merchandise attached to the film.

The albums are following the success of the movie– a robust $2.1 million at the boxoffice since its release on July 27th.

There’s no denying that “Sugar Man” should be an Oscar nominee for Best Documentary. The director, Malik Bendjelloul uncovered a great story which has in turn revived Rodriguez’s long dormant career. But the film — while lovely in many ways– raises many questions that are unanswered. Rodriguez was living and recording in Detroit in 1970 yet no connection is made between him and Motown or other Detroit musicians of the time. Even though his music sounds nothing like Motown–he’s Mexican, and actually recalls Don McLean or a young Dylan–it seems unlikely that Rodriguez would not have known anyone at the fabled studio.

Rodriguez recorded a song called “Inner City Blues” in 1970. A year later, Marvin Gaye had a hit off his “What’s Going On?” album with “Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler).” It’s possible Gaye just heard or saw the title; the two songs sound nothing alike.

Also the film does little to explain where Rodriguez came from or what really happened to him after the two albums came out. His three daughters are in the film but there’s no mention of their mother or how they were raised. Rodriguez became a construction laborer and tried to run for mayor of Detroit. He seemingly built a wall between his failed music career and everything else.

I’m also trying to find out whether his unreleased material will see light from Light in the Attic. The Oscars and the Indie Spirit Awards may do something with the movie. But it would behoove the Grammys to feature him. The music is absolutely brilliant, and the fact that he vanished for decades in the US while becoming a star– unbeknownst to him–in South Africa–is one of the greatest injustices of the once – heralded record business.

Sussex Records was distributed by Buddha Records, which was also Casablanca Records, home of Kiss and Donna Summer. Sussex had a lot of hits in 1970-71, including Bill Withers, Dennis Coffey (who worked on Rodriguez’s albums) with the instrumental “Scorpio,” and one off hits like “Sweet Mary” by Wadsworth Mansion and “5-10-15-20-25 Years Love” by the Presidents. Clarence Avant, of Motown fame, owned the label until it went under in 1975. In the movie he pleads ignorance about why Rodriguez failed in the US and where all the money went from massive sales in South Africa. He’s probably right–bootleggers got the money.

So far Rodriguez has appeared on “60 Minutes” and Letterman. He has a few gigs coming up, according to his website.His life has changed, although he seems unchanged. The songs are timeless and are obviously finding a new audience. for the singer who is now 70 years old.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedmanhttps://www.showbiz411.com
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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