Back in 1995, I ended up at a friend’s house in Sydney, late at night, with a bunch of people sitting around taking turns playing tunes for each other. At one point someone put this on and I was transfixed. ‘Who is this?!’ I asked. I was told his name was Rodriguez and this is his only album, and that he was one of the forgotten troubadours of the late-60s. They said he’d done time in prison, that he’d even written this album while serving time, yada yada yada. He was over-flowing with the romantic myth of a tortured artist. Anyway, I loved the album, and I tracked it down soon after. Most of the stories were wrong as it turns out. Except the part about being one of the forgotten artists of the late-60s. Jesus ‘Sixto’ Rodriguez was born in Detroit, he recorded two albums Cold Fact (1970) and Coming from Reality (1971) and they went largely unnoticed in the U.S. But he gained popularity abroad, namely in South Africa and here in Australia. In those countries he remains an underground legend, still performing shows now and again. (He even toured Australia as the support for Midnight Oil in the early 80s) And it’s something us Aussies should feel kinda proud of. Coz this guy is great. Great songs with great melodies and memorable lyrics delivered by one of the most distinct voices of folk-rock genre. I’ve turned a few people on to him over the years, and invariably they respond to it instantly. It’s full of 60s references, but somehow not really dated. “Sugar Man” opens the album with overt nods to the hippie drug culture, ‘Silver magic ships you carry/ Jumpers, coke, sweet mary jane’. But (like early Dylan) Rodriguez is essentially a moralist. In “Crucify your Mind”, he sings: ‘Was it a huntsman or a player/ That made you pay the cost/ That now assumes relaxed positions/ And prostitutes your loss?/ Were you tortured by your own thirst/ In those pleasures that you seek/ That made you Tom the curious/ That makes you James the weak?’ It’s one of those mythic 60s/70s albums, its amazing (criminal, really) it isn’t more celebrated and renowned. It should be regarded alongside Bringing it All Back Home, and Bridge Over Troubled Water and Tea for the Tillerman and Crosby, Stills & Nash’s first album. That’s a cold fact.
~ DECOY SPOON