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Cavalier Magazine Reviews "I Ain't Got No Home"

Nat Hentoff

Cisco died in April of 1961, and his final recording sessions were released later by Vanguard on an LP titled "I Ain't Got No Home." Recently a copy of Cavalier from February, 1963 came into our possession and on page eight there is a review of this recording by Nat Hentoff. Before we present his comments, we'd like to tell you a little about the magazine and about Nat.

Cavalier began in 1952 as a vehicle to promote the paperback book firm Fawcett Publications. By '63 it had evolved into a competitor of Playboy, but never could match Hefner's subscriber base. However, Cavalier is still in business in an online edition.

Hentoff, at this writing in 2013, is 88, and still contributing a weekly column to His career began after World War II. He wrote prolifically, joining the famous Down Beat Magazine as a jazz critic in 1952. He also covered folk and country music, editing many books on musicians, wrote novels and other non-fiction. In the 1960's he came down most often on the liberal side of social and political issues, but in recent decades he has endorsed many positions that most would consider conservative or libertarian.

Here is what he thought of Cisco and his last studio performances more than fifty years ago:

Cisco Houston's Final Album

By Nat Hentoff, 1963

Cisco Houston simply sang folk songs. He didn't have an "act." A direct, gentle, self-contained man, Cisco didn't know how to be a brittle hipster, as some of the folk performers are becoming. Nor was he ever able to manufacture an air of eccentricity. Born in Delaware, Cisco had wandered over much of the country, working in mines, in a factory, and during World War II, in the Merchant Marine. A frequent companion on the road had been Woody Guthrie, and like Woody, Cisco had a non-doctrinaire affection for the rootless and exploited. Cisco never made much money from music, but in the last few years he had begun to benefit a little from the folk-song revival.

In early 1961, Cisco found out he had cancer. He continued to sing as long as he could because there wasn't much else he wanted to do. I remember listening to him one night at Gerdes' Folk City in New York, a few months before he died in April 1961 at the age of 42. The knowledge that he wouldn't last six months was upon him. The crowd was noisier than usual that evening, and in a rare moment of exasperation, Cisco asked the audience to resurrect some manners. I expected he was thinking something like "This is a hell of a way to go out --- singing only to yourself in a crowded room."

In March of that year, Cisco asked Vanguard Records to tape his last session. He was in great pain and was left alone in the studio to do what he wanted to. The result of that summing up is the album "I Ain't Got No Home" in which Cisco sings, accompanying himself on guitar, 17 of the songs that meant the most to him. Many are Guthrie pieces and there are several variations of his own on traditional tunes. There is no touch of death in the music. It is as if Cisco were assessing his life during the session and was finding that he hadn't wasted his time. He had something of his own to contribute to the folk exchange and he hadn't turned himself into the artful dodger in the process.

The singing in "I Ain't Got No Home" is utterly relaxed. As usual, Cisco tells his stories --- from "Bonneville Dam" to "Wreck of the Old '97" --- without a trace of pretentiousness and with clear pleasure in the familiar curves of the melodies. Also present was the unaffected impact of his own autobiographical knowledge of the kinds of loneliness and hopes and wry kicks the songs were about. I recommend the album as an honest document of a straightforward man. It is a document, by the way, that is also durably entertaining.

See here for some pages from that issue.

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