February 24, 2013

Cult hero guitarist becomes spokesman for musicians' rights

Singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, long unaware of his huge popularity abroad, now hopes to get his royalties.

By JEFF KAROUB and MICHELLE FAUL/The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Sixto Rodriguez, shown in Detroit in a scene from the Oscar-nominated documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” has become a symbol for the rights of wronged musicians.

Malik Bendjelloul via The Associated Press

The 81-year-old Avant, who could not be reached for this article, still owns the rights to the music and is now being paid for them by Light In The Attic Records, which gives a new life to old recordings, according to Segerman, who acts as an unofficial publicist for Rodriguez. He said 2008 and 2009 releases were the first time Rodriguez was paid royalties.

Now you can buy Rodriguez songs on iTunes, and the documentary soundtrack released by Light In The Attic in conjunction with Sony Legacy.

Segerman said Rodriguez has "created a whole new consciousness about robbing an artist." People coming into his Malibu Vinyl shop and sending him emails say, "I want to buy it, not download it for free, but please, I want to make sure he's going to get the money."

"Here's the irony: His music came into South Africa through bootlegging but it's South Africa that's given him the voice to say 'This is wrong!' and people get that, they understand now."

He said at least 200,000 copies of both albums have sold in the last year or so.

But Rodriguez appears untouched by the money, Segerman said. Now in his 70s with failing eyesight, Rodriguez continues to live in the same old house he's occupied for decades in Detroit, and gives most of the money away to relatives and friends, said Segerman.

In South Africa in the old days, his fans isolated by sanctions and censorship believed Rodriguez was as famous at home as he was in their country. They heard stories that the musician had died dramatically: He'd shot himself in the head onstage in Moscow; he'd set himself aflame and burned to death before an audience someplace else; he'd died of a drug overdose, was in a mental institution, was incarcerated for murdering his girlfriend.

In 1996, in the newly liberated South Africa, Segerman and journalist Carl Bartholomew-Strydom set out separately to find out the truth and then got together to solve the mystery. Nearly two years of dead ends finally led to Detroit, where they found Rodriguez -- sane, free and working on construction sites in his hometown.

"It's rock-and-roll history now. Who would-a thought?" Rodriguez said, struggling to explain his improbable tale.

Rodriguez said he wasn't wallowing in self-pity after his music career fizzled -- he just "went back to work."

He raised a family that includes three daughters, launched several unsuccessful campaigns for public office, obtained a philosophy degree and reverted to manual labor in Detroit. He gave up the dream of living off his music but never stopped playing it.

"I felt I was ready for the world, but the world wasn't ready for me," Rodriguez said. "I feel we all have a mission -- we have obligations," he said. "Those turns on the journey, different twists -- life is not linear."


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