Sugar man, won't you hurry

Q&A: rodriguez

Alex Sudheim

Rodriguez, the folk-rock singer who defied persistent rumours of his death by completing a highly successful tour of South Africa in 1998, is back in the country during September performing a string of dates with his new band, The Big Town Playboys.

Probably most famous for his moody drug anthem Sugar Man and for the peculiar fact of his complete anonymity outside South Africa and Australia, Rodriguez has never played a gig in the United States, his home country. He lives in Detroit, where he repairs roofs and builds walls for a living and has run three times for city council, twice for mayor and twice for senate.

What’s it like in Detroit today?

Hot. There’s a heat wave in [the US] right now and everyone’s burning up. It’s a political thing because the heat is caused by global warming. We’re all burning because of profits. Oh, shit.

What happened?

Nothing, I just spilled some wine.

What time is it in your part of the world?

Oh, its, like around 11 or so.

In the morning?


Speaking of politics, you’ve made a few forays in that direction yourself. What was your angle?

Change. I raise my hand for it no matter how successful I am. There are many things I’ve seen that couldn’t be said in music that needed direct involvement. In Detroit most people are caught between the thugs and the cops and I want to change that. And we will prevail. Truth knows no regulation, truth is real. I hang with that and that’s what I ran on.

Were you successful?

Nah, they beat me up. I knocked on a lot of doors but I didn’t get many votes. I was running as an independent and my campaign didn’t have any money.

You have a new band for your South African tour. What can we expect?

Its gonna be wild! The Big Town Playboys are awesome musicians they’re true blues troopers who’ve toured with Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. I call them the Big Town Romeos because they’re so horny there are two sax players in the band that add a fat, sexy dimension to the blues, folk and rock elements of the music. We’re a six-piece now, which really opens things up in terms of presentation.

Are you working on any new material? Any new releases on the horizon?

I’m always writing new songs but I’m not sure how they’re going to be put out. I recently turned down a record contract because of this exploitative “work for hire” clause the companies always put in a contract. If you sign, it amounts to you acknowledging that the company wrote the songs. That was something I couldn’t quite see past.

What kind of music do you like?

I like the Rolling Stones and Jimmy Reed [old blues singer best known for songs like Big Boss Man and Bright Lights Big City]. I also love Midnight Oil, Peter Gabriel, Rage against the Machine and Just Jinger they covered Sugar Man.

Famous last words?

We can’t save the world but we can save certain people we care for.

The details

Rodriguez and The Big Town Playboys will play in various South African cities this month, starting with Carnival City, Johannesburg, on September 7 and 8. See Music Listings for more details.

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