Rodriguez Credit: Courtesy the Artist

When obscure downer-folk singer Sixto Rodriguez announced his 2009 show at Schubas, I was beyond thrilled—and nearly in shock. Outside record-collector circles, hardly anyone seemed to be aware of the Detroit musician’s work. It was practically impossible to get a copy of the records he’d made in the early 70s (except for bootlegs), and rumors persisted that he’d been shot and killed years before, so hearing that he was alive was a welcome surprise. In concert, backed by a bunch of cool Detroit cats, the man was mesmerizing: he told offhand tales about his life and made radical political statements, and his songs sounded as urgent as ever. The following morning, I had the good fortune to interview Rodriguez for issue nine of my magazine, Galactic Zoo Dossier (published by Drag City), and I found him charming, hilarious, and self-effacing. When I asked about the first time he’d heard the final mix of his debut album, 1970’s Cold Fact, he said, “I sounded better than I thought I did.” That record is now acknowledged as a classic of trippy-yet-gritty dystopian folk, with Rodriguez gently singing melodies that describe the urban decay of his hometown, its various characters, and a string of lovers who’d wronged him. Rodriguez’s impossibly cynical and critical vibe throughout Cold Fact stands in stark contrast to his more conventionally romantic and commercial-sounding second LP, Coming From Reality, recorded in England and released in 1971. When I asked about that record’s more refined approach, Rodriguez admitted that he wanted it to launch him into the mainstream—but in the end, it took nearly three decades for anything like that to happen for him. Around 1997, after his daughter stumbled on a website dedicated to his music, he became aware that he had a huge following in South Africa and Australia. In 2009, Light in the Attic reissued Rodriguez’s two early-70s albums, and in 2012, he finally shot to global stardom when the efforts that two South African fans made to discover what had happened to him and bring him to their country to perform were documented in the film Searching for Sugar Man. Rodriguez is now 77, and earlier this year, he was forced to cancel tour dates in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada due to health issues. Though he has two more gigs scheduled after his Chicago appearance, he has yet to announce any shows past that. If you skip this one, you just might miss your only chance to catch this legendary survivor and subversive icon onstage.   v