Cisco Houston Web Site


Washington Square Memoirs: The Great Urban Folk Boom, 1950-1970

Rhino Records R274264


Track Listing:

Disc: 1

  1. Hard Travelin' - Woody Guthrie
  2. Old Man Atom (Talking Atomic Blues) - Sam Hinton
  3. Black, Brown And White - Big Bill Broonzy
  4. Nottamun Town - Jean Ritchie
  5. Darlin' Cory - Ed McCurdy
  6. One Meat Ball - Josh White
  7. Little Boxes - Malvina Reynolds
  8. I Was Born 10,000 Years Ago - Oscar Brand
  9. Midnight Special - Cisco Houston
  10. Wasn't That A Time - The Weavers
  11. Spanish Is A Loving Tongue - Glenn Yarbrough
  12. Swannanonoa Tunnel - Erik Darling
  13. Sportin' Life - Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee
  14. South Coast - Randy Sparks
  15. Molly Dee - The Kingston Trio
  16. I've Been Driving On Bald Mountain/Water Boy (live) - Odetta
  17. Raspberries, Strawberries - Bud & Travis
  18. The Hammer Song (live) - Pete Seeger
  19. Chase The Rising Son - The Journeymen
  20. Don't Let Your Deal Go Down - The New Lost City Ramblers
  21. Betty And Dupree (live) - Bob Gibson & Bob Camp
  22. Coplas De Amor - Cynthia Gooding
  23. San Francisco Bay Blues - Ramblin' Jack Elliott
  24. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face - Peggy Seeger
  25. Greenback Dollar - Hoyt Axton
  26. Swing And Turn Jubilee - Carolyn Hester
  27. Another Man - Barry & Barry

Disc: 2

  1. Walk Right In - The Rooftop Singers
  2. He Was A Friend Of Mine - Dave Van Ronk
  3. Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream 0 The Chad Mitchell Trio
  4. Nora's Dove (Dink's Song) - The Big Three
  5. 500 Miles - Hedy West
  6. Four Strong Winds - Ian & Sylvia
  7. I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound - Tom Paxton
  8. Blowin' In The Wind - Peter, Paul & Mary
  9. Fog Horn - Bob Gibson
  10. High Flying Bird - Judy Henske
  11. Boots Of Spanish Leather - Bob Dylan
  12. You'se A Viper - Dave Van Ronk & The Ragtime Jug Stompers
  13. Four In The Morning - Jesse Colin Young
  14. Euphoria - The Holy Modal Rounders
  15. There But For Fortune - Joan Baez
  16. Take Your Fingers Off It - The Even Dozen Jug Band
  17. Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? - Judy Roderick
  18. Tear Down The Walls - Martin & Neil
  19. Morning Dew (live) - Bonnie Dobson
  20. Jordan's River - The Modern Folk Quartet
  21. What's The Matter With The Mill - Koerner, Ray & Glover
  22. Cod'ine - Buffy Sainte-Marie
  23. Joshua Gone Barbados - Eric Von Schmidt
  24. Take A Whiff On Me - The Greenbriar Boys
  25. Get Together - Hamilton Camp

Disc: 3

  1. The Wabash Cannonball (live) - The Limeliters
  2. I Ain't Marching Anymore - Phil Ochs
  3. Pack Up Your Sorrows - Richard & Mimi Farina
  4. Drop Down Mama - John Hammons
  5. Rag Mama - Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band
  6. Bells Of Rhymney - John Denver
  7. Early Morning Rain - Gordon Lightfoot
  8. Thirsty Boots - Eric Andersen
  9. Reason To Believe - Tim Hardin
  10. Just Like A Woman - Richie Havens
  11. Suzanne - Judy Collins
  12. The Dolphins - Fred Neil
  13. Wondrous Love - Kathy & Carol
  14. Once I Was - Tim Buckley
  15. The Circle Game - Tom Rush
  16. These 23 Days In Semptember - David Blue
  17. Candy Man - Taj Mahal
  18. Then Came The Children - Paul Siebel
  19. School Days - Loudon Wainwright III
  20. The Motorcycle Song (live) - Arlo Guthrie


