Where Have You Been, Sixto Rodriguez?

I confess that I continue to suffer from the strong backlash of a profoundly dysfunctional Classic Rawk phase.  After years of listening to cassettes filled with Pink Floyd, The Who, and Lynyrd Skynrd, even the slightest hint of 60’s or 70’s nostalgia makes me throw up in my mouth just a little.

Front

Back

  

An actual
jean jacket
worn by the
author as
a practicing
adult in the
late 1980’s

 

 

Sixto Diaz Rodriguez is helping me fight this personal demon. 

Recording simply as Rodriguez, he recorded the lost classic Cold Fact in 1969 and released follow-up Coming From Reality in 1971.  Both albums bombed in the United States but eventually became populist classics in countries like Australia and South Africa, a country where a Rodriguez compilation went multi-platinum.

Aside from an isolated tour or two (including Australia with Midnight Oil!), Rodriguez faded from all memory like the rings of Middle Earth for the better part of 30 years.  According to urban legend, he had died on stage by shooting himself or setting himself on fire, or he had been committed to a mental institituion. 

The truth was less dramatic:  He was working as a laborer in Detroit.  He reportedly didn’t learn of his cult status in South Africa (much less receive royalties) until his daughter discovered a provocative website.  He returned to sporadic touring in 1998, including in South Africa where he is viewed as a rock and roll Messiah to the inner-city poor.

sixto

Rodriguez is sometimes described as a funky Dylan although the descriptor is only partly valid.  His lyrics can be at times clever but other times banal (Baby I’m not jokin’/And it’s not what I’m smokin’).  I am personally struck by the exceptional timbre of Sixto’s voice.  His vocals are full of character, and colored by a Northern metropolis lilt especially evident when he performs in spoken word.  His voice possesses a quality similar to James Taylor, although the directness and stridency make the comparison feel less than apt.

Cold Fact, which leads off with the signature “Sugarman” is the essential Rodriguez album, although Coming From Reality has several lovely compositions.  I find the second record is a bit overwrought with orchestral flourishes popularized in folk of that era like Bridge Over Troubled Water.  But “Silver Words,” “To Whom It May Concern,” and “Cause” are terrific.

In May, Light in the Attic Records re-released Coming From Reality with several bonus tracks.  Cold Fact was re-released last year.  Find these reissues and re-connect with your inner 60’s hipster, man.

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