Sugar Man in Monday Song

By Stefano Nappa
3 min read

Sugar Man is a nickname that has been given to numerous artists or athletes who have changed world culture in some way. So on the spot, being a basketball fan, Michael Ray Richardson comes to mind. Star of the New York Knicks in the late 70s and 80s, with an indescribable talent.
Just think that New Yorkers repeated the nickname twice to each of his baskets: Sugar-Sugar! Too bad that sometimes fate holds nasty surprises, even for the most talented ever to appear on a basketball court in the Big Apple. Many still wonder what happened to Sugar, Sugar Ray… but that’s another story.

In today’s Monday Song, however, we don’t get far from the city that never sleeps. Let’s go to Detroit to Sixto Rodriguez, the only undisputed Sugar Man in the history of music.

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Spoilers for non-believers:
his story, told in a documentary shot by Malik Bendjelloul, was worth an Oscar (in 2013).

Sixto Rodriguez’s story begam in 1968, at the time he was a novice folk singer and songwriter who grew up in the Detroit suburbs; and the metropolis had the most important productions of jazz, blues and rhytm & blues in America.
Clarence Avant, producer of Motown Records and former manager of Miles Davis, discovered Sixto in a poorly attended but very popular music venue in those years.

He captured his attention because during the performance he played with the guitar in his hand and with his back to the audience the whole time.

Cold Fact was released in 1970, followed by Coming From Reality, the following year. The two albums had a progressive and unexpected success. They were praised by critics who called Sixto a better poet than Bob Dylan, but commercially they were a total flop.

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The label didn’t even give him a third chance, they simply dumped him. Disappointed, and without money, he abandoned his career as a musician and began working as a laborer with a meager and often occasional pay.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez’s first album reached the other side of the Atlantic thanks to a young American who was engaged to a South African. The songs of the Detroit minstrel, dripping with civic commitment, immediately broke into the hearts of the inhabitants suffocated by apartheid.

Unfortunately, Cold Fact was not released in record stores because South Africa was under embargo. However, it only managed to spread throughout the country thanks to cassette tapes. Meanwhile, Sixto Rodriguez seemed to have disappeared, numerous legends circulated about him, including the one that he was dead.

The government of the African state tried to limit the Rodriguez phenomenon because, in addition to winning an increasing number of hearts, it was inspiring a new generation of thought.
Songs like I Wonder caused a sensation. The verse I wonder how many times you had sex, which may seem harmless today, was a revolutionary act in conservative South Africa. South African censors even went so far as to scratch the surface of vinyl bootlegs with nails to erase the objectionable tracks.

sugar man

After three long decades some fans discovered that Rodriguez was very much alive, so they decided to try to get in touch with their idol.
Back from work Sixto answered perhaps the most exciting call of his life, because his life changed drastically.

From one day to the next he discovered that he was a rock star more famous than the Beatles in a country on the other side of the world. At 56, she found himself performing in the Cape Town Sports Palace. The first concert counted more than 20,000 spectators, followed by 6 sold-out ones in the rest of the country.

Destiny sometimes plays tricks, indeed it does worse. But passion always pays off and sooner or later something happens. I didn’t forget to explain why he was nicknamed Sugar Man… simple!
It is the first song on the Cold Fact album that mesmerizes anyone who listenes to it. These are also the first words that Rodriguez’s vocal cords intone.

3 min read

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