Bill Adams

I was asked recently to comment on this product from the viewpoint of a Cisco Houston fan. Most Cisco fans who have contacted this appreciation website seem to be between age 50 and 80. Since I am 65, I was 14 when the commercial folk revival hit the big time in l958. I became a fan immediately after the first time I heard "Tom Dooley" by the Kingston Trio. To me, that song started the whole urban folk thing, yet it is not on this collection. They have a song by the Kingston Trio, but it is just an ordinary album cut of no particular significance. That, to me, was the biggest mistake for this product.

Actually, looking back on the importance of recorded music in my life, I believe I can call myself a "folk fan" from the age of six, in 1950, the year this compilation claims as its starting point. I was able to put 78 rpm records on the family turntable by myself at that age, and I recall listening to "albums" by Burl Ives, Tex Ritter and Gene Autry. My favorite children's song by Burl was "The Little White Duck." By Tex, it was "Animal Fair." By Gene, of course it was "Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer." My parents did not own Woody Guthrie's songs for children, but to me, Burl, Tex and Gene were all "folk artists."

My father liked country and western music, and some classical, and the Richard Rodgers soundtrack to the TV series about the Navy in World War II, "Victory at Sea." My mother liked Broadway show cast albums such as "The King and I" and "Oklahoma" and "My Fair Lady." They both liked Slim Whitman, the yodeling tenor, and Les Paul and Mary Ford. My sister, ten years older than I, brought the records of Tony Bennett, Doris Day and Frank Sinatra into the home. My brother, five years my elder, dug early rock and roll (pre-Elvis) and country. So by the time 1958 came and opened my folk song awareness, I had experienced a wide variety of other forms of music. Some of it endures in my heart even today. Some was quite forgettable. So it is with the box set "Washington Square Memoirs."

Recall that the subtitle on this product claims it covers "1950-1970"? Tell me why, then, the set begins with a Woody Guthrie recording made in 1947? "Hard Travelin'" is a good song, and this is a good Woody performance, but if you are going to use tracks made in the Forties, go back to "Dust Bowl Ballads" by Woody in 1940. That's when the "modern" folk and singer/songwriter movements really began, in my view. Then the compilers could have followed up with the Almanac Singers, a short-lived group of socialists including Woody, Pete Seeger and Lee Hays on their records, and Cisco Houston in some of their unrecorded concerts. But no Almanacs here. And the one Cisco selection is "Midnight Special." He does a great job on a decent song, but to not have used one of Cisco's exceptional interpretations of Guthrie songs seems criminal to me.

I think the mountaintop for The Weavers, which evolved from the Almanacs, was in 1950 when they hit the pop charts with Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene." Why wasn't that on here? And keeping Pete Seeger in mind, the compilers use an early version of "If I Had a Hammer" to represent him, when "We Shall Overcome" from his Carnegie Hall concert LP in 1963 would have been so much more appropriate. "Hammer" is not a bad song, and was quite popular in other versions, but it lacks the emotional and historical significance of "We Shall Overcome."

The producers picked an Arlo Guthrie song to close the set, on the third and shortest (but most satisfying) CD, but they picked "The Motorcycle Song." That's cute, but they had the room, and most likely had the rights, to "Alice's Restaurant." Yes, I know it runs 18 minutes and since the military draft ended, has lost relevance. However, it came out four months after I was drafted for the Vietnam War in 1967, and I first heard it at Fort Bragg, N.C. I can testify under oath that his song brought many laughs to many reluctant soldiers, and bucked up our morale. Maybe it was too long, and too individualized to be sung at Washington Square Park in lower Manhattan, but gee whiz, Arlo was even a native New Yorker from Coney Island. How can you skip that one, and claim to cover the '60's in politics and music?

