Browsing articles from "November, 2012"
Nov 5, 2012

Rodriguez plays The Wexner Center while drawing comparisons to Charles Bradley

The route for most Detroit musicians to Columbus takes about three and a half hours, only passing through the far-from-exciting cities of Toledo and Findlay. However, for Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, better known as “Rodriguez”, the route from Detroit to the stage at the Wexner Center instead took three and half decades with stops in Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and South Africa… at least that’s where his music toured.

Immediately, one should point out the recent success of Charles Bradley, the 60+ year old soul singer who shot to fame in a very similar manner, which will be briefly pointed out when applicable.

Rodriguez released his only two studio albums, Cold Fact and Coming From Reality,  in 1970 and 1971 respectively. Unfortunately both albums fell on def ears stateside, however by the end of the decade the albums (in addition to rumors Rodriguez was deceased) gained enough traction in Australia to warrant minimal touring. Unfortunately, this is where Rodriquez’s career ended and he soon returned to Detroit, earned a college degree and entered a life of relative normalcy.

Unbeknownst to Rodriguez, as he settled into life as a family man, those same albums (among rumors that the musician had killed himself onstage as political protest) were becoming cult sensations in South Africa, feeding the country’s political and social discourse. In 1998, Rodriguez’s daughter came across a website dedicated to her deceased father’s music and immediately brought it to his attention. The result were multiple tours, documentaries, live albums and the fame and success he had always deserved, albeit mostly limited to South Africa.

Despite past attention, the new “revival” of Rodriguez’s musical career is the subject matter of the 2012 critically acclaimed documentary “Searching for Sugar Man.”

Charles Bradley had a similar documentary debut at SXSW in 2012. However, Soul of America more or less chronicles what its like for Bradley to receive his big break so late in life, not necessarily bringing someone back from the grave. Additionally, and oddly enough, Bradley also shares a “Sugar Man” parallel, as its the name of the retro-funk band in which he contributes vocals.

Rodriguez’s film documents the efforts of two South African fans who attempt to refute the Rodriguez suicide rumors (arguably already well documented) and discover what had become of the cult hero. The film took home the World Cinema Documentary and Special Jury awards from the Sundance Film Festival and brought him to the forefront of the coveted American audience, bringing us back to Columbus.

Rodriguez took the stage Thursday night on the campus of The Ohio State University before a sold out and appreciative crowd for an hour long solo acoustic set. Not only was he flawless as he ran through tracks from his only two studio albums such as “Sugar Man”, “I Wonder” and “Rich Folks Hoax” but it was his fearless artistic freedom with famous covers that unexpectedly impressed. Upon declaring “I do covers… because I’m a musician” the 70+ year old Rodriguez (who could easily have played the role of Randy in The Wrestler)  threw in renditions of “Blue Suede Shoes” and fellow motor city musician, Little Willie John’s “Fever.”

 

Between songs, the self proclaimed “Musical Political” graciously bantered with the audience about the upcoming election and the political machine in Detroit. While he cracked jokes and genuinely entertained the standing room only crowd, it was hard to believe that he was recently deemed “urban Bob Dylan” by Detroit Funk Legend Dennis Coffey (co-produced Cold Fact). It’s a complement in and of itself, given Dylan’s catalog and enduring popularity, however seeing as how I find Dylan’s latest offering barely listenable due to the state of the man’s voice, Rodriguez is far more than that half-ass analogy. Rodriguez is  a uniquely talented artist whose somewhat spoken-word style of delivery and clever word play is delivered with an honesty that is lost on today’s hipster-era take on folk music heavy on mandolin, light on substance.

Whether or not the phenomenon of Rodriguez is a marketing ploy the likes of Charles Bradley is yet to be determined. Nevertheless, Rodriguez’s self-effacing demeanor on stage suggests a man who, in his heart, is truly grateful to be playing for captive audiences close to home. And while I could understand every word that came out of his mouth, some may have spoken more powerfully than others: “I wonder how much goin’ have you got and I wonder about your friends that are not.”

Live Review By,

Brad Kessler

 

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