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Tune tales: The rediscovery of Rodriguez

Before 'Sugar Man' Rodriguez heads to Australia next February, we take a look back on a career that almost never was.

Sometimes good things take time, and when you look back on the career of Rodriguez that sentiment couldn’t ring truer.

After his only two albums, released in 1970 and 1971, bombed in his home of America he disappeared into relative obscurity.

However, over here in Australia, it was a totally different story. A handful of copies of his 1970 debut LP, Cold Fact, managed to reach our shores. One ended up in the hands of radio presenter DJ Holger Brockman, who began playing Sugar Man on Sydney radio station, 2SM – he’d even regularly spin the entire LP when he moved to Double J a couple of years later.

From there, Rodriguez’s popularity grew, and record stores started selling Cold Fact for upwards of $300 before Blue Goose Records eventually released it across the continent.

This success, however, was completely unbeknownst to Rodriguez and in the mid-’70s he quit his music career.

But by the late ’70s, demand for an Australian tour was high. In 1978, the album reached number 23 on the Australian album charts, staying there for 55 weeks. In early 1979, Rodriguez landed on our shores for a 15-date tour. It was the first time he had ever played large-scale concerts. In Sydney alone, he played to 15,000 people – before that he’d only played bars and clubs.

By the ’90s, Cold Fact had gone five times platinum in Australia and platinum in South Africa, yet still, he remained relatively unknown in his native country of the US.

While he had huge success across Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, it wasn’t until 2012 that the rest of the world caught onto Rodriguez’s talent thanks to Malik Bendjelloul’s Oscar-winning film Searching for Sugar Man.

His Australian tour this February will mark his fifth visit Down Under. Before he lands here, we’re taking a look back at Rodriguez’s short but sweet songbook to find out more about this career that almost never was, and the music that captured an audience half a world away.

Sugar Man

Could we really have started with anything else? If this track had the chance to reach American audiences, there’s no doubt it would have been a hit. Still, almost five decades later new audiences are discovering it, and maybe longevity is a better win than instant fame and success?

I Wonder

This one features Rodriguez’s most recognisable guitar riff and sits just behind Sugar Man as Rodriguez’s retrospective biggest hit.

Cause

In what is essentially the bookend to his recording career – unless this longawaited third album arrives – Cause is another example of Rodriguez’s songwriting prowess, and a tune that really calls to his Dylan comparisons.

Crucify Your Mind

Of all of Rodriguez’s tracks, Crucify My Mind is the one that has resonated most with streaming audiences, and is one of the most beautiful tracks he ever made.

I Think Of You

I Think Of You is just a straight uo love song, and in it’s simplicity is as at home in 2019 as it would’ve been in 1970.

While his catalogue is short, it hardly misses a beat. Rodriguez’s music feels as if it could’ve been written and recorded today – timeless in it’s beauty and simplicity. It makes you wonder, how many other incredible gems have gone uncovered and unheard throughout the years?

Rodriguez will perform at A Day On The Green’s Sirromet Wines, Queensland on Saturday 9 February, A Day On The Green’s Rochford Wines, Victoria on Saturday 16 February, A Day On The Green’s Peter Lehmann Wines, South Australia on Saturday 23 February, Derwent Entertainment Centre, Tasmania on Tuesday 26 February, and Kings Park, Perth on Friday 1 March. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster.com.au.

Rodriguez

  • Sirromet Wines, Queensland
  • Rochford Wines, Victoria
  • Peter Lehmann Wines, South Australia
  • Derwent Entertainment Centre, Tasmania
  • Kings Park, Perth

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