Ah, well. Compilations are damn frustrating. We, the buyers, seldom know just how many songs were available, and which ones, at what prices? Neither do we know the definition of what songs fit the theme of the product. Did the compilers really want songs they knew were performed and shared for free in the square on Sunday afternoons? I doubt that. They have songs here originally released on Columbia, Folkways, Elektra, Vanguard, Prestige Folklore and other labels. They have a note saying Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, James Taylor and Simon and Garfunkle do not appear "due to license restrictions." Yet James Taylor really came up big only at the tail end of the period covered in this compilation. He fits neither the traditionalists included here, nor the urban protest singer/writers. Why mention him at all?

What I like on Disc One, the weakest but longest of the three: Malvina Reynolds' singing her own composition, "Little Boxes" which Seeger had a rare 45 rpm single hit with on Columbia, which was also her label. (My mother liked this one a lot. It was one of the last songs she sang along with before she died in a car crash.) Odetta's version of "Bald Mountain" from the Harry Belafonte and Friends at Carnegie Hall double-LP was a good choice. Ramblin' Jack Elliott is often identified with San Francisco Bay Blues, so I can't complain too much, although I prefer his version of Guthrie's "1913 Massacre" if I have to pick one track to represent his pre-1970 career. As for Woody, the '50's were not kind to him, due to the progression of his fatal disease, Huntington's Chorea, but he did record some of his best children's songs early in that decade, and one of them here would have been a nice touch.

The following singers represented on Disc One deserve to be there, but for different songs than those chosen by these producers: Big Bill Broonzy, Jean Ritchie, Ed McCurdy, Josh White, Oscar Brand, Cisco, The Weavers, Glenn Yarbrough, Erik Darling, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. This next group, in my view, do not really deserve to be represented: Randy Sparks, The Journeymen, Bob Gibson/Bob Camp, Cynthia Gooding, Peggy Seeger, Hoyt Axton, Carolyn Hester, and Barry and Barry. I bought a lot of folk albums between '58 and '70, and I remember all of these artists except Barry and Barry, but I think they all were minor league players.

On Disc Two, I would discard the following performers: The Big Three, Bob Gipson, The Ragtime Jug Stompers, Jesse Colin Young, the Holy Modal Rounders, the Even Dozen Jug Band, Judy Broderick, Bonnie Dobson, The Modern Folk Quartet, Koener, Ray and Glover, and The Greenbrier Boys. All lesser lights in the world of folk, and skipping them would free up disc space for additional tracks by Dylan, Baez, Ochs, Houston, etc.

What I like on the second CD: The Rooftop Singers, Dave Van Ronk, Chad Mitchell Trio, Hedy West, Ian and Sylvia, Peter, Paul and Mary, Judy Henske, Dylan, Baez, Martin and Neil, Buffy St. Marie and Hamilton Camp. I would have chosen different songs for six of those 12, but the tracks that made the album are not bad.

Disc Three is the shortest, but wouldn't be if the producers had put "Alice's Restaurant" on it. To me, this disc is the most satisfying, although it begins horribly with The Limeliters' version of "Wabash Cannonball." The song does not belong, and the treatment insults it. The Limeliters were one-third comedy, two-thirds music, and the mixture on this track fails on both counts. With track two, things improve a great deal. "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" is one of Phil Ochs's best songs and best performances. (He really was not much of a singer.) Then Richard and Mimi Farina (she was Joan Baez's sister. He was a novelist, who died young in a motorcycle wreck) do a great job on "Pack Up Your Sorrows." A surprise choice is John Denver singing "Bells of Rhymney" which was a concert staple of Pete Seeger's. He handles it quite well. Tracks by John Hammond and Jim Kweskin come next. I was not interested in them back in the day, nor am I enthralled now. Ah, but here comes Gordon Lightfoot with "Early Morning Rain" and Eric Anderson singing his own "Thirsty Boots" and Tim Hardin doing his own "Reason to Believe." Next we have Richie Havens, whose work I never fully embraced, performing a lovely version of Dylan's "Just Like a Woman." There are three other winning picks on the CD: Judy Collins doing Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" and Fred Neil singing "The Dolphins" and Tom Rush performing Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game."

