Rodriguez: 10 Things You Don't Know About the 'Searching for Sugar Man' Star
The Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man tells the almost unbelievable story of a Mexican-American songwriter whose two early Seventies albums bombed in America, but who wound up finding a huge audience in Apartheid-era South Africa. Sixto Rodriguez had no idea he was a legend there until a group of fans found him on the Internet and brought him to the country for a series of triumphant concerts. But while Searching for Sugar Man (soundtrack and DVD now available) is a fantastic film, it only grazes the surface of Rodriguez's life story. Here are 10 things you may not know about Rodriguez:
Not only did he skip the Oscar ceremony – he was asleep when he won.
Searching for Sugar Man director Malik Bendjelloul begged Rodriguez to attend the Oscars, but he refused, feeling it would take the attention away from the filmmakers. "We also just came back from South Africa and I was tired," Rodriguez says. "I was asleep when it won, but my daughter Sandra called to tell me. I don't have TV service anyway."
Australia discovered him before South Africa.
A handful of copies of Rodriguez's 1970 debut LP, Cold Fact, reached Australia months after the album bombed in America. One wound up in the hands of Australian radio DJ Holger Brockman, who began playing "Sugar Man" on 2SM radio in Sydney. Record stores started selling Cold Fact for upwards of $300, and Blue Goose records eventually released it to huge sales all across the continent. "Every single one of my friends had Cold Fact," says Midnight Oil drummer Rob Hirst. "We'd play Bruce Springsteen's The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, Billy Joel's first album and Cold Fact."
By the late 1970s, Australian concert promoters tracked down Rodriguez in Detroit. He arrived in Australia with his two teenage daughters for a 15-date tour in early 1979. "He was just stunned by what we put together for him," promoter Michael Coppel told Billboard at the time. "He had never played a concert before, just bars and clubs." He played to 15,000 people in Sydney, almost as many fans as Rod Stewart drew a few weeks earlier. "The man himself seemed almost embarrassed onstage," noted Billboard. "He spoke no more than a dozen short lines throughout each show. When returning to the stage for an encore at his first Sydney show, he mumbled emotionally to his audience, 'Eight years later . . . and this happens. I don't believe it.'"
A live album from the tour was released in 1981, right around the time he came back for a second tour. This time he shared the bill with Midnight Oil at some gigs. "I thought it was the highlight of my career," Rodriguez says today. "I had achieved that epic mission. Not much happened after that. No calls or anything."
He's earning crazy money right now . . .
Rodriguez's rediscovery by South Africans in 1998 allowed him to retire from the construction business. He returned to the country for shows every couple of years, and he also started gigging around Europe. Cold Fact was rereleased on CD and it slowly began finding an audience across the continent, though American success proved elusive. Searching for Sugar Man, however, changed everything, bringing Rodriguez to a previously unfathomable level of success. He was playing the 190-seat capacity Joe's Pub in New York under a year ago. He soon graduated to the 700-seat Highline Ballroom, and his shows at Town Hall (1,500 seats), the Beacon Theater (2,900 seats) and Radio City Music Hall (6,000 seats) all sold out in minutes. They just booked him at Brooklyn's 18,000-seat Barclays Center.