David Roland Rodriguez, folk singer, composer, performer, and attorney, was born in Houston on January 1, 1952, to David and Sylvia Rodriguez. At the age of two, he was struck with polio, limiting his mobility. When he was a youngster, his parents bought him a guitar, and he became adept at the instrument. Over time, he also learned to play the accordion, piano, and violin. He joined a rock-and-roll band when he was fourteen years old and a year later became part of a folk ensemble. As a high school student, he belonged to the Wayfarers folk club and became acquainted with Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and other important musicians involved in Houston’s folk music scene.
Rodriguez graduated from Milby High School in Houston. He studied economics at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1982 he earned a J.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. Afterwards, he practiced law in that city and ran unsuccessfully for the Texas legislature.
However, his lifelong love of music led Rodriguez to ultimately focus his life on songwriting and performing. Among those who influenced him from an early age were Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lydia Mendoza, and Jerry Jeff Walker. His maternal aunt, Tejana singer Eva Garza, also provided inspiration. For many years, he performed in numerous Austin venues. Among the musicians with whom he appeared were Tish Hinojosa, Nanci Griffith, Eric Taylor, and Lyle Lovett.
Throughout his long career, Rodriguez released nine albums, including Man Against Beast (1990); Avatars, Angels and Ashes (1992); The True Cross (1992); and Proud Heart (1995). A review of Proud Heart noted the composer’s lyricism and commitment to his Texas roots. Some of the releases were compilations of performances recorded at such well-known folk music venues as Chicago House in Austin and Anderson Fair in Houston. During his career, Rodriguez appeared onstage and in recordings with his daughter Carrie Rodriguez, who also became a well-known musician.
As a songwriter, Rodriguez was considered among the best of his generation. A composer who strove to imbue his music with poetic sensibility, his works could often be a blend of “romantic lyricism” and a commitment to social justice. One well-known song, “The Other Texas,” combines both of these elements. His ability as a composer earned him “best Texas songwriter” recognition in a Texas poll by Third Coast Music magazine in 1992, 1993, and 1994. Lucinda Williams and Lyle Lovett, two of his contemporaries, also paid tribute to him. Williams called him a “musical genius,” and Lovett included Rodriguez’s “The Ballad of The Snow Leopard and The Tanqueray Cowboy” in his 1998 album Step Inside This House. The song was on the soundtrack for the Disney movie Mumford (1999).
In 1994 Rodriguez moved to the Netherlands, where he lived for the remainder of his life. There he gained a new following and renewed esteem as an excellent guitarist and composer. He released a number of recordings during this period, including The Lonesome Drover (2004) and Winter Moon (2007).
David Rodriguez died of a heart attack in the Netherlands on October 26, 2015, at the age of sixty-three. Memorial services were held in his adopted home. A second memorial service was celebrated in Austin, Texas, on January 1, 2016. Chief among those honoring his legacy was singer Leticia Rodriguez, his sister. She called him “one of the most talented artists that I’ve ever known” and recalled his “great influence” on many musicians throughout his life.