January 8th, 2015

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Rodriguez in Detroit

Rodriguez with his guitar

One day Mike Theodore and I got a call from Rainy Moore, The manager/girlfriend of urban folk singer Rodriguez. She told us Rodriguez had been dropped from Harry Balk’s record label Impact and was looking for a new deal. We had done some arrangements for Harry on Rodriguez so we knew who he was. Rainy told us Rodriguez was performing at a Detroit club called The Sewer. This club was located downtown by the Detroit River.
Mike and I got there, parked our car in the lot and went inside. The place had a small crowd and was very dark and smoky. I could hear freighters blowing their horns as they went up and down the river. I looked around and heard a guitar and voice. I looked for the source and there was Rodriguez sitting at the far end of the room singing and playing guitar facing the wall with his back to the audience. That was the first time I had seen him perform. I couldn’t really see much of Rodriguez through the smoke but that forced me to concentrate on his music. After a few songs we were both hooked. Rodriguez sounded like an urban Bob Dylan. He had a way of telling stories about life in the inner city that really got our attention. This guy was good!
We agreed to approach Clarence Avant who was the president at Venture/MGM records about signing Rodriguez. We took Rodriguez to Tera Shirma Studios and recorded a demo and sent it off to Clarence. The rest became music history. Clarence signed Rodriguez and Mike and I recorded the Cold Fact album. We always thought Rodriguez had the goods but never figured out why it took so long for him to make it. He was so shy at first that we recorded him strumming his guitar and singing and after he went home, we overdubbed other musicians around him. That is why I played the bass on “I Wonder” and three other songs. Later we put together a band including Bob Babbitt on bass and me on lead guitar and recorded Rodriguez live in the studio.
I had the chance to open for Rodriguez in Birmingham and London, England this year. Both places were packed and we had a blast! Rodriguez did a great show. I remember him calling me up back in the 70s when his albums weren’t selling. Rodriguez was studying the concert venues and the amount of money made in ticket sales when he had no chance of doing any big concerts. The irony was now he was talking about these same kinds of concert venues and he was performing at them.
When film director Malik Bendjelloul and his lighting assistant first knocked on my door and told me they were doing a documentary on Rodriguez, I was more than happy to help. I even got John Colbert, the owner of Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit to open up on their off day we could do some filming there. I think the brilliance of Malik and his point of view made the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” an academy award winning film and got Rodriguez the attention and record sales he deserved. I was happy to be in the film in the opening segment. I was saddened when I heard that Malik died at the age of 36. He seemed to be such a gentle man and great film visionary.

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Dennis Coffey