It's one of the lost classics of the '60s, a psychedelic masterpiece drenched in colour and inspired by life, love, poverty, rebellion, and, of course, "jumpers, coke, sweet mary jane". The album is Cold Fact, and what's more intriguing is that its maker - a shadowy figure known as Rodriguez - was, for many years, lost too. A decade ago, he was rediscovered working on a Detroit building site, unaware that his defining album had become not only a cult classic, but for the people of South Africa, a beacon of revolution.
Sixto Diaz Rodriguez was born in 1942 to Mexican immigrant parents in Detroit, Michigan. He recorded Cold Fact - his debut album - in 1969, and released it in March 1970. It's crushingly good stuff, filled with tales of bad drugs, lost love, and itchy-footed songs about life in late '60s inner-city America. "Gun sales are soaring/Housewives find life boring/Divorce the only answer/Smoking causes cancer," says the Dylan-esque Establishment Blues.
But the album sank without trace, thanks, in part, to some of Rodriguez's more idiosyncratic behaviour, like performing at an industry showcase with his back to the audience throughout. Cold Fact producer Mike Theodore remembers how he would only play at "hooker bars, inner city dives, and biker bars." When the follow-up, 1972's Coming From Reality, also tanked, Rodriguez called an end to his recording career. He'd never even played a proper gig. And he got on with life. Over the years, he turned his hand to local politics, philosophy, a job in a petrol station and, eventually, hard labour.
As his music career became a memory, Rodriguez's legend was growing - on the other side of the world. In South Africa and, to a lesser extent, Rhodesia, Australia and New Zealand, Cold Fact had become a major word of mouth success, particularly among young people in the South African armed forces, who identified with its counter-cultural bent. But Rodriguez was an enigma - not even the label knew where to find him - and his demise became the subject of debate and conjecture. Some rumours said he'd died of a heroin overdose or burned to death on stage. Others said he was in a mental institution, or in prison for murdering his girlfriend. Barring a couple of small-scale Australian tours in 1979 and 1981, nothing had been heard of him for almost 30 years.
But the tide began to turn in 1996, when journalist Craig Bartholemew set out to get to the bottom of the mystery. After many dead ends, he found Rodriguez alive, well, free and perfectly sane in Detroit, ending years of speculation. Rodriguez himself had no idea about his fame in South Africa (the album had gone multi-platinum, Rodriguez has received not so much as a Rand in royalties), and embarked on a triumphant South African tour followed, filling 5,000 capacity venues across the country. A documentary named Dead Men Don't Tour: Rodriguez in South Africa 1998 was screened on national TV.
Rodriguez was still largely unknown in the northern hemisphere until 2002, when Sugar Man, the album's extra-terrestrially wonderful lead track, was picked up by David Holmes. The DJ discovered the album in a New York record store, and included it on his Come Get It, I Got It compilation, re-recording the song with Rodriguez for his Free Association project a year later.
Now, Light In The Attic is set to commit Cold Fact to CD for an entire new audience, who can finally find out why - halfway across the world - Rodriguez is spoken of in the same reverent tones as The Doors, Love and Jimi Hendrix.