A Detroit native, Rodriguez released a single in 1967 called "I'll Slip Away" on Impact Records, but it went nowhere. He was discovered a few years later by the producers Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey, who got him a deal with Sussex Records and produced his debut album, Cold Fact
, with the opening track "Sugar Man."
In a Songfacts interview with Coffey
, he said: "When we first saw him play, he used to play with his face to the wall. We thought, What is this guy doing?
Coffey was one of Motown's Funk Brothers, a top-tier guitarist who played on many tracks for The Temptations. He added guitar on the album and brought in another Funk Brother, Bob Babbitt, to play bass. Theodore handled keyboards.
"He was so shy we had to take him in the studio by himself and record four songs and build a band around him," said Coffey. "After that, he got comfortable recording with the band."