Searching for Sugar Man Movie Review

Sixto Rodriguez
Sixto Rodriguez

Searching for Sugar Man

Searching for Sugar Man tells the amazing story of Sixto Rodriguez, a Mexican-American songwriter and musician billed in Detroit in the 1970s as a new Bob Dylan. He never got his head above water among all the African-American Motown superstars but became a huge star in South Africa during the struggle against apartheid.

This little heart-warming documentary movie tells the story of Rodriguez's failure to catch on in the United States, his startling success in South Africa, his rumored suicide, his re-discovery by Sugar Siegelman and the movie's Swedish director, Malik Bendjelloul, and his amazing comeback from total obscurity in the late 1990s. Highly recommended for the entire family.

[Rodriguez is alive and well in Detroit living in the same inner city house where he has lived for the past 40 years.]

Establishment Blues, Sixto Rodriguez

Sixto Live in San Francisco

Sixto Rodriguez Pursues Royalties

Could some answers finally be on the way for Sixto Rodriguez?

After decades of murkiness about his record sales and royalties, a legal and accounting team has begun an inquiry for the enigmatic singer-songwriter, the Free Press has learned.

The move comes as 70-year-old Rodriguez gears up for the biggest hometown show of his career, tonight at the sold-out Masonic Temple Theatre in Detroit.

Related: Expect a magical night at sold-out Masonic Saturday

It could resolve a big question that was raised — but unanswered — in the Oscar-winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” which chronicled Rodriguez’s South African success in the 1970s and ’80s as he remained a virtual unknown back home, where he took up manual labor jobs.

“An attorney and a royalty auditing firm have been engaged by Rodriguez to try and find out what’s going on with respect to his royalties — or lack of royalties,” said New York attorney Mark Levinsohn, who has been retained by the singer.

Gary Cohen, a veteran New York record-label auditor, also has been enlisted.

They’ll seek answers about Rodriguez’s royalties situation from “both the past and, even more important, the present and future,” Levinsohn said.

In “Sugar Man,” an interviewer confronts former Sussex Records founder Clarence Avant about income from sales of Rodriguez albums in apartheid-era South Africa, claimed to be in the hundreds of thousands.

“You think somebody’s going to worry about a 1970 contract?” Avant responds at one point. “If you do, you’re out of your ... mind.”

Reached Friday at his Los Angeles office, Avant said of Rodriguez: “I wish him the best. The fame will be over within a year.”

“I’m happy for Rodriguez. I’m glad this thing came about,” said Avant. “It just pisses me off that all of a sudden (people are saying), ‘We’re owed this, we’re owed that.’ ”

Avant declined to discuss any potential legal action directed toward him but said he has a meeting scheduled Monday with his attorneys. He confirmed they had been contacted this week by an attorney representing Rodriguez.

Avant emphasized that he had been unaware of Rodriguez’s South African album sales at the time, saying they were bootlegged copies not licensed by him.

As far as he knew, said Avant, Rodriguez’s music career had tanked and ended.

“Even when I tried to give his (recording) masters away, nobody wanted to take them,” said Avant, who went on to chair Motown Records in the 1990s.

Rodriguez has been touring, and attempts to reach Regan Rodriguez, his daughter and manager, were unsuccessful.

For Rodriguez’s team, the first step could be auditing the books of the defunct Sussex, which released albums by Rodriguez in 1970 (“Cold Fact”) and 1971 (“Coming from Reality”). Such audits are common in the record industry, usually undertaken by active artists to ensure proper royalty payments. Federal law provides avenues to sue for auditing access if a record company resists.

Because Rodriguez’s music career quickly fizzled in the U.S. — while soaring in South Africa and Australia, unbeknownst to him — he sought no such audit at the time.

Also unclear are the payment terms spelled out in his original Sussex deal.

The Rodriguez team may have to unravel a complex web of decades-old contracts, bookkeeping records and overseas distribution deals as they try to track what money went where — and what might be owed to the singer.

“The truth is, (royalties) have been negligible, almost nonexistent,” said another source close to Rodriguez, who asked not to be named because legal efforts are in early stages. “Is it really possible there’s no money? That just doesn’t make any sense.”

Rodriguez has enjoyed healthy sales at Amazon and iTunes in the wake of “Sugar Man,” appearing for stretches on their best-seller charts. His first two albums had already been licensed by Avant to Seattle’s Light in the Attic Records, which reissued them in 2008 and ’09.

“Everybody’s received royalties since our reissues,” said Light in the Attic founder Matt Sullivan. He said Rodriguez has regularly called him to confirm receipt of royalty checks from Avant.

With Avant’s approval, Light in the Attic sublicensed the material to Sony Legacy for the “Sugar Man” soundtrack, released last year. Avant said he and Light in the Attic split an advance payment from Sony, and that his share was then split with Rodriguez.

“Cold Fact” has sold 140,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, with 69,000 for “Coming from Reality” and 108,000 for the “Sugar Man” soundtrack.

