Imagine if you put your heart and soul into a project and it failed. After taking a shot at your dream you realize you have to let it go and move on with your life. Years later, you find out that your dreams have come true and you are considered a living legend. Sometimes things are just meant to be.
Sixto Rodriguez was born in 1942 to Mexican-American parents living in Detroit. His name came from his position in the family as the sixth son (with one sister). Raised in poverty and facing a life of low-income labor, Sixto fell in love with his guitar. After years of practice and playing in bars, Sixto finally recorded a song in 1967. Released using the stage name ‘Rod Riguez’, the song ‘I’ll Slip Away’ lived up to its name. Despite the excitement of being a recorded artist, Sixto earned his living working on demolition sites or production lines.
Three years later and still wanting to create his dream, Sixto signed a contract with Sussex Records. In 1970 he recorded the album ‘Cold Fact’ and in 1971 recorded ‘Coming from Reality’. Nobody bought the records and Sixto was fired by Sussex, who then went out of business in 1975. Once again for Sixto his dream had failed.
Despite his disappointment, Sixto progressed with his life. He got married, bought a derelict house for $50 and began raising a family. What he did not know was that an Australian company had bought the rights to his albums and reprinted the two failures. In Australia Sixto Rodriguez became a huge success, compared to such musicians as Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan and Donovan.
Finally in 1979, an Australian concert promoter contacted Rodriguez in Detroit and offered him a 15 date concert tour. Rodriguez responded ‘Eight years later and this happens… I don’t believe it.’ He had never played in a concert venue before and was suddenly in front of 15,000 people in Sydney, Australia. His dreams had come true. Another live album was made from this concert tour, and Rodriguez returned again in 1981 for a concert tour with Australian band Midnight Oil.
Coming home from that experience, Rodriguez settled back into his normal life routine. “I thought it was the highlight of my career”
Unknown to Sixto was that his music and lyrics had hit a chord with South Africans involved in the anti-apartheid movement. Lyrics such as “The public gets irate but forgets about the vote date”; “I opened the window to listen to the news but all I heard was the establishment’s blues” and “The systems gonna fall soon to an angry young tune” became anthems for social change. In South Africa Rodriguez became a star, outselling even Elvis Presley.
As his music set the tone for cultural resistance, a rumor started that Rodriguez had committed suicide on stage after completing the song ‘Forget It’. Sixto Rodriguez became legendary to the South Africans with similar recognition as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin.
In 1998, two fans from South Africa began an investigation to find out more about their hero. To their surprise they found him alive and well in Detroit. The efforts of Stephen “Sugar” Segerman (a record shop owner) and Craig Bartholomew Strydom (a music journalist) are featured in the movie ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2013. The title is based on one of Rodriguez most famous songs, ‘Sugar Man’.
What happened next was amazing. Once Rodriguez was found, a concert tour of South Africa was organized. Despite his brief success in Australia, Sixto had led a life of obscurity. Suddenly he was flying to South Africa to play in front of thousands of people who revered him. His records were re-released and sold over 250,000 copies. Additional tours were arranged and the money he earned was ‘ridiculous’.
Rodriguez is living his dream. At 74 years old he has gained the recognition for his music that he had always wanted. Even still, he lives in the same house that he bought for $50 so many years ago. He gives away most of the money he earns and chooses the simple life. His heart is full and not much else is required.
Full Album: Cold Fact
Full Album: Coming from Reality
©Copyright 2016 Glenn Stewart Coles