Rodriguez, the obscure Detroit songman who unknowingly earned a huge cult audience overseas, will meet with producers to discuss making a third album, his first in more than 40 years. Though adamant about having no specific plan, Rodriguez tells Rolling Stone that once he breaks from touring in June he will explore the prospect with Steve Rowland, who produced one of the lost albums resurrected in the Oscar-nominated documentary Searching for Sugar Man.
“He told me to send him a couple of tapes, so I’m gonna do that,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview from his Michigan home on Friday. “I certainly want to look him up, because now he’s full of ideas.”
Rowland, who produced 1971’s Coming From Reality and has worked with the Cure and Jerry Lee Lewis, confirmed it in an email: “We both have ideas on how the next album should go . . . We both want to work together again, but it really is up to others that are involved in his future.”
Rodriguez has also talked with Irish producer David Holmes, who featured the song “Sugar Man” on a 2002 collection, about recording again. Doing so would signal a fresh start for the 70-year-old musician, whose Herculean fan base in South Africa revered Rodriguez’s 1970 debut, Cold Fact, over albums by the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Searching for Sugar Man tracks his modest career revival following a musical journey dominated by decades of speculation over whether he was even still alive.
This month Coachella added Rodriguez to its April roster, a bill he will share with Red Hot Chili Peppers and Wu-Tang Clan. Three dozen more scheduled shows, many of them sold out, include several in South Africa, the birthplace of the momentum that swept Cape Town, Johannesburg and beyond while Cold Fact flopped Stateside. The A&M imprint Sussex Records dropped Rodriguez a month after releasing Coming From Reality. He retreated into construction work, never collecting a dime on his foreign sales, while an urban legend claiming he killed himself during a performance spurred a journalist’s quest to investigate.
Rodriguez, it turned out, had never left his hometown. Born in Detroit to Mexican immigrants, he picked up the guitar as a teenager and wrote his first songs with the aid of a dictionary and thesaurus. At 27 he cut Cold Fact, a Woodstock-era set pairing lean orchestral arrangements with lyrics of outrage toward his city’s violence, poverty and crooked politics. While rampant bootlegging among his South African base prevented Rodriguez from profiting, he has received royalties since Light in the Attic Records reissued Cold Fact and Coming From Reality five years ago. They have sold a combined 113,000 units in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, with last year’s Searching for Sugar Man soundtrack selling 60,000 copies.
The lifelong Detroit resident who once ran for mayor calls himself a “music politico,” an Obama supporter, and an activist for legalizing marijuana and forgiving student-loan debt. Though labels have offered contracts, Rodriguez maintains he has no short-term plan to enter a studio – he even unsuccessfully lobbied filmmakers to cut a reference to his “unfinished third album.
“To me it distracted,” he said. “It almost cheapened the film, like it was a promo film.
“I’ve written about 30 songs, and that’s pretty much what the public has heard,” he added, laughing when asked whether he preferred fame or obscurity. “Musicians want to be heard. So I’m not hiding. But I do like to leave it there onstage and be myself, in that sense. Because some people carry it with them.”
On Thursday, Rodriguez’s three daughters will travel with him to South Africa, where he will prepare for a string of February dates.
“It’s something I’ve waited for and something I’m ready for,” he said. “The Isley Brothers, there’s a group that stays together because they’re a family band. So in this case, it’s similar: it’s an ingredient, I think, of a success story.”