Searching for Sugar Man


This one is a freebie for me…….I have about 309 posts in this blog over the past three years, with about a quarter million views, so I deserve one (I think) the doesn’t cover Roller Derby or other things I have done.

This only partially relates to my background.  I have always loved music, but could never sing or play an instrument (does a ukulele count?).  But I loved jazz and swing and the ballads of yore.  And then when I was fortunate enough to go into the ticket business, all of a sudden I was at major concerts, backstage at the Stones, Peter Frampton, Prince, the Dead (don’t drink anything; it probably was dosed), Chrissie Hind, Etta James, Beach Boys and on and on through every major act.

And for some reason after my first year in the business, I was asked to be ticketing manager for the secret Dylan tour, the Rolling Thunder Revue, which also featured Joan Baez and joining along the way, Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Arlo Guthrie and others.

So there was a documentary tonight on Starz, with the title of this piece.  In 1971 some music producers in Detroit heard about a guitarist who was playing at the Sewer Room (!) down by the River.  They hear him, were blown away; not only great compositions but a voice that could actually sing (which Dylan has never been accused of).

Convinced he was the next hot thing, two albums were produced and for whatever reason were complete flops.  Both producers are still convinced that this was a great artist.  So Sixto Rodriguez disappeared into Detroit, and that was that.

Meanwhile in Capetown, South Africa, the fight against apartheid was beginning, but the government locked out media from the outside world, restricted access to albums and airplay which made the public feel even more oppressed.

A tourist from the US brought a copy of Sixto’s album, played it for friends, and they were blown away.  Soon it was being copied and both albums became huge hits and actually inspiration for those fighting the separation in the country, and before long over a half million copies of the original albums were sold throughout South Africa.

Nobody knew who or where the artist was, and the rumor was he had committed suicide.  So these individuals decided they would try to get the final word.  As they put it, Rodriguez was more famous in Capetown than Elvis. And his songs about the establishment became a battle cry for many.

I hope you will watch this program so without giving everything away, they reached one of Sixto’s daughters, and found out that he was very much alive, living in the center of  Detroit, working as a laborer, demo man, whatever.

They convinced him to come to South Africa (in 1998) and play in a concert.  He arrived, had to rehearse with pick up musicians since he had no band, and six shows were scheduled in a huge arena, and all sold out immediately.  In this program, you see the crowd reaction when he finally appears, and it was like John Lennon showing up today and playing.

He now has revenue and honors from South Africa….he has gone back several times, but he still lives in his house of 40 years in central Detroit, still doing the same work he has been doing

Since the original albums have been re-released on April 13 on you tube, there have been over 700,000 plays.  And lawyers are pursuing what happened to the money from the albums originally sold in south Africa.  Here is the link to one of the albums.  Listen to several songs and decide for yourself if an artist was overlooked.

No matter what, it is a nice story.

4 comments on “Searching for Sugar Man

  1. Yes he was over looked. In the past many were overlooked and still are overlooked. However, fortunately for today’s artists with the internet there is an outlet where they have a chance to being heard by a broad audience. They may not become major stats but their art can be shared.

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