...‘My story isn’t a rags to riches story,’ Rodriguez says. ‘It’s rags to rags and I’m glad about that. Where other people live in an artificial world, I feel I live in the real world. And nothing beats reality.’
Ten minutes have passed, a loving daughter has worked her magic, and Rodriguez is in a mellow, generous, expansive mood. With his black, silver braided, military-style jacket and his peace-symbol scarf, he looks every inch the classic, hippy-era rock star. But without the matching ego. It seems the difficulty earlier was the result, not of rock star diva-ishness, but of a reaction to some medication, which in turn has led to some uncomfortable and unphotogenic swelling beneath Rodriguez’s nose.
So I tell him what I’ve been dying to tell him ever since I first heard his debut album Cold Fact when it was re-released last year: that the only thing more amazing than the record – a fried, hazy, gloriously tuneful, psychedelic folk rock classic to rank with Love’s Forever Changes – is the fact that it sank almost without trace on its release in 1970.
The singing on it is just perfect – the sand-and-glue mellifluousness of early Dylan, the sweetness of a James Taylor, the soul of Marvin Gaye. The melodies – on at least 10 out of the 12 tracks – are naggingly catchy and often heartbreakingly lovely. The lyrics are pure essence of high Sixties anxiety, paranoia, dirty social realism and druggy escapism.
Surely he must feel slightly bitter that his talents went unappreciated? ‘Never believe the PR. Never believe the press,’ he says, grateful none the less for the kind words. He insists he’s not remotely bitter about the way his career has gone. ‘This is the music business. There’s no guarantees.’...
...Talking to Rodriguez it becomes clear that personal politics have always been more important to him than commercial success, which may explain why when he got his big break in 1969, he couldn’t quite bring himself to play the game. Teamed up by a new record label – Sussex – with his old pals Coffey and Theodore, bolstered by some top-class musicians (including a horn section) and given a reasonable mixing budget, Rodriguez was ready to launch his masterpiece – Cold Fact – on the world. All he needed was a bit of airplay and publicity.
But he did himself few favours. He’d alienate fans by always playing his gigs with his back to the audience. ‘I was concentrating on the music, thinking of the lyrics,’ he claims now. And at a key music industry showcase in Los Angeles, he invited a member of the Brown Berets – the Hispanic equivalent of the Black Panthers – to join him on stage and sound off about injustice, which wasn’t what the suits wanted to hear at all. Cold Fact bombed. Its follow-up Coming From Reality, performed even worse. At which point Rodriguez realised he’d need to pursue other avenues if he was to pay the bills. ...