Even as Rodriguez’s team ramps up its royalties investigation, Rodriguez is already benefiting from the surge of attention spawned by “Sugar Man.” Less than two years since he was gigging at cozy Detroit clubs such as the Old Miami and Magic Stick, Rodriguez is playing theaters across the country to sold-out crowds paying up to $80 for seats. His fall schedule already includes headline bookings at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and Barclays Center.

Contact Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or bmccollum@freepress.com

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Comments 19 comments

Wizard Of Whimsy profile image

Wizard Of Whimsy 4 years ago from The Sapphire City

Thanks Ralph, I'll keep an eye out for it. Meanwhile, don't pass up, "The Intouchables"—it's a superb movie!


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 4 years ago Author

Thanks! Will do.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

Excellent hub....the title pulled me in....as I was trying to figure out who Sugarman was....and now I know. Sounds like with a few breaks he could have become another Bob Dylan. When I played the Sugar man music video I realized that I had heard the song before. Thanks for all of this information on Sixto Rodriguez.

P.S. At least you can understand the words Sixto is singing versus some of the Dylan songs.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 4 years ago Author

Tnx for your comment. Amazon has his albums, but the movie isn't available yet.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Ralph, I have to admit I'd never heard of Sugarman. Thanks for bringing him to my attention.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 4 years ago Author

Thanks. I live in Detroit, and I'd not heard of him either until I read a review of the movie and saw it last week. His albums sold 500,000 copies in South Africa and practically none in the U.S.


H.Ralph-1501 Letitia 4 years ago

Hi Ralph, thanks for the tip. Sixto is one I'll watch for at the local Art house theater. His name reminds me of a student I once had named "Tres" because he was the 3rd born.

You and followers of this Hub should also check out "The Odd Life of Timothy Green," which is currently playing. It is kinda hokey and definitely requires strong "suspension of disbelief." Still it held my interest for three reasons: An intriguing plot, superb acting, and constant surprises and plot twists. We were laughing out loud much of the time, and couldn't keep from tearing up at the end -- but it isn't a "tear jerker." Features two very young rising stars, and probably no names you'll recognize,.

Here's a synopsis:

Rated PG‎‎ - Drama/Comedy/Scifi/Fantasy‎

Director: Peter Hedges - Cast: Jennifer Garner, Joel Edgerton, CJ Adams, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Ron Livingston

"The Odd Life of Timothy Green," an inspiring, magical story about a happily married couple, Cindy and Jim Green, who can't wait to start a family, but can only dream about what their child would be like. When young Timothy shows up on their doorstep one stormy night, Cindy and Jim -- and their small town of Stanleyville -- learn that sometimes the unexpected can bring some of life's greatest gifts.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 4 years ago Author

Thanks Leticia for the comment and tip on "Timothy Green."


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 4 years ago Author

7-27-12NYTimes--Manohla Dargis Review of "Searching for Sugar Man"

Malik Bendjelloul’s ‘Searching for Sugar Man’ - NYTimes.com

A Swedish filmmaker seeks to solve the mystery of a Detroit musician who disappeared after his first album bombed, but whose songs became immensely popular in 1970s South Africa.


H. Ralph Rawls 4 years ago

H.Ralph-1501 Letitia is not "Leticia": It's the guy who moved into your former residence at that address about 70 years ago.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 4 years ago Author

Thanks, Ralph.


H. Ralph 4 years ago

Just saw the previews of "Searching for Sugar Man" at the Bajou in San Antonio. It'll be here soon, I'll report back when I've seen it.

Saw "Ruby Sparks" which has much in common with "The Odd Life of Timothy Green," that was mentioned above 12 days ago. In "Green" a childless couple make a boy come to life, in "Sparks" a lonely 28 year old makes the girl of his dreams come to life -- naturally with unexpected results. Again, kind of hokey, but thankfully not a teenage boy's fantasy either. Worth seeing. Check it out at:

http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20483133_20589531,...


Gina145 profile image

Gina145 3 years ago from South Africa

I live in South Africa and I was horrified to discover that this wonderful singer in unknown in his own country. I hope that will change once people see this movie.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

Since the movie came out Rodriguez has been doing sellout concerts in the U.S. 60 Minutes devoted part of their TV show this week to Sixto. If you get a chance to see the movie, don't miss it.

Thanks for your comment.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 3 years ago from South Africa

Proud of Sixto Rodriguez. Love his music!

And I agree with Gina :(


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

Thanks for your comment. Come to Detroit and hear him in person!


Gina145 profile image

Gina145 3 years ago from South Africa

He's coming to South Africa again early in 2013 so we don't need to come to Detroit.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

2-25-13DetroitFreePress--Searching for Sugar Man Another Win for Detroit?

Searching for Sugar Man Leads for Best Documentary Oscar

SIxto Rodriguez and his unlikely path to overseas fame is being talked about as a sure thing for a best documentary — and has already gathered enough accolades to line one of the gritty Motown blocks that the the singer-songwriter walks in the film.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

5-19-13FreePress--Sixto Rodriguez Delights Hometown Crowd

Sixto Rodriguez takes Detroit stage to enchant hometown crowd Detroit Free Press freep.com

You could practically feel the buzz crackling inside the Masonic Temple Theatre Saturday night, where Rodriguez hit the stage for a triumphant homecoming night.

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