the AU interview: Rodriguez (USA) talks Australian tour and Searching for Sugarman

Rock N Roll is full of myths, legends and tall tales. In 2012 with the release of the award winning documentary Searching for Sugarman, the extraordinary story of Detroit musician Rodriguez was revealed to the world. Since the release of the documentary and the re-release of his albums Cold Fact and Coming from Reality, Rodriguez has found himself the subject of renewed media and fan interest at home in the United States, Europe and the rest of the world.

I caught up with Rodriguez ahead of his impending Australian tour – which kicks off this weekend – to discuss not only the upcoming tour, but also what it was like touring Australia back in the 1970s and 1980s.

Hello, how are you?

Hi this is Rodriguez. I’m good; we’re in Detroit, where are you located?

I’m across in Perth.

Ah you’re across in Perth, ah good. Tell us all about it.

It’s looking pretty good today. The sun’s out at least.

I told them I didn’t want to play Perth. I said it’s too far. And I mean I’m not kidding you know.

No, I’m kidding, and they went ahead and did it anyway.

I should probably start with congratulations; the tour is selling incredibly well, with extra dates added in most if not all of the cities; that must have you looking forward to the tour?

Yes. Though there are four that haven’t sold out yet, so we’ll have to see how they go. It’s a countdown you know.

Since the release of Searching for Sugarman in 2012 you’ve been touring extensively worldwide, how have you been enjoying being back out on the road?

Yes. We’ve done Europe, we did three shows out in Warsaw. I never thought I’d do Warsaw, but there we are. And we’re doing well at the festivals in Europe. And we did the States as well, the States were late, so I don’t feel so bad about forgetting about them for a minute (laughs). But yeah we’re doing great out on the road, we’re making our living, so we’re looking forward to Perth, and the rest of Australia.

You’ve toured Australia a few times now, so you toured first in the late 70s, and toured with Midnight Oil in the 80s I was just wondering what those tours were like?

I’ve done Australia four times. I started out in Australia in ’79, I thought that was the height, the top; I thought that was it you know. Then I got back in ’81 with Midnight Oil and I did one show at Tanelorn, there were twenty top Australian bands, Men at Work before they had their haircuts, Split Endz was there, and rest in peace Billy Thorpe was there. And I was the American band; I was the single one, solo at 3 o’clock in the morning. It was an incredible time. We had a hydraulic stage, which brought you down because the winds got too heavy, everybody had to get back to their cars, and it was real cold. But it was great. You know what I mean? It was that kind of an adventure. It was memorable; I certainly don’t forget a second of it you know. And I’m 72 so I have the seniors’ advantage (laughs).

Do you get much time off when you’re on the road now?

We’ve been off for about two months now, maybe two and half. But we’re always on; we’re always doing something. We’re doing things at the University. Wayne State University. They gave me a Doctorate in Humane Letters, so we’re hooking up with students down here in Detroit.

But my success started in Australia, in 1979 as an international act, and then South Africa I did in ’98 which is all in the film. I didn’t have anything to do with the making of the documentary, beyond my eight minutes. I didn’t choose who was going to be in the documentary, choose who was going to be in the film, what they said, where he went to get the information. I didn’t have anything to do with editing or any part of that. I just did my own stunts is all (laughs).

There always has to be that element of mythology in Rock N Roll so I guess you’ve now got your own mythic story

Exactly. Exactly.

Now looking back at some of your recent set-lists you’ve been playing a few cover songs by artists like Sinatra, Nina Simone, Cole Porter, are these artists that you consider to be influential on your work?

I consider myself a musician. The thing is I like to play homage to those writers. I love American writers: like Carl Perkins and Jimmy Reed. I try to do different songs, I’m going to do a 1930’s song, a 1940’s song and a song from the 1950s. I try to do ten minutes or so, I try to keep my songs to three minutes, so I can fit some more into my set. When you have a band it enlarges your set plan out, but we try to keep the set fresh. Most people just listen to recordings and so forth, you know TV and things like that. Music today is a lot of vocal distortion or instrument distortion. I try to keep it simple.

I was going to ask you, do you still listen to a lot of music, do you still take pleasure in listening to music?

I don’t like to listen to music as much as I study music. I listen to the arrangements. I especially like to know who wrote the song. Is it more than one writer, is it more than one writer on that piece. You know some of these songs, they’ve got three or four writers, and some of those moguls or whatever gets credit for writing the song, and it’s ripping off the industry. So we make it up with the live performance you know.

It does seem like the live venue is becoming more and more important to bands and artists given the changes with the industry. CDs and records seem to have taken a little bit of a back seat.

