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Cisco in Print

900 Miles: The Ballads, Blues & Folksongs of Cisco Houston

Edited by Moses Asch and Irwin Silber

Oak Publications: 1965

Softback: 96 pages. Many illustrations

900 Miles

This collection of Cisco Houston's most familiar songs was published several years after his death. The first twenty pages consist of a number of articles about or by Cisco, most of which have appeared elsewhere, such as in Sing Out, People's Songs or on record sleeves. On the cover is a drawing by Ben Shahn, which appeared on the sleeve of the Cowboy Ballads LP and which is actually not of Cisco although there are several photographs and drawings of him in the book, all of which will be familiar to visitors to the web site. There's a posthumous letter to Cisco from Moses Asch, which has not appeared elsewhere and a copy of Cisco's obituary from the New York Times. The former interestingly mentions the Rubyiat album, based on the poem of Omar Khayyam, where the collaboration of Woody Guthrie and Cisco takes a new direction; unfortunately Smithsonian-Folkways have only released one track from this album and still seem reluctant to release it in its entirety. Then there's an article about Cisco by Woody Guthrie, who probably knew him as well as anyone, 'Singing on the Ships,' 'The Songs I Sing' by Cisco himself, and an article about Cisco by Lee Hays. Unfortunately, we learn little more about either Cisco himself or his life and times from these articles. There are three songs or poems about Cisco quoted: one by Peter La Farge, another by Tom McGrath, and 'Fare Thee Well Cisco' (with guitar chords and music) by Tom Paxton.

There are seventy of Cisco's songs -- all with full words, music and guitar chords -- which have been transcribed from his recordings: 900 Miles, of course, Hound Dog, Night Herding Song, Stagolee, Travel On, Stewball, East Virginia, Getting Up Holler, The Killer, John B Sails, Beans Bacon and Gravy, Pie in the Sky, Diamond Joe, Little Joe the Wrangler, Zebra Dun and many others. Four songs I have only found as being recorded by Cisco singing high tenor with Woody taking the lead (although one has very different words to the recording) and I've never been able to locate Cisco's recording of Beautiful Blues Eyes (p. 94). Perhaps these gems lurk somewhere in the Smithsonian-Folkways archives! As in other Oak publication all these songs are illustrated by delightful -- although not always totally relevant -- small photographs, drawings and prints.

Finally there is a Cisco Houston discography which lists the Folkways and Vanguard LPs that were available at the time of publication, although some LPs -- most importantly 'Passing Through' -- have been omitted. Then follows a list of most of the songs in the book and on which LP to find them.

On the back cover is that curious 'troubled man from Colorado' quotation that inexplicably is on the back of Passing Through LP.

John K. Bromilow

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