Rodriguez “Cold Fact”

 

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#741in the Series) is Rodriguez, Cold Fact

Recording under the single name “Rodriguez,” Sixto “The Dylan of Detroit” Rodriguez, was a psychedelic folk singer in the early seventies.  Long on talent and short on patience for “The Man,” Rodriguez was one of those folk singers that straddled that socio-political fence somewhere between the hippy-trippy sounds and somewhat obtuse themes of Donovan, and the more lyrically dense word-smithing of a folk era Bob Dylan. Vocally he soared slightly above the Dylan growl, and marginally below the sometimes off-kilter refrains of Scott Walker. Sonically the sound is Syd Barret-meets Arthur Lee and Love-meets Donovan, and the entire conglomeration can probably be described as psychedelic-folk, and is best experienced with a serious, intellectual and substance aided listen to his 1970 release, Cold Fact.

From jump-street, on the opening track on the album, and the closest thing Rodriguez ever had to a hit, “Sugar Man,” we get a glimpse of the troubled mind and gently tortured soul of an artist that seems to be too busy trying to capture a cloud and put it in a bottle rather than take himself or his art too seriously.

“ Sugar Man, won’t you hurry/ cause I’m tired of these scenes/ for a blue coin  won’t you bring back/ all those colors to my dreams/ silver magic/ ships you carry/ jumpers, coke, sweet Mary-Jane .”

On “Only Good for Conversation” we get a fuzz guitar alienation rocker in the Arthur Lee style. “My pocket don’t drive me fast/ my mother treats me slow/ my statues got a concrete heart but/ you’re the coldest bitch I know.”

His internal “Hurdy Gurdy Man” is definitely tuned in and turned on with the song “Inner City Blues.”  The sweeping strings, and psychedelic astro-chords will make take you back to a simpler time.  The lyrics here, like on most of the songs on the album, are somewhat difficult to understand even after repeated listens. One gets the sense that the rivers don’t necessarily run very deep here, but rather the singer  walks a pretty straight line on that tight-rope, where a fairly small breeze could send him right over that edge.

A perfect example of a fragile mind on the brink is the brilliant “I Wonder”, a Stevie Wonder inspired bass and organ drenched song that morphs from lamenting about the promiscuity of a new love interest “I wonder how many times you’ve been had/ how many plans have gone bad/ I wonder how many times you’ve had sex/and I wonder do you know who’ll be next/ I wonder, I wonder ,wonder I do,”  Swinging the anti-war pendulum to close the song. “I wonder about the tears in your eyes/ I wonder about the soldier that dies/ I wonder will this hatred ever end/ I wonder and worry my friend/ I wonder I wonder, don’t you?”

The mini-orchestrations on this album are short little unique blasts, with strings here, a harpsichord there, and a touch of the magical Hammond B-3 on the side, sometimes showing up in just the right places, and at other times showing up where you would least expect it within the framework of these mostly under three minute gems.

You wouldn’t expect this type of music to come out of Detroit.  This is more of a London or a San Francisco album.  A bit daring and sophisticated for its time, the record is a bit like watching a documentary in one of your high-school classes, you learned something that was probably pretty important without stretching your brain too hard, and you had a little fun along the way.

Unfortunately, when the album was released in 1970, the world was not quite ready for an album that was not quite rock, not quite folk, not quite psychedelic, with  traces of Hendrix style hard rock, and with lyrics that were hard to follow and at times unsettling.  Either way, Rodriguez never saw a dime of royalties from this album, and soon faded into obscurity.

As the 70’s wore on and an overseas label picked up and released Cold Fact along with a greatest hits package, a buzz was beginning to be heard.  The foreign releases made Sixto Rodriguez, unbeknownst to him, a near-star in Australia, and a virtual cult hero in South Africa.  While Rodriguez was struggling to raise a family in Detroit, the same part of the country that brought us the MC-5, The White Stripes, and The Stooges, the people of South Africa, identifying with his hippie somewhat Laissez Faire vibe and themes of racial inequities and social oppression, had become huge fans of “The Dylan of Detroit,” largely due to the single, “I Wonder.” With its overt reference to sex, a subject that was taboo to speak about publicly in South Africa at the time, the song held an appeal to the subversive side of the community. This, along with the racial themes on the album made for the perfect storm to help the disenfranchised youth of the country find a way to express the anti-apartheid sentiment much of the country was feeling at the time. It is said that if you walked into any home in Johannesburg in the early seventies you would find three albums, The Beatles Abbey Road, Simon and Garfunkel , Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Rodriguez, Cold Fact.

Given his huge popularity, it was only a matter of time for a group of his South African fans to take the time to embark on a “whatever happened to?” internet search of the star they presumed dead. Thankfully, for all parties involved, the rumors that he had committed suicide were not true, and Rodriguez was found, alive and well, thanks to a web site started by his daughter, and he quickly went from working on housing demolition crews in Michigan, to selling out 5,000 seat venues in South Africa, within the blink of an eye.

And now in 2012, things have come full circle. A movie has been made of his intriguing story called “Searching for Sugar Man,” documenting his journey from one-time home builder and street- busker, to folk artist with two largely ignored albums under his belt, to presumed dead South African folk-hero.  His phoenix-like rise from obscurity to playing the present-day House of Blues, is one of hope and redemption.

And as far as the album that started it all goes, a soundtrack to accompany the documentary has also been released that includes most of the songs from Cold Fact. The album is a must buy only if you can’t get your hands on the original album.

This should be a post-haste listen.

Walt Falconer, Houston, Texas, USA

Track listing

  1. “Sugar Man” 3:45
  2. “Only Good For Conversation” 2:25
  3. “Crucify Your Mind” 2:30
  4. “This Is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues” 2:05
  5. “Hate Street Dialogue” 2:30
  6. “Forget It” 1:50
  7. “Inner City Blues” 3:23
  8. “I Wonder” 2:30
  9. “Like Janis” 2:32
  10. “Gommorah (A Nursery Rhyme)” 2:20
  11. “Rich Folks Hoax” 3:05
  12. “Jane S. Piddy” 2:54

Personnel

  • Rodriguez – vocals, acoustic guitar
  • Dennis Coffey – electric guitar
  • Mike Theodore – keyboards, brass and string arrangements
  • Andrew Smith – drums
  • Bob Pangborn – percussion
  • Bob Babbitt – bass
  • Detroit Symphony (Leader Gordon Staples) – strings
  • Leader Carl Reatz – horns (trombones, baritone sax)

Links

Give it a listen below

Rodriguez on The Late Show with David Letterman, August 14th.

Here’s the trailer for “Searching for Sugar Man.”

Here’s a great 60 Minutes piece on the story of “Rodriguez.”

Posted by Larry Carta

2 Comments

  1. Greg Levieux (14 Aug 2012, 10:51)
    Reply

    This album was huge in South Africa when it was released here in 1971. Most South Africans know this album well – we should, we have been listening to it for the last 40 years. Still have the original vinyl from 40 years back – great album!!

  2. Lee Ann Johnson (21 Jul 2013, 10:17)
    Reply

    The anthem of my youth. What an artist! Just bought his first two records. Can’t stop listening to them. I find him and his music mesmerizing and and hypnotizing. I’ve become slightly obsessed with him and his music all over again.



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