1979: Rodriguez - Cold Fact

Usually, the best a “forgotten” artist can hope for is to be slowly discovered by proceeding generations. With a little luck, the right taste-making crate digger might stumble across a lost treasure and start talking it up. Maybe Hip Band will talk about what an influence said artist is on their new album. The bloggers will blog, the music journalists will shower praise, and the artist and his/her records will achieve a tiny fraction of the success that, for what ever reason, eluded them in the first place.

A less common scenario involves your records achieving cult status in South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, treasured by a reverent fan-base, while your person is hailed as a revolutionary-slash-messiah. Outrageous rumors circulate: he’s stopped putting out albums ‘cause he killed himself after being jailed for the murder of his wife; he’s died of a heroin overdose; he was electrocuted on stage. Or the best: he committed suicide on stage, either by setting himself on fire or by blowing his brains out.

The latter, slightly rarer situation, is the exact one Detroit folk-rocker Sixto Diaz Rodriguez found himself in in the early ‘90s when, after living a settled life since the early ‘80s, his daughter discovered his legendary status in South Africa through a fan site. His profile was starting to grow in America, and now Light in the Attic (who’ve also delivered stellar reissues from the likes of Noel Ellis, Betty Davis, Karen Dalton, and The Free Design) has re-released his debut, Cold Fact, with expanded liner notes detailing his whole bizarre ascendancy.

While the whole thing might seem a bit underwhelming considering its godhead status with some, Cold Fact is a pretty killer album, even when you remove its strange story. Opener “Sugar Man” channels the same seedy, narcotic vibe as Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman,” and if it weren’t for lyrics like “Silver magic ships you carry/ Jumpers, coke, sweet Mary Jane,” one might mistake it for some misplaced Donovan B-side. “Only Good For Conversation” follows, bearing more than a little similarity to fellow Motor City rockers like The Amboy Dukes, Frijid Pink, Grand Funk Railroad, and the Bob Seger System. The track's stomping, fuzz-laden approach momentarily erases the careening strings and space sounds that proceeded it, but “Crucify Your Mind” returns things to a trippier place, with gutiarist/producer Dennis Coffey and a band of soul legends (including some members of the esteemed Funk Brothers) providing a supple backdrop for Rodriguez’s truly menacing lyrics. The harsh realities of inner city life are contrasted against the glossy but fading dream of the Woodstock era: “Was it huntsman or a player/ That made you pay the cost/ That now assumes relaxed position/ And prositutes your loss.”

“This Is Not A Song It’s An Outburst: Or the Establishment Blues” could be heard as a send-up of Dylan’s stream of consciousness rambles if it didn’t seem so damn earnest. Rodriguez spits lines like “Adultery plays the kitchen, bigot cops non-fiction/ The little man gets shafted, sons and daughters get drafted” with dramatic, street-level conviction. “Hate Street Dialogue” offers the middle finger to the dreamy San Fran scene, while tunes like “Forget It” and “Like Janis” showcase the bitter, near-punk snarl just underneath Rodriguez’s clear, tuneful vocals. “I Wonder” addresses sexual jealousy over a shuffling Motown bass line, its bouncy, sweet melody creating a perfectly uneasy juxtaposition as he sings about war and slut girlfriends. “Gommorah (A Nursery Rhyme)” blends a busted blues rattle with a terrifically creepy children’s choir that backs up the chorus, then we're treated to a bit of just barely out-of- key “America the Beautiful” on the way out.

“Rich Folks Hoax” and “Inner City Blues” (not a Gaye cover) address the social unrest of Detroit, and the bitter, malicious bent of the lyric contrasts nicely with the hopeful stride of civil rights-era soul, which clearly influenced the sound of the album. “Jane S. Piddy” ends things with a casual shrug of the shoulders. “I saw my reflection in my father’s final tears/ The Wind was slowly melting, San Francisco disappears/ Acid heads, unmade beds, and you Woodward world queers,” Rodriguez intones, seeming more content to sound bad-ass than poignant, but then follows with a mournful refrain of “I know you’re lonely.” The struggle between tenderness and machismo, or the attempt to find one in the other, shades the album, and in the end, Rodriguez resorts to a tiny bit of spoken word: “Thanks for your time/ And you can thank me for mine/ And after that’s said/ Forget it,” siding, at least for now, on the role of steal-eyed realist.

It was that last line, South African myths would report, that Rodriguez delivered just before he blew his brains out on stage. And while it’s true that he never did so, it’s not hard to imagine why one might suppose he could. Cold Fact sounds like the work of a guy who might decide it’s all pretty worthless. But it also sounds like a guy who isn’t entirely sold on the idea. “Bag it, man,” the album ends. “Okay.”


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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