Cisco Houston Web Site

The Songs He Sang

East Texas Red: Lyrics

As performed by Cisco Houston

Verse by Cisco Houston & Woody Guthrie

Appears on:
Down in the scrub oak country
   to the southeast Texas Gulf
There used to ride a brakeman,
   a brakeman double tough.
He worked the town of Kilgore,
   and Longview twelve miles down,
And the travellers all said
   that little East Texas Red
   he was the meanest bull around.

If you rode by night or the broad daylight
   in the wintery wind or the sun,
You would always see little East Texas Red
   just a sportin' his smooth-runnin gun.
And the tale got switched down the stems and mains,
   and everybody said
That the meanest bull
   on them shiney irons
   was that little East Texas Red.

It was on a cold and a windy morn'
   it was along towards nine or ten,
A couple of boys on the hunt of a job
   they stood in that blizzardy wind.
Hungry and cold they knocked on the doors
   of the workin' people around
For a piece of meat
   and a carrot or a spud
   just to boil the stew around.

Well, East Texas Red come down the line
   and he swung off that old number two.
He kicked their bucket over a bush
   and he dumped out all of their stew.
And the travellers said, "Little East Texas Red,
you better get your business straight
Cause you're gonna ride
   your little black train
   just one year from today."

Well Red he laughed and he climbed the bank
   and he swung on the side of a wheeler,
And the boys caught a tanker to Seminole
   then west to Amarillo.
They caught them a job of oil-field work
   and followed a pipeline down.
It took them lots of places
   before that year
   had rolled around.

Then on a cold and a windy morn
   they caught them a Gulf-bound train.
They shivered and shook with that dough in their clothes
   to the scrub oak flats again,
With their warm suits of clothes and their overcoats
   they walked into a store.
They paid that man
   for some meat and stuff
   just to boil the stew once more.

The ties they tracked down that cinder dump
   and they come to that same old spot
Where East Texas Red just a year ago
   had dumped their last stew pot.
Well, the smoke of their fire went higher and higher
   and Red come down the line.
With his head ducked low in that wintery wind
    he waved old number nine.
He walked on down through the jungle yards
   and he came to that same old spot
And there was the same two men again
   around that same stew pot.

Red went to his kness and he hollered
   "Please, don't pull your trigger on me.
I did not get my business straight."
   But he did not get his say.
A gun wheeled out of an overcoat
   and it played that old one two,
And Red was dead when the other two men
   sat down to eat their stew.

Of note:

Among my favorite songs of Cisco's, a perfect marriage of lyrics, music and performaance. This is the song that made me a fan, and 40 years later makes me realize that even if few others agree, this guy was someone special. Listen for yourself Here. Lyrically, a fascinating tale of vigilante vengeance and remorseless murder, for the crime of kicking over a stew pot. Wouldn't pass the PC Police today who so idolize Wooody....well, maybe that's why it hasn't been put on any of the CDs, but this is one fine performance.

Notes from the Folk Song & Minstrelsy booklet

Woodrow Wilson (Woody) Guthrie has been called "America's most gifted folk poet and ballad-maker, a rusty-voiced Homer." Born in 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma, he was introduced to hardship at an early age. Fire killed his sister, cyclone destroyed his family farm and fortune. His mother went to a mental institution and his father took to a sick bed. Woody took to the streets, where he peddled newspapers and sang for anyone who would listen. Okemah became an oil boom town. The boom brought prosperity to a few people, but hard times for many more. Oil polluted the streams, killed fish and grass, withered crops and trees. This was a foretaste of what was to come with the dust storms. Woody, left without supportive local family, decided to pull out. At 13, he hit the carnival and rodeo trails and began the ramblings that were to make him familiar with every nook and cranny of the land. He started to compose the first of what would become more than 1,000 songs.

Woody's lyrics include the wonderful "Songs to Grow On" for children, plus verses about mountains, rivers, prairies, cities and dams. He told stories with music about the Depression, the breadlines, dust storms, and World War II. He wrote ballads about the hoboes, migratory workers, heroes and criminals and hero-criminals, Okies, sailors, soldiers, sharecroppers and wetbacks. Taken together, his works are a panorama of American life during the 1930's and '40's.

Although he became, in particular, the bard of the down-and-outers, his songs are also full of typical American humor, hope and confidence in the future. Many of his pieces became widely popular, but Guthrie himself was never a popular entertainer. Early in the '40's a Broadway producer arranged to present him in a sort of backwoods or hillbilly setting at the Rockefeller Center's Rainbow Room in New York City. When Woody arrived, and the show's premise was outlined to him, he bolted, found the nearest exit, and quickly left town for a while. Later, he wrote "Well, this Rainbow Room's a funny place to play/It's a long ways from here to the U.S.A."

Today (the early '60's) Woody lies in a hospital bed, a victim of Huntington's Chorea, an incurable nervous wasting disease, which struck him down some years ago and abruptly brought his career to an end. "East Texas Red" is one of Woody's best ballads. This song about treacherous and violent doings in a hobo camp is sung by Guthrie's long-time friend and traveling companion, Cisco Houston. Cisco's own career and life came to a tragic end at age 42, on April 28, 1961, due to stomach cancer.

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