Chasing the Sugarman- tribute to Rodriguez – live music tribute

Where and when: Kalk Bay Theatre, Brass Bell Kalk Bay February 4 and 5, 2024 -look out for more performance dates
Booking link:
Address: Brass Bell Restaurants & Pubs, 71a Main Rd, Kalk Bay, Cape Town, 7990, South
Created by: Liam McDermott
Band: Liam McDermott (acoustic guitar and lead vocals), Steven Dennet (bass guitar), Ray Adam Morgan (drums), Gareth Christie (lead guitar) and Raiven Hasnmann (sax and keys)  

Goosebumps. This is what it felt like attending, Chasing the Sugarman- tribute to Rodriguez, at the Kalk Bay Theatre in Cape Town. This live music tribute was created by South African songwriter and singer, Liam McDermott. In the tribute, he is on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, accompanied by his band: Steven Dennet (bass guitar), Ray Adam Morgan (drums), Gareth Christie (lead guitar) and Raiven Hasnmann (sax and keys). In just over an hour, they captivate the audience with the hits of Rodriguez who was from Detroit, Michigan, USA.  

The studio album, Cold Fact, (1970), by Rodriguez was a sensation in South Africa. He was HUGE in South Africa. Rodriguez also had some success in Australia. He was largely ignored in his home country. Cold Factor resonated with left-leaning white South Africans, searching for a protest soundtrack in Apartheid South Africa. Rodriguez sang about social injustice, the divide between the rich and poor, drugs, poverty, getting high, navigating the city, relationships and struggles of making a living. His gritty track, Sugarman became something of an anthem for young white South Africans.

According to various sources on the internet and mentioned in the show by Liam McDermott, Rodriguez sold more records in South Africa than Elvis. This was before Spotify and streaming. I cannot verify the demographic of those who bought Cold Fact but I am assuming that it was largely by white youth. To conetextualise, Abdullah Ibrahim (born Adolph Johannes Brand on October 9, 1934 and formerly known as Dollar Brand) first recorded his Anti-Apartheid jazz song, Mannenberg, in 1974. Rodriguez had no inkling of his fame in South Africa, until he was located in the 1990s. The search for the Sugarman was conjured up in Malik Benjelloul’s documentary film, Searching for Sugar Man (2012) which received the Oscar for best documentary. Rodriguez died age 81 on August 8, 2023, at the age of 81. [See the official Rodriguez site].

The fame and legend of Rodriguez persists with his lyrical and gritty lyrics sounding very contemporary in this mad and sad world. In his touching narration, McDermott unpacks some of the stories around Rodriguez. He lived a simple and modest life in Detroit. Although fans around the world were chasing him (it was thought that he was dead), he was leading a humble life in Detroit, with music on the side. The documentary led to belated fame and tours in South Africa, Australia and elsewhere. Rodriguez remained largely unfazed by his fame and apparently sanguine at being cheated out of royalties.

In Chasing the Sugarman- tribute to Rodriguez– McDermott and his band conjure up the life of the iconic Rodriguez and his beautifully written songs – with haunting lyrics. Rodriguez lived a hard life and the pain and struggles are evidenced in his songs and the folksy-rock arrangements, dripping in acid notes of loss and despair.  In addition to tracks from Cold Fact, the band also sings some numbers from Rodriguez 1971 album, Coming from Reality. I am not acquainted with Coming from Reality. For me, Rodriguez is Cold Fact – Sugarman and Inner City Blues etc. It was interesting to be exposed to another side to the legend.

Chasing the Sugarman- tribute to Rodriguez, was first presented in October 2023 at The Kalk Bay Theatre, playing to sold-out houses. On the night that we attended, the demographic was age 60ish to 70ish with a sprinkling of younger faces. The audience was rapt, in awe, almost stunned by the songs and there was a resounding ovation in appreciation. Chasing the Sugarman is an elegiac and moving tribute to Rodriguez, with stirring vocals and lovely musical arrangements. There are two shows on February 4 and 5, 2024.

✳Chasing the Sugarman- tribute to Rodriguez, Kalk Bay Theatre, Cape Town. Pic by © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen, January 16, 2024.