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Rodriguez

Rodriguez

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Also Known As: Rod Riguez, Sixto Rodriguez, Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, Jess Rodriguez Died:
Born: Cause of Death:
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The history of rock is filled with artists who all but disappeared upon their initial foray into the pop marketplace, only to be rediscovered by a more discerning cult audience later. But perhaps no artist has ever gone from the depths of utter obscurity to the heights of adulation like Rodriguez. The singer-songwriter's two albums were almost entirely ignored upon their initial release in the early 1970s, and he quickly retired from the music business. But after pockets of devoted fans started spouting up in unlikely places like Australia and South Africa, generating new interest in the enigmatic troubadour, Rodriguez was re-discovered living quietly in his hometown of Detroit. After he was coaxed into coming out of retirement for the occasional live show, both of his albums were reissued to rave reviews by critics who compared his thoughtful lyrics and haunting tunes to the likes of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. But that's not all: when Swedish documentary filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul decided to tell the story of this unexpected rediscovery, the resulting film, "Searching For Sugar Man" (2012), not only was a critical and commercial success, but also won the Academy Award for Best Documentary...

The history of rock is filled with artists who all but disappeared upon their initial foray into the pop marketplace, only to be rediscovered by a more discerning cult audience later. But perhaps no artist has ever gone from the depths of utter obscurity to the heights of adulation like Rodriguez. The singer-songwriter's two albums were almost entirely ignored upon their initial release in the early 1970s, and he quickly retired from the music business. But after pockets of devoted fans started spouting up in unlikely places like Australia and South Africa, generating new interest in the enigmatic troubadour, Rodriguez was re-discovered living quietly in his hometown of Detroit. After he was coaxed into coming out of retirement for the occasional live show, both of his albums were reissued to rave reviews by critics who compared his thoughtful lyrics and haunting tunes to the likes of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. But that's not all: when Swedish documentary filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul decided to tell the story of this unexpected rediscovery, the resulting film, "Searching For Sugar Man" (2012), not only was a critical and commercial success, but also won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Best of all, the film's success turned Rodriguez into the star he'd never been, with appearances on several television shows and multiple world tours.

Sixto Diaz Rodriguez was born in Detroit, the sixth child in a working-class family headed by a Mexican immigrant father and a Native American mother. Although Detroit was a manufacturing boom town during and after World War II, by the time he reached adulthood in the early 1960s, signs were already apparent of the economic and social downturn the once-proud city would take in the ensuing decades: the budding singer-songwriter's lyrics explored that sense of decay, often with a strong sense of social activism in the style of folk-rock singer-songwriters like Phil Ochs. After briefly adopting the stage name Rod Riguez for one single, 1967's "I'll Slip Away," on the local label Impact Records, Rodriguez signed with the startup label Sussex Records, an R&B-oriented subsidiary of Buddah Records best known for releasing the first several albums by 1970s soul star Bill Withers. Rodriguez released his debut album, Cold Fact in 1970. Co-produced by Dennis Coffey, a key member of the Motown house band of the era, and featuring orchestral arrangements performed by members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the album married Rodriguez's poetic examinations of urban life to often lushly beautiful melodies; this is best exemplified by the melancholy beauty of the opening track, "Sugar Man," which remains perhaps his best-known song.

Although Cold Fact sold poorly upon its initial release, Rodriguez followed it up with an equally fine sophomore release, Coming From Reality, in 1971. Recorded in London with noted British session musician Chris Spedding playing the electric guitar parts, this more stripped-down album puts even greater focus on Rodriguez's increasingly pessimistic lyrics. Although he reunited with Coffey and Cold Fact co-producer and arranger Mike Theodore to record a third album in 1972, the disappointing sales of his first two efforts led to Rodriguez being dropped from Sussex Records before the sessions were completed. (Three songs from this aborted album have appeared on various compilations, including the soundtrack for "Searching For Sugar Man.") While Rodriguez began a new career as a construction worker, which he would maintain for the next several decades, import copies of his two albums became popular in several foreign countries, most notably South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Although the film "Searching For Sugar Man" glosses over this part of the story, Rodriguez's belated success in the southern hemisphere led to him touring Australia and New Zealand in 1979 and 1981. A live LP from the first tour was released in 1981, titled Rodriguez Alive as a play on one of the odder aspects of his story: an urban legend had grown up around the reclusive singer that he had committed suicide on stage during a concert.

Far from dead but also far from the music industry, Rodriguez continued with his life. After graduating from Detroit's Wayne State University with a philosophy degree in 1981, Rodriguez campaigned unsuccessfully for a seat on the Detroit City Council in 1989, running on a platform of support for the urban poor. Meanwhile, reissues and compilations of his music kept his worldwide cult audience growing at a slow but steady pace, even though none of the royalties from these unauthorized releases ever made their way to Detroit. Indeed, it was not until one of the singer-songwriter's three adult daughters, Sandra Rodriguez, did a web search about her father in 1998 that he had any idea about his localized fame. Getting in contact with some of his South African fans -- many of whom had believed the untrue rumors about his death -- Rodriguez toured the nation several times between 1998 and 2005. The improbable story of an unknown singer-songwriter and his underground following in South Africa, a country whose politically-repressed underclass during the era of apartheid responded to his sympathetic tales of social activism, was a natural for the screen. "Searching for Sugar Man" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012, the film was an immediate critical hit, winning the festival's prestigious Special Jury Prize and Audience Award in the international documentary categories.

The American reissue record label Light In The Attic Records, which had already reissued both Cold Fact and Coming To Reality to critical acclaim in 2009, released the soundtrack for "Searching For Sugar Man" soundtrack in July 2012, just as the film was beginning its theatrical run. (Referring to the film's discussion of the singer-songwriter's missing royalties, the soundtrack's sleeve prominently displays the note "Rodriguez receives royalties from the sale of this release.") That fall, Rodriguez began his first American tour, appearing before sold-out crowds across the country while also appearing on TV shows including "The Late Show With David Letterman" (CBS 1993-2014) and "60 Minutes" (CBS 1968- ). However, Rodriguez, who maintained a nearly-monastic life in his native Detroit, deliberately chose not to attend the 85th Academy Awards on February 24, 2013, explaining that he felt his presence would detract from the achievement of the filmmakers should they win; the film's producer, Simon Chinn, told reporters following the film's triumph, "He didn't want to take any of the credit himself. That just about says everything about that man and his story that you want to know."

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Education

Wayne State University: Detroit , Michigan - 1981

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