Momentarily hailed as the finest recording artist of his generation, Rodriguez is often referred to as the greatest 70's US rock icon who never was. Jesus 'Sixto' Rodriguez was born and bred in Detroit, four blocks from the city center. He was influenced by the urban sounds that surrounded him and thought of music as art and a cultural force. He approached his music from a working class perspective and recently described his style as "musico-politico."
In the late 1960s, celebrated Motor City producers Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore discovered Rodriguez in a local bar and were struck by his Dylanesque songwriting. A charismatic and mysterious artist behind his shades, Rodriguez had built a strong local following, a true folk hero in the purest sense.
In 1970, Rodriguez released his debut album Cold Fact to little fanfare in the U.S. Shortly after the release he disappeared into obscurity. The story could have ended there, but the LP found its way to South Africa's underground, where its anti-establishment punch sparked rebellious young Afrikaners at the dawn of the anti-Apartheid movement. The prophetic music fueled the conscience of a disenfranchised youth, despite the fact that Rodriguez's life and whereabouts were a mystery.
Rodriguez became a household name in South Africa, where the number of copies of Cold Fact would have earned it platinum sales status. It took nearly three decades before he was rediscovered, right at home in Detroit.
A film entitled Searching For Sugar Man has recently released. It was directed by a Stockholm-based documentary filmmaker by the name of Malik Bendjelloul. The film further explores both Rodriguez's life in Detroit and the subsequent impact of his music in the smoldering Apartheid era, pre-Nelson Mandela.