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‘Sugar Man’ Rodriguez Facing Legal Action Over Ages-Old Contracts

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Sixto Rodriguez spent most of his life living in quiet obscurity until the spotlight pointed in his direction with the 2012 Oscar-winning documentary, ‘Searching for Sugar Man.’ The movie brought the Detroit singer-songwriter’s story into mass public view for the first time. Now it appears that legal problems are rising from the dust kicked up over the acclaimed film.

Rodriguez, now age 71, recorded two albums for the Sussex record label: ‘Cold Fact’ in 1970 and 1971’s ‘Coming in From Reality.’ Neither album grabbed any attention, except for in South Africa, where Rodriguez became a huge star over the years. Later, indie rockers picked up his records, which were given stellar reissues a few years back.

‘Searching for Sugar Man’ tells the story how the obscure musician, once thought dead by his own hand, had been living a quiet working-class life in Michigan. Rodriguez’s “overnight” success has since opened up a can of legal problems regarding his music deals dating back more than 40 years.

The Hollywood Reporter notes that the singer and songwriter is facing claims of breaching a songwriter deal made in the ’60s. A lawsuit filed by Gomba Music in Michigan states that prior to his signing with Interior Music (which was headed up by Clarence Avant, later chairman of the board at Motown), Rodriguez had already signed a deal with Gomba.

That company has sued Avant for “fraudulent concealment and tortuous interference,” and claim that Gomba is, in fact, the true owners of the songs found on ‘Cold Fact.’

In response, Interior Music has now filed suit against Rodriguez in Michigan court, claiming that upon signing the deal with Interior in 1970, the musician said that he owned all the rights to the songs, free and clear. Avant and Interior were aware of the earlier deal with Gomba, but claim that, in 1969, “Rodriguez provided to Gomba, in the form of a sworn affidavit, written notice of his rescission, of both the Gomba Agreement and [Harry Balk Enterprises] Agreement.”

Rodriguez is being held to “contractual obligations,” since Interior is suing him for “breaching warranties and representations.” A summons for Rodriguez’s appearance has been issued. He has not yet responded to these claims.

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