Cisco Houston Web Site

Ol' Pals

Finding Cisco Houston

Brian Crawley

The great pleasure of this web site is communication from others with goodies to share. We recieved these images from Brian demonstrating that yes, Folkways DID release these two old LPs on one. And he had some interesting thoughts to share as well.

When the first of those "official bootleg" issues of Dylan material came out, 90 or so, I started realizing some of my favorite cuts were of him singing songs not by himself at the outset of his career. So I started going backwards and listening to his acknowledged predecessors, Cisco among them. I was also taking guitar lessons from Dave Van Ronk at the time, so I'm sure that figured into it.

Around that time I found an old copy of the Folk Box LPs, missing the notes. (I first visited your site by accident, when looking for album art, and was delighted to find the complete notes as well.) Side 1 It has a track by Cisco on it; also one by Dave, but it wasn't an LP set he remembered, probably as it was a compilation of cuts he already had elsewhere. Dave was excited to hear that on the Folk Box, was a cut of schoolgirls singing Green Green Rocky Road-- it was a staple of Dave's, who had to pay royalties to whomever taught it to him (Noel Stookey I think?). He knew it was based on an old tune but didn't know how much was old and how much Noel. Turns out the schoolgirl tune was too rudimentary to let him off the copyright hook.

I found Cisco's "double EP" album this spring and visited your site again to read the notes.Side 2 When I was little my Dad had two Folkways song books he'd play selections from on a baritone ukelele, and several songs on the Cisco album are in the books (900 Miles among them). My Dad didn't know the original recordings so the tunes we sang were half made up, I think, but close enough. I was always impressed by Dave's encyclopedic knowledge of the old books and recordings I picked up-- he could recite track listings of records I had scrounged up, and he knew what tunes would have been on the Folkways song books when I mentioned them. Reminded me what a passion those guys had, where each new piece of information they could scrounge up was a treasure, though it can all be found pretty easily now.

Before Dylan started writing songs, the coolest thing you could do in folk circles was find, work-up, and introduce a "new" old folk song no one else had heard before. John Jacob Niles introduced "I Wonder As I Wander" as an old song, then had to work hard to establish his copyright when people believed him (he really did write it but wanted it to have the cachet of being "genuine," I guess). Dylan burned Dave a bit by recording Van Ronk's work-up of "The House of the Rising Sun" before he had a chance to do it himself. Though from forty years out, Bob's recording is better, and maybe the song wouldn't be remembered if the Animals hadn't heard it and covered it. Dave was excited at first when Jackson Browne came backstage after a gig once, and told him he needed to know where to send royalties; he had covered one of Dave's tunes on an upcoming album. Turned out the tune was "Cocaine Blues," and Dave had to give him Reverend Gary Davis' address instead.

Side 1Copyright law has never been a good fit with the folk and blues tradition, where you expect and enjoy hearing floater lyrics and phrases moving in and out of new and old songs. I was complaining to an old folkie once of albums where recording artists claim copyright on songs they clearly hadn't written. (I've seen reviews of recent Dylan albums lodge the same complaint.) He explained the reason was the BMI/ ASCAP money streams, where monies from radio and other performances go, send half to the writer, half to the publisher; if you didn't claim copyright, none of that money would reach the recording artist, or anyone else. Copyrighting an anonymous tune doesn't deprive anyone; people were just looking to get their due from the recordings they made. Though it wouldn't be surprising to find abuses of the practice too.

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