Well we’re writing stuff. And we’re going to get into the studio soon, and if it happens over there, then well that suits me. I mean I’m all about today, some people tend to live in the past; and well you can’t live in your past, or anyone else’s past for that matter. Or you shouldn’t anyway. You can only be now. A lot of guys are living twenty years ahead of their time. It just doesn’t happen. They’ve got to take a day at a time. And that goes for anything in regards to addiction and the rest of it. They can only do one day at a time, and I know about all these issues, from real experience, and I want to pass on that experience to the young bloods; they’re like my stepfamily.

I think there was talk last year of you possibly heading back into the studio and you just mentioned it then as well, can you maybe give us any updates?

Maybe it’ll happen in Perth. I really don’t hold back when or if the vibes are good.

I have about thirteen bands in different places, and the thing is I enjoy playing with them, and they are all accomplished musicians. They can play, and some of the pressures of being on the road get to people, you have to have some stamina. It can drive you crazy; and all the corruption. But I’m not focused on that. We’re going to pursue that whole legal thing as time permits. So it’s all cool.

But my focus is on this tour. We’re going to deal with this other stuff that was brought up from the film later. The film has to have a category of journalism, and rest in peace the director, he was talented, and Sweden is at a loss. It (the film) has done a lot for me, but Australia picked me up in ’79 and ’81 was where it started and then I didn’t tour again until ’98. I played Perth then too, it was young bloods, all young bloods then.

I guess one of the things I’ve always wondered was whether in that time when you weren’t as active in the public scene, were you still playing music as a personal thing?

Oh yeah. I can’t sleep sometimes, you know insomnia, and so I’d lay down with my guitar and that would help pass the time.

And did you continue to write songs as well?

Sorry I just need to grab some water. Got to stay hydrated. Yes I am writing, and I did write, and I practice. I’ve got to keep current. Though I don’t get much chance on the road, there’s going to be a lot of press, which I don’t mind because it helps us out here on the mainland. Some guys’ say they are from the motherland, some guys say they are from fatherland. I’m from the mainland.

I guess leading on from that idea of keeping practicing and keeping writing, do you think your approach to songwriting has changed?

No I do it the same way. I find an isolated area; I play to the wall, because you know critics are everywhere you know (laughs). I just get my head down, keep my eyes closed, and I’m trying to write and listen. I play by ear you see. And I do covers to prove that I can play, they think I can only play my own stuff, but that’s why I do covers. I limit my songs to three minutes, so I can get more in a set. I’m going to a 30s tune, a 40s tune and then do my own stuff. I’m conscious of my audience; and some times I even do Happy Birthday. You know some people forget their audience, especially those heavy metal guys. I like electronic music, because the dance moves are so new. You know rock n roll, everyone is just going back and forward.

You said before you were doing some work at the Wayne Smith University Campus, what sort of work are you doing there? Is it music related?

Oh no, thank you, I didn’t go to university for music. I’m self-taught, and I play by ear. I meet with the soldiers on campus; there are about 600 veterans from different conflicts. And the president of the university introduced me, and we’ve been to a couple of functions. It’s all very formal stuff, but we’re meeting a lot of people, and we’re interested in education.

But it’s not only education, it’s also enlightenment. It’s a great opportunity to discuss and deal with issues, issues like violence against women, police brutality, those kinds of issues, and international issues, like with the Ukraine. History is important; sometimes the young bloods forget that.

Well I’ve got to leave it there, thanks so much for taking the time to have a chat. Enjoy the tour

Thank you for the opportunity for the interview, and hopefully see you in Perth.


October 17 – Riverstage, Brisbane | 136 100
October 19 – Convention Centre, Brisbane Sold Out | 132 849
October 21 – Opera House, Sydney Sold Out
October 23 – Opera House, Sydney Sold Out | 02 9270 7111
October 25 – Palais Theatre, Melbourne Sold Out
October 26 – Palais Theatre, Melbourne Sold Out | 136 100
October 29 – AEC Theatre, Adelaide | 132 849
November 2 – Palais Theatre, Melbourne Sold Out | 136 100
November 4 – State Theatre, Sydney Sold Out | 136 100
November 6 – Kings Park & Botanic Garden, Perth
November 7 – Kings Park & Botanic Garden, Perth Sold Out
November 9 – Kings Park & Botanic Garden, Perth Sold Out | 136 100
November 12 – State Theatre, Sydney Sold Out | 136 100
November 15 – The Plenary, Melbourne | 136 100

Tickets on sale now.


This content has recently been ported from its original home on The AU Review: Music and may have formatting errors – images may not be showing up, or duplicated, and galleries may not be working. We are slowly fixing these issue. If you spot any major malfunctions making it impossible to read the content, however, please let us know at editor AT

Simon Clark

Books Editor. An admirer of songs and reader of books. Simon has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. All errant apostrophes are his own.