Why no tracks by Leonard Cohen himself? Where are "Jim and Jean" who did Phil's songs better than Phil? Why no Peter LaFarge, who made NYC his home until his death in '65, and who was mentored by Cisco Houston? Why no Patrick Sky, whose sole Vanguard album was pretty wonderful? (David Blue, an underappreciated performer, is on Sky should be here as well.)

Finally, a word or two about the prose in this package: I thought it would be self-congratulatory puffery about the moral superiority of us folkie types who backed civil rights and were anti-war early, and there is a touch of that here and there. But overall, this is a balanced commentary. There is unneeded profanity which makes some of the commentators sound moronic, and some remarks about marijuana use or easy sex which are childish. However, hard drug use is lamented, and some of the ultra-leftist claptrap that was common in those days is rightly criticized. So, this product is really all about the music. If you want to sample folk music in the decade immediately after Cisco's death, this is a good product. If you want to hear the music he, too, could have heard, it doesn't really have much of that. Personally, I wouldn't pay more than $15 for a used copy. Your money is better spent on the artists you really like.

As of March, 2010, lists this item as no longer available, but publishes several reviews.

Jim Clark

Many, many, many reviews of anthologies seem to be "They choose X instead of Y! Idiots! And Z's performance of SongA is far superior to the dreary one included here." It seems like the attempt I'm long familiar with of every critic knowing more about the subject in question than anyone else. My knowledge of folk music is not nearly that of many others. This is a review of what I know, what I like, what I don't like.

It is not a surprise that folk died if this is the best that can be collected from those 20 years! Just what were the assemblers of this anthology thinking? I can't even be sure how they define therir terms (including, as pointed out by my friend Bill, what 1950 means!) But what is urban about these songs? Does that mean these were the kinds of songs (or the very songs themselves) sung in Washington Square Park by the long-haired hepcats and their gals? If so, I'm just not sure how Tom Paxton and Randy Sparks and Erik Darling are part of that casual and spontaneous New York City music scene. Or why is Big Bill, whom I like and admire tremendously included, but a jillion other similar performers not? How did they decide which of the polished guy groups (Kingston Trio, Chad Mitchell) made the cut? What was the criterion when there were so many similar groups who all had big songs and a powerful influence?

So I'm confused about the date. And the "urban." And might as well include "folk" as well. Just what is a folk song? Well, my definition would start with a clear, comprehensible lyric that says something, tells a story, offers an opinion, or relates a legend. No nonsensical or cryptic poetry, limited musical accompaniment (no orchestras), spare arrangements (unlike Just Like a Woman by Richie Havens) with the voice up front and understandable, and a minimum of electric assistance. The idea is that plain folks could do this on a porch somewhere without a million dollars of equipment. A guy on banjo, a gal on guitar, and the person with the best voice leading the vocals. Some of the songs on this compilation fit this; many, besides Richie's, do not.

And my goodness, these people worshiped at the altar of authenticity. Mississippi John Hurt was some kind of god, as he was old, and black, and oppressed, and undiscovered. But just what does authentic mean? Can rich Jewish kids from the mountains of Brooklyn (or Minnesota?) sing coal mining songs? Or must one have actually hopped a freight car to sing about it? I'm afraid that it doesn't matter to me where you're from, what you've done, or your gender, sexual preferences, background, religion, or color. Folk music is not an exercise in diversity; it is an exercise in excellence.

But if there is a common thread among these songs, it is the utter sophistication of the illuminati.

"We are smarter, braver, more discerning, more sophisticated, more caring, more able to distinguish the importnat from the unimportant, and with a better sense of humor. And oh, well, none of those parental hangups about sex, nosiree! We are oh-so-clever about sex! In fact, we invented double entendre!"

Exhibit one is the most repellent song on this set, Little Boxes. It is a snotty, condescending song, whoever it is she's actually insulting. But she establishes a very clear us/them line, a specific and vital barrier that separates the elect from those who are conformist, which to his crowd is the greatest sin one can commit. A sell out. A souless drone, who lives as others do, following mindlessly the unstated, poossibly unthought, dictates of those others. This is far from the only smarmy self-righteous tune on here, but among the worst.

