‘Rockville’. The word alone would seem to demand a respectful rock-on hand gesture to be waved proudly in the air (lizard-like tongue and crazy eyes optional). However, this is not your average hard-hitting, what-you-expect-is-what-you-get rock musical. If anything, it should be called a peace musical. Inspired by the ‘flower power’ concept of peace and love upheld during the time of the Vietnam War during the 1960s, the message that comes through loud and clear is one of change, hope, and the dire need to preserve our earth for future generations.
According to Rockville composer, Johnny Ray, Rockville 2069 can be briefly described as a “futuristic rock musical that is at heart a love story set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world.”
With buzz words like ‘1960’s Woodstock’, ‘sci-fi’, ‘rock’ and ‘post-apocalyptic’ running through my head, I’m not quite sure how to categorise the genre of this production; an umbrella term would simply not be accurate enough.
“The whole amazing Rodriguez story has inspired many people in many ways, specially with the film ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ bringing this moving story of this unique musician and his music to a whole new international audience. My good friend John Samson, an ex-South African now living in London, was inspired a few years ago to write a series of short stories that take the evocative lyrics from the ‘Cold Fact’ album as their starting point, and then proceeds to weave a series of sweet, strange, touching, and sometimes weird tales from this emerging writer’s extremely fertile brain. And always looming in the background of these tales is that man in black with the hat and the guitar, sometimes involved sometimes not, but always relevant, just like Rodriguez.” – Stephen “Sugar” Segerman, August 2012
Had a great evening on Saturday night at the launch of Rockville 2069.
Rockville 2069 is a futuristic rock musical that is at heart a love story set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world and steeped in the philosophies that characterise the rebellion of the sixties, the seventies and those that are currently shaping our world.
Rockville 2069 is a fully orchestrated production that sees over 60 artists and musicians from different cultural and musical backgrounds collaborating to bring a new, sometimes discordant, always thrilling voice to the rock musical scene. The result is an emotionally soaring journey of caution, hope, optimism, rebellion and joy. It’s a lyrical roller-coaster ride you’ll want to take again and again.
The music was written by Johnny Ray, arranged by Johnny Ray and Kyle Peterson and masterfully adapted and scored by Darryl Andrews. The album was produced by TLC productions and tracked and mixed at the Nut House Recording Studio, under the musical direction of Andrew Ford and mastered by Tim Lengfeld of TL Mastering. The CD distribution is contracted to EMI, and the release is due in early September. There are a total of 22 tracks on the album.
I often joke with people in the UK that I didn’t leave South Africa of my own free will, but was actually kicked out because I was not fanatical about rugby and I didn’t drink, both activities that white South African males are meant to excel at. I could also have said in 1996, when I moved from South Africa to the UK, that a further reason for my being exiled was that I did not own a copy of ‘Cold Fact’ by Rodriguez. However no one in the UK would have understood what I was talking about.
But now with Malik Bendjelloul’s brilliant film ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ bringing Rodriguez to the world’s attention, I can mention the omission in my music collection and not be met with question mark faces. I am still not a huge rugby fan and have not taken to drinking alcohol, but I did rectify the lack of ‘Cold Fact’ problem on one of my early trips back to SA a couple of years after moving. I had been familiar with the album’s distinctive cover from many an hour spent flicking through the albums at my local record shop, but as a teenager in the 80’s I was hell bent on finding the next big New Romantic band and had no interest in ‘fossil music’ as I thought of it back then.
A further reason for the lack of ‘Cold Fact’ in my collection was that I managed to avoid military training (where a lot of guys were introduced to Rodriguez’ music) and counted my days working at the Receiver of Revenue, which I regarded as the lesser of two evils. Purchasing ‘Cold Fact’ became almost mandatory when I was lucky enough to befriend Brian Currin and Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman, both of whom played a part in discovering the fate of Rodriguez. I was drawn into the world of the SA Rock Digest, an online music magazine focussing on South African Rock music, which Brian and Sugar had set up. With two such music aficionados as friends, I quickly discovered gaping holes in my music knowledge, especially regarding the rock scene in South African in the 70’s.
I began to correct this problem so as not to look foolish in front of my new found friends and part of the polyfilla (spackling paste to those not familiar with this brand) to mend the gaps was purchasing a copy of ‘Cold Fact.’ I don’t recall ever having heard the album before that and, given its banned status on the radio, could not have unknowingly heard it there, but as the first chords of ‘Sugar Man’ wafted through my speakers, I knew the song. It was as if it was a part of the ether in South Africa and had just soaked into me whether I had heard it or not. ‘I Wonder’ was also familiar to me and the rest of the album, although less soaked in, was also striking a nagging familiar chord.
Yes, unless you believe in the collective consciousness, I must have heard the album somewhere before that ‘first’ listen, but I cannot for the life of me remember where. That said, a part of me does like to believe that the music was just in the air we breathed in SA, that it was, and will always just somehow be there, as essentially part of life as oxygen and sunshine. This image, to me, seems to fit in with the mystical and almost mythical character that is Rodriguez.
Almost all the recent fan messages on the Sugarman.org website are from people saying they have never heard of Rodriguez before. Many even apologize for not listening to him in the 1970s.
I can’t remember when exactly I first heard ‘Cold Fact’. For me his music just always seemed to have been there. A number of the mixtapes from my teenage years show “Sugar Man”, “Rich Folks Hoax” and “I Wonder” as being from 1973/74 when I was about 14/15.
I was wrong, of course, but didn’t know that until much later.
A long time ago, I compiled a series of C90 mixtapes called The Story Of Rock, with all the information lovingly catalogued and hand-written in hard cover books.
Page 13 of Book 7 shows the track listing for “The Story Of Rock 1973 to 1974” and includes the following songs:
Long Train Running – The Doobie Brothers
We Live – Xit
Sugar Man – Rodriguez
Radar Love – Golden Earring
Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple
Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
The Ballad Of Casey Deiss – Shawn Phillips
Rich Folks Hoax – Rodriguez
We’re An American Band – Grand Funk Railroad
Other artists include Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers Band, Yes, Focus, Chicago and more. And Rodriguez was the only one that got two entries! The next page shows “The Story Of Rock 1974 to 1976” and includes “I Wonder” alongside songs by Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher, Pink Floyd, Genesis, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Uriah Heep, Nazareth and others.
I am finding it impossible to imagine what it must be like to not grow up listening to his music alongside all those other well-known classic rock bands. I know I never heard him on the radio, but that wasn’t that strange as a number of my “Story Of Rock” artists didn’t get much radio play any way.
But that he wasn’t famous in the rest of the world, didn’t cross my mind. When I first discovered the internet during the 1996 Festive Season, I could find information on Pink Floyd and Deep Purple, however I could find nothing on Rodriguez. And that started me on a quest, that just seems to be continuously having happy endings.
Without trying to sound too melodramatic, I would not be living the life I do now, and earning my income from doing what I love, if it was not for Rodriguez and all the sparks that he ignited.