Hearing 40-year old songs performed from the Ryman stage is not in itself unusual. However, hearing songs that have been pretty much kept from American audiences for that long is another story. Such a story is the tale of Sixto Rodriguez.
His tale was recently brought to light in the brilliant, 2012 Academy Award winning documentary film, Searching for Sugar Man. The success of the film and the discovery of the great music behind it made this evening’s show a curiosity bringing a diverse, near-capacity audience to the Ryman.
There is much mystique about this man. For despite his obvious recent financial windfall, Rodriguez reportedly still maintains a modest lifestyle and gives most of his earnings away. With that in mind, the depth of his merch table was certainly a surprise. Wearing dark glasses and dressed in black from head to toe, he furthered his reclusive image by remaining quiet until midway through the set when he playfully responded to some “we love you” calls from the crowd. Later, he offered a joke as well as a commentary on woman’s rights
Rodriguez brought this “no-frills” lifestyle to his show in terms of both presentation and accompaniment. The stage was barren having nothing more than the instruments and a few small monitors. There was no riser for the drums, no fancy lighting, not even a curtain. Rodriguez has no regular touring band. Instead, he employs the Chuck Berry method of hiring local guns. In this respect, he made no mention of the band members, and they were quite under-rehearsed. Through photos, I was able to confirm that he used these same players a few nights prior in Atlanta. The make-shift band seemed at times to barely make their way through the numbers. It sounded like the lead guitarist played the same guitar solo on every song!
The 70-year old lifelong Detroit resident had a sight impairment requiring him to be led on and off stage by his two daughters. This handicap made it necessary for him to periodically consult with his guitarist to know what was next on the set list.
Rodriguez delivered what most came to hear: a faithful recreation of his Dylan-esque songs from the two LPs he recorded in 1971 and 1972. His ninety-minute set included eight of the twelve songs from his debut record, Cold Fact, and three from his other, Coming from Reality. He added two of the bonus tracks from the latter release plus “You’d Like to Admit It,” a B-side from his first single release back in 1967.
While everyone got what they came for, Rodriguez didn’t offer much more than the fairly straight readings of the songs. After awhile, it got somewhat tiresome. The music seemed to plod on. Rodriguez is a fine singer in terms of delivering his musical message; however, there is little range or variation in his vocals. This was quite evident in several cover songs he performed. While he showed good taste in selection, his presentations didn’t add much. Vocally he is no match to Nina Simone or Frank Sinatra, two of the artists whose music he covered. The lone exception was his opening encore of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” which is similar to his style.
Rodriguez’s performance simply lacked the original passion with which his songs were written. While I may enjoy listening to Rodriguez’s records from time-to-time, I doubt I will see him live again, having now satisfied the curiosity that the film created in me.
- Climb Upon My Music
- Only Good for Conversation
- Crucify Your Mind
- Just One of Those Things (Cole Porter)
- Inner City Blues
- I Wonder
- You’d Like to Admit It
- I Think of You
- Dead End Street (Lou Rawls)
- Lucille (Little Richard)
- Sugar Man
- Can’t Get Away
- Rich Folks Hoax
- This is Not a Song, It’s an Outburst: or The Establishment Blues
- I Only Have Eyes for You (The Flamingos)
- Love Me or Leave Me (Nina Simone)
- Street Boy
- To Whom It May Concern
- Fever (Little Willie John)
- Sea of Heartbreak (Don Gibson)
- Forget It
- Like a Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan)
- I’m Gonna Live Until I Die (Frank Sinatra)
Sixto Rodriguez – Vocals and Guitar
(unknown) – Guitar
(unknown) – Drums
(unknown) – Bass