Cisco Houston Web Site


Friends Galore!

Admired by many.....

Cisco was a friend to all who knew him and to many of those who didn't. A warm, generous man, he inspired a generation of musicians who would soon change the face of American music. Several songs celebrating him appeared after his death.

Bob Dylan

Cisco is mentioned in the first good song Bob Dylan wrote. "Song to Woody" appeared on his debut LP for Columbia, one of only two original compositions on the record. The fourth verse:

Here's to Cisco and Sonny and Leadbelly too
And to all the good people that traveled with you
Here's to the hearts and the hands of the men
That come with the dust and are gone with the wind.

Tom Paxton

Tom's first album, Ramblin' Boy, included several of his most lasting compositions. Side one ended with his heartfelt tribute "Fare Thee Well, Cisco." The liner notes on the LP say:

I only met Cisco Houston once and then too briefly to get to know him -- but I liked him and I've always liked his singing. A lot of people, it seems, have written him off. Cisco Houston deserves to be remembered with affection.

To see the complete lyrics to this song, click Here.

Steve Earle

From Tim Hardy: I've recently 'discovered' Cisco Houston and am just starting to delve into folk music of the 30's,40's, and 50's. Under the tribute section, I offer up an addition from one of my favorite singers/songwriters, Steve Earle. In "Christmas Time in Washington" he references Cisco and Woody Guthrie.

It's Christmastime in Washington
The Democrats rehearsed
Gettin' into gear for four more years
Things not gettin' worse
The Republicans drink whiskey neat
And thanked their lucky stars
They said, 'He cannot seek another term
They'll be no more FDRs'
I sat home in Tennessee
Staring at the screen
With an uneasy feeling in my chest
And I'm wonderin' what it means

So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help you out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

I followed in your footsteps once
Back in my travelin' days
Somewhere I failed to find your trail
Now I'm stumblin' through the haze
But there's killers on the highway now
And a man can't get around
So I sold my soul for wheels that roll
Now I'm stuck here in this town


There's foxes in the hen house
Cows out in the corn
The unions have been busted
Their proud red banners torn
To listen to the radio
You'd think that all was well
But you and me and Cisco know
It's going straight to hell

So come back, Emma Goldman
Rise up, old Joe Hill
The barracades are goin' up
They cannot break our will
Come back to us, Malcolm X
And Martin Luther King
We're marching into Selma
As the bells of freedom ring

Thanks Tim!

Oscar Brand

The thing that stands out wherever Cisco's name is mentioned is that they all say, "Lord, I sure did like that man!" and all agree that his singing was the best.

Judy Collins

In the liner notes to her CD "The Very Best of Judy Collins" on the Elektra label, Judy describes her early musical training on the piano, then notes "But at 14, the guitar and the songs of Woody and Cisco and Burl Ives and Leadbelly, and the folk music I had discovered, opened up a magical world to me. I got my father to rent and then buy me a guitar, and I never looked back."

Peter LaFarge

Peter La Farge, Native American activist, singer, songwriter (Ballad of Ira Hayes), actor and rodeo rider, was the last protege of Cisco Houston. After Houston's death, Pete wrote a one-verse tribute which he chanted on his Folkways LP "Iron Mountain and Other Songs." The "song" is titled "Cisco Houston" and was copyrighted in 1962:

Cisco Houston passed this way,
Sang a song and was gone next day.
We loved him and we mourned him,
But he's gone away,
And the morning rises
On the people who stay.

Sadly, Pete himself died of a stroke in 1965. He was only 33. He released six albums in five years. As a singer, he had limited gifts. On the guitar he was, like Woody Guthrie, only adequate. But as a songwriter, he was a man who carried the tradition of activism and passion.

La Farge credited Cisco with helping him write the song "Pony Called Nell" from his "Iron Mountain" record. Peter also said "Woody Guthrie has always been a vast influence on me, but I was helped and guided more directly by Cisco Houston. Cisco worked hours with me, teaching me not only music and how to use words, but giving me a whole philosophy of life."

On the liner notes to Pete's first album, CL 1795, written by his father, we read:

Others with whom he has worked and from whom he has learned (it is his nature not to stint credit or gratitude) are Joe Rohr, the late Cisco Houston and Woody Guthrie.

The last (Ira Hayes) is his own composition, with, he says, an assist in the musical style from Cisco Houston. It comes out of profound feeling and it has a bitter humor that beats common anger all hollow. I defy anyone with normal feelings to listen to Ira Hayes without getting goose pimples.

Arlo Guthrie

"My dad met up with Cisco Houston probably sometime in the late thirties or early forties, and they palled around until my father got sick... I met Cisco in the fifties when my Dad was in the hospital... I remember the last night I saw him play because it was the first time I ever played, in 1961. I found out later that he was sick with cancer, and had been for some time. He refused any treatment or medication... and died in California shortly after."

In 2018, Arlo posted this:

Harold Leventhal

"One dramatic night at Folk City was the last performance of Cisco Houston. He could literally hardly stand on his feet, but he wanted to go on with his engagement. A whole bunch of us came down for that show -- The Weavers, The Tarriers, Pete Seeger, Arlo, and Bobby Dylan was there... "

Thomas McGrath

Thomas McGrath (1916-1990) was a radical poet and academic, and a fervent American Communist. He was also a friend of Cisco's. He wrote that after World War II, when the American Communist Party and the Progressive Labor Party each were troubled, he and Cisco and two other men started a new political party, called the "Ramshackle Socialist Victory Party" because "the initials were RSVP and we thought, nobody could resist THAT." He referred to Cisco as "A wonderful folksinger, the sidekick of Woody Guthrie for years and years." Mr. McGrath wrote a poem about Cisco called "Blues for Cisco Houston".

See it Here.

George Pickow

See here for George's memories of Cisco and Woody at Camp Unity in the early 1940s.

Andy Serwer

Andy is the editor of Fortune magazine. In an earlier life as a columnist, he produced a (nearly) daily column, tooting the horn of someone deserving a toot. On September 30, 2003, Andy wrote:

Hey watch me, Cisco Houston (yes, there was Woody Guthrie (right, Joe Klein?), but there was also Houston (1918-1961), a vital figure in the folk music movement of the 1940s and 1950s), I mean Andy Serwer, on CNN's "American Morning," and "In the Money."

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