Exhibit two is Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream , a pious, treacly sing along of earnest and caring souls. Isn't it ironic that this goofy tune is included in this package where we learn that while universal world peace may be easy to achieve with some guys just signing a piece of paper, getting the rights to some forty year old songs is impossible. So much for that, "C'mon people, smile on your brother" goo.

Exhibit three: Blowin' In The Wind . Another piece of banal claptrap. Who's the "they" that is determining if the road-walking fellow is a man? And in a verse that I only vaguely realized the stupidity of when I was younger, who is going to ban those nasty cannonballs? Who will enforce it? And does that ban apply to copyright infringement as well? Please, I can't quite hear what the wind is saying...just how many times is that? Who allows a people to be free? How many people is too many to die? Ask the murderers; they're the ones controlling how many die. They're the ones sending millions to the camps and gulags. But if we don't look, then it isn't happening. See, problem solved!

The critics and writers for this set claim that American music was dominated by mindless drivel, and this was a potent contrast to it. Well, if it is poetry, it must stand up to a poetic critique. What is more mindless that this self-important triviality?

Another (incredibly bad) belief of the Sixties demonstrated repeatedly here is: Life just happens, There But For Fortune, and we have nothing to do with it. The good and bad that comes our way is largely outside our control, and we are not responsible for either. Therefore no one deserves praise or condemnation; it is all a crapshoot we do not control. Except poor Phil did not believe this, and was disappointed that he never received the fame he thought he deserved. And yes Phil, it was worth it. You think you can lump all wars into one and say that because we stole California from the Mexicans (who stole it from the Indians) that all conflict is evil. It's not, was not, and never has been. Though this is a fine song and fine performance, it is so wrong, so pig-headed, so misguided.

Is I Can't Help But Wonder Where I Am Bound? the best song of its kind? Glorious singing, scrumptious playing, perfect arrangement, but another song about helplessness and lack of control. Where I'm bound? Doesn't he decide that?

There are lots of unpleasant performances here. Glenn Yarborough gets on my nerves. He is so forced and affectatious, an oily guy whose initially interesting voice gets less fascinating the more one hears it. Now my folks loved him, though that may be because he's from Wisconsin and shared a birthday with my mom, one year younger. But I don't have their appreciation, and on this set, I'm forced to listen to him twice.

Here's a few folks I'm glad I never heard before:

  • Cynthia Gooding
  • Kathy and Carol; was there some affirmative action going on here? They had to have a certain number of females? Wow, they are baaad.
  • Bonnie Dobson is frightfully earnest and soggy...the kind of warble that makes me cringe. If this song were in a movie about the 60s, everyone would assume it was a parody!
  • Koerner, Ray, and Glover
  • Carolyn Hester
  • Barry and Barry
  • John Hammond
  • Judy Roderick, and why is that folk? Electric organ and guitars, psychedelic arrangement, if you include stuff like that you could include lots of other things...nothing particularly New Yorky about her, and a stupid arrangement. I know any song that shows America is unjust counts as a good one, but this is dreadful....and so inappropriate. This is sad, not confrontational.

And I'm forced to endure two Dave Van Ronk performances? Along with these guys I didn't like the first time around:

  • Jesse Colin Young
  • All jug bands
  • Peggy Seeger
  • Modern Folk Quartet

Not a total loss though. Though there were too many songs performed by others in more interesting versions, Eric von Schmidt, The Greenbriar Boys and Hamilton Camp. Now John Denver performed a song more well known by others, but gave a sterling performance. That is what this kind of anthology can do! And Judy Henske was nothing more than an obscure name to me; but wow, that gal can sing!

Nice to hear again:

  • Dolphins
  • Thirsty Boots
  • Pack Up Your Sorrows
  • Greenback Dollar by Hoyt Axton

There are amazing musicians buried in here, scattered in with guys who sound as if the whole thing is lark. And many of these same performers were on the far superior Folk Song & Minstrelsy set. Putting those performances on CD would be far more entertaining and valuable than this hodge-podge.

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