Cisco Houston Web Site

Ol' Pals

The Greatest Month Ever?

Bill Adams

According to the booklet created for the Smithsonian/Folkways CD "This Land is Your Land -- The Asch Recordings, Vol. One, by Woody Guthrie", the first song Woody and Cisco recorded for Folkways founder Moses Asch was "Hard, Ain't It Hard" on April 16th, 1944. Three days later, Woody and Cisco laid down 55 songs for the company in one marathon session. Woody recorded 160 songs in the month of April, alone, for Asch, and Cisco helped out with the bulk of them. Because of a shortage of materials due to WWII, Asch could not accomodate multiple takes, so many of these songs have small mistakes preserved. Cisco's recording career started here, although he did not take the lead, and ended shortly before his death in 1961.

Although he concluded as a Vanguard artist, he recorded as a solo singer for Folkways throughout the '40's and '50's. His sessions with Woody, whose recording studio career ended in 1952 after a 1940 debut, had been issued over the years on the Asch, Stinson, Disc and Folkways labels, all connected with Mr. Asch or his original business partner. Ownership of the masters was disputed for years between the two factions. Although most of the 160 songs recorded in that one month of '44 were not Woody originals, when I look at the list, I'm awed by the output of great songs, including "Ship in the Sky", "Grand Coulee Dam", "New York Town", "Philadelphia Lawyer", "Pretty Boy Floyd", "Ranger's Command", "Sinking of the Reuben James", "Blowing Down This Old Dusty Road", "This Land is My Land", "Jackhammer John", and "Jesus Christ."

For many of us, it is Cisco's versions, recorded in the late '50's, which taught us about the genius of Woody. In his studio sessions 10 and 15 years after those original one-takes, Cisco got them all just right, and his perfect voice made them listenable in a way the old sessions are not. But hats off to Woody Guthrie... has any recording artist ever had a better or busier month behind a microphone than he managed in that long-ago Spring of '44, for no money up front, and hardly any for sales during his own lifetime?

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