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Phil harmonic: 40 years of Phil Rodriguez

Back in 1977, barely any international artists made the journey to Latin America. After 40 years of tireless work by Phil Rodriguez, now every act demands to go there

By IQ on 22 Nov 2017

Ed Sheeran, Phil Rodriguez

Phil with Ed Sheeran (he's the ginger one)

Every great career starts somewhere, and usually it’s somewhere ignominious.

With Phil Rodriguez, for 40 years the Latin American tour guide, cultural translator and problem-solver for artists from The Ramones to Guns N’ Roses to Ed Sheeran, the difference is that he freely admits it.

In his case, it was 1977 with Joe Cocker – Rodriguez’s first tour as a promoter. Problems piled up along the route: an angry Mexican promoter confiscated the band’s passports; the Brazilian sound systems, cobbled together from three suppliers, were horrendously out of phase. By his own account, Rodriguez was an innocent, barely hanging on amid the madness.

“In a hotel in Buenos Aires, I walked in on Joe’s manager – Michael Lang of Woodstock fame – talking about me on the phone, saying, ‘the kid is way out of his depth.’ The patience he had with me was incredible.”

Rodriguez’s best stories – legendary among those who consider him a friend or ally – tend to have quality ingredients: high-stakes shows in heady Latin American cities; famous rock stars enjoying rock-star “pursuits”; currency headaches, nightmarish infrastructures, dangerously prickly military regimes; and a promoter in the thick of things, grappling with it all in a continent where you get nothing on a plate.

“Unlike America, Canada, Europe, England, where there’s a minor league, we never had that in South America. So you had to learn by banging your head against the wall, busting your ass”

“The big, important thing to note,” says Rodriguez, in defense of his early mishaps, “is that, unlike America, Canada, Europe, England, where there’s a minor league – a system for you to learn your trade, do your apprenticeship – we never had that in South America. So you had to learn by banging your head against the wall, busting your ass.”

When Rodriguez came into the South American live business – “I fell ass-backwards into it,” he specifies – it was through a combination of ambition, circumstance and sheer naivety. In those days, there was barely a wall to bang your head against – just a big, wild mass of territories where British and American bands simply didn’t go.

Today, they go there in droves, though that exotic quality remains, and agents and managers queue up to sing the praises of a man who has done more than perhaps any other to pave the road from the English-language markets down to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and other key 21st century touring spots.

Ed Sheeran manager Stuart Camp says he couldn’t imagine operating in Latin America without him. Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme emails to compare Rodriguez to Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone. Others bluntly credit Rodriguez with carving out a market that didn’t exist when he arrived and now ranks as a staple of the global business.

“He literally is the pioneer in South America,” says CAA agent Chris Dalston. “He did it before everybody else did, and he is the one who stayed around longer than everyone else.”


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 74:


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