Photo Credit: David Wolfe
So many of the musicians we've lost in 2023 have been life long contributors of music. Many were loved by millions around the globe. Jeff Beck, Sinéad O'Conner, Tina Turner and David Crosby were only a few of the giants that left us this year. Some of them I had the privilege of photographing in the last decade...one of them was a musical icon bigger than Elvis in some countries, but little known in the USA...His name is Sixto Diaz Rodriguez.
I'd like to talk a little about "Rodriguez", as he was more commonly known as globally. He was a music phenomenon in the 1970's in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. But little known in the country of his birth, the U.S.A.. He was from Detroit Michigan and died this year. I'd like to highlight Rodriguez because his fame in the USA, his home, was almost non existent - yet in South Africa he sold more records than Elvis Presley! He is of Mexican decent and has been compared to music greats such as, Cat Stevens and Bob Dylan. Many of his songs carry anti-establishment themes, and therefore boosted anti-apartheid protest culture in South Africa where his work influenced the music scene at the time and he was also an influence on a generation drafted, mostly unwillingly, to the then whites-only South African military. Back in the 90s, his life was so unknown that he was thought to be dead. Then In the late 90's his eldest daughter came across a website dedicated to her father. She contacted the site, told them who she was and shortly after verifying her story, South Africa asked him to come and perform his music. He played six concerts in front of thousands of fans in 1998. He then performed to thousands of Australians – who consider Rodriguez one of the foundations to the soundtrack of their youth. He then performed in Sweden before his return to South Africa in 2001 and 2005. His story was told all over the news and TV, and he appeared on The Tonight Show, 60 Minutes, David Letterman and many other programs. His life was then depicted in an award winning film called, Searching for Sugar Man - https://amzn.to/3TNZuaM. Or if you prefer the book, https://amzn.to/48yvyE4. In February 2013, the film won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary at the British Academy Film Awards, and two weeks later, it won the for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards in Hollywood. This full length documentary gave him a small dose of fame in the USA. He then received an honorary Doctor of Human Letters degree from his Alma Mater, Wayne State University in Michigan. Rodriguez lived his whole life in the little house in a run-down Detroit neighborhood he bought for $50, many years ago. He lived as simply as possible not even owning a phone. He'd been a laborer most of his life, working in demolition and production line work and always earning a low income...not making any money from his music. All whilst his catalogue was heard as anthems outside of this country. Sixto Rodriguez passed away this year in August at the age of 81, leaving three adult daughters.
My Sixto Rodriguez experience goes like this... In 2014 a friend called me and insisted I see this guy called Rodriguez playing soon in San Francisco. The gig was on May 28th 2014 in the gorgeous art-deco Warfield venue, and on this night my knowledge of musical history had been changed forever. My partner at that time just happened to be an Australian from Perth who was staying with me. When I told him I'm going to photograph a guy called Rodriguez whom I had never heard of, his face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. He was in such amazement that not only was Rodriguez still alive but he and I were going to see him LIVE in concert, his excitement was intense and I can only describe it as a thrilled 6'2" child! When we arrived to the venue, I felt the excitement throughout the building. Overhearing bits of conversations in the crowd, all filled with an international flavour of accents from around the globe. Then showtime....Rodriguez was escorted onstage, by a female assistant, possibly due to his frailty, it wasn't clear. She put his hat on him, gave him his guitar and away he went. The audience reacted to his appearance as if it was Elvis Presley appearing from the dead. I've never seen anything like it. Someone I had never even heard of was so hugely famous. He began playing and used his guitar like an extension of his own body, strumming with a classical Latin influence. He was obviously playing to an audience of super-fans. It was a joy to be in the presence of what felt like an historic event in music. During the show I listened to songs I'd never heard, but I recognized threads of them interwoven in the body of music through a couple of decades. The flavor of Rodriguez lives in the music of Dylan, The Byrds, CSNY and many others. It was shocking to think that I hadn't known of him until that night. And to think, his music was such an important influence for so many people. It saddens me that this mega talent somehow was invisible in the music business of his home country and unrewarded for his talents. On that night in San Francisco, he played to a very grateful audience. And I could see that he, himself had no idea he was so famous either. It was quite an extraordinary moment.
Rodriguez stood in front of me on that stage, and played whilst I was completely mesmerized. I looked aound me and the entire audience joined in knowing every syllable to every word in his lyrics! I just took it all in, in sheer amazement. 'Twas a beautiful moment in time. On that night, he played to some of whom had waited for decades to see him live, and to some, like me, who had never heard of him. By the end of the gig I was blown away. Privileged to have witnessed this man and his music that millions of people who have loved and experienced for decades. Philip explained to me that these songs were the sound track of his own childhood growing up in Perth. Heard on radio, in shopping malls, busses and trains. Even blasted through his school PA speakers. And it was very apparent that night at The Warfield, that these were also the songs that formed the sound tracks of so many lives, just not in Americans' lives. It was obvious, Rodriguez was so incredibly humble and humbled by the adoring audience. For me, it was one of the most memorable concerts I've ever attended. Sixto Diaz Rodriguez (1942-1923), will be missed by millions. The links below are a few Rodriguez songs, enjoy: https://youtu.be/btZkLhPofdc?si=oKAhAiVlmHSOLSMV https://youtu.be/6xG3n2coh5Q?si=XRsoKEN-KBgh90pH https://youtu.be/lJyawB1E78M?si=q8B9M0SNIAu7X0f9 As you know I would usually post a gallery of my photos from the show. But sadly finding digital files doesn't always work out. It seems my drive that housed the photos was DOA and I have not found copies of them in any other of my drives at this time. So the following are three of the pics and a video I found in my phone from that magical evening: This is the only video I shot that night: https://video.wixstatic.com/video/37fc77_c443c582fe584c8bb9428cca83f5f488/1080p/mp4/file.mp4
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