Rambling, Gambling Man (Cisco Houston)

Cisco again. I sang this one constantly as a kid, which must have sounded pretty funny. As an interesting commentary on how the standards of the folk song scene have changed, Cisco referred to this as a traditional song, but Guy Logsdon, in his notes to the Smithsonian/Folkways CD of Houston’s work, describes it as Cisco’s composition, or at least adaptation, noting that he recorded it for a commercial label, Decca Records, in the early 1950s and it was also published as sheet music in 1952.

My battered and coverless copy of Cisco’s songbook.

These days, we are more likely to hear people criticizing Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and others for