Admired by many.....
Cisco was a friend to all who knew him and to many of those who didn't. A warm, generous man, he inspired a generation of musicians who would soon change the face of American music. Several songs celebrating him appeared after his death.
Cisco is mentioned in the first good song Bob Dylan wrote. "Song to Woody" appeared on his debut LP for Columbia, one of only two original compositions on the record. The fourth verse:
Here's to Cisco and Sonny and Leadbelly too
And to all the good people that traveled with you
Here's to the hearts and the hands of the men
That come with the dust and are gone with the wind.
Tom's first album, Ramblin' Boy, included several of his most lasting compositions. Side one ended with his heartfelt tribute "Fare Thee Well, Cisco." The liner notes on the LP say:
I only met Cisco Houston once and then too briefly to get to know him -- but I liked him and I've always liked his singing. A lot of people, it seems, have written him off. Cisco Houston deserves to be remembered with affection.
To see the complete lyrics to this song, click Here.
From Tim Hardy: I've recently 'discovered' Cisco Houston and am just starting to delve into folk music of the 30's,40's, and 50's. Under the tribute section, I offer up an addition from one of my favorite singers/songwriters, Steve Earle. In "Christmas Time in Washington" he references Cisco and Woody Guthrie.
It's Christmastime in Washington The Democrats rehearsed Gettin' into gear for four more years Things not gettin' worse The Republicans drink whiskey neat And thanked their lucky stars They said, 'He cannot seek another term They'll be no more FDRs' I sat home in Tennessee Staring at the screen With an uneasy feeling in my chest And I'm wonderin' what it means Chorus: So come back Woody Guthrie Come back to us now Tear your eyes from paradise And rise again somehow If you run into Jesus Maybe he can help you out Come back Woody Guthrie to us now I followed in your footsteps once Back in my travelin' days Somewhere I failed to find your trail Now I'm stumblin' through the haze But there's killers on the highway now And a man can't get around So I sold my soul for wheels that roll Now I'm stuck here in this town Chorus There's foxes in the hen house Cows out in the corn The unions have been busted Their proud red banners torn To listen to the radio You'd think that all was well But you and me and Cisco know It's going straight to hell So come back, Emma Goldman Rise up, old Joe Hill The barracades are goin' up They cannot break our will Come back to us, Malcolm X And Martin Luther King We're marching into Selma As the bells of freedom ring
The thing that stands out wherever Cisco's name is mentioned is that they all say, "Lord, I sure did like that man!" and all agree that his singing was the best.
In the liner notes to her CD "The Very Best of Judy Collins" on the Elektra label, Judy describes her early musical training on the piano, then notes "But at 14, the guitar and the songs of Woody and Cisco and Burl Ives and Leadbelly, and the folk music I had discovered, opened up a magical world to me. I got my father to rent and then buy me a guitar, and I never looked back."
Peter La Farge, Native American activist, singer, songwriter (Ballad of Ira Hayes), actor and rodeo rider, was the last protege of Cisco Houston. After Houston's death, Pete wrote a one-verse tribute which he chanted on his Folkways LP "Iron Mountain and Other Songs." The "song" is titled "Cisco Houston" and was copyrighted in 1962:
Cisco Houston passed this way,
Sang a song and was gone next day.
We loved him and we mourned him,
But he's gone away,
And the morning rises
On the people who stay.
Sadly, Pete himself died of a stroke in 1965. He was only 33. He released six albums in five years. As a singer, he had limited gifts. On the guitar he was, like Woody Guthrie, only adequate. But as a songwriter, he was a man who carried the tradition of activism and passion.
La Farge credited Cisco with helping him write the song "Pony Called Nell" from his "Iron Mountain" record. Peter also said "Woody Guthrie has always been a vast influence on me, but I was helped and guided more directly by Cisco Houston. Cisco worked hours with me, teaching me not only music and how to use words, but giving me a whole philosophy of life."
"My dad met up with Cisco Houston probably sometime in the late thirties or early forties, and they palled around until my father got sick... I met Cisco in the fifties when my Dad was in the hospital... I remember the last night I saw him play because it was the first time I ever played, in 1961. I found out later that he was sick with cancer, and had been for some time. He refused any treatment or medication... and died in California shortly after."
"One dramatic night at Folk City was the last performance of Cisco Houston. He could literally hardly stand on his feet, but he wanted to go on with his engagement. A whole bunch of us came down for that show -- The Weavers, The Tarriers, Pete Seeger, Arlo, and Bobby Dylan was there... "
Thomas McGrath (1916-1990) was a radical poet and academic, and a fervent American Communist. He was also a friend of Cisco's. He wrote that after World War II, when the American Communist Party and the Progressive Labor Party each were troubled, he and Cisco and two other men started a new political party, called the "Ramshackle Socialist Victory Party" because "the initials were RSVP and we thought, nobody could resist THAT." He referred to Cisco as "A wonderful folksinger, the sidekick of Woody Guthrie for years and years." Mr. McGrath wrote a poem about Cisco called "Blues for Cisco Houston".
See it Here.
See here for George's memories of Cisco and Woody at Camp Unity in the early 1940s.
Andy is the editor of Fortune magazine. In an earlier life as a columnist, he produced a (nearly) daily column, tooting the horn of someone deserving a toot. On September 30, 2003, Andy wrote:
Hey watch me, Cisco Houston (yes, there was Woody Guthrie (right, Joe Klein?), but there was also Houston (1918-1961), a vital figure in the folk music movement of the 1940s and 1950s), I mean Andy Serwer, on CNN's "American Morning," and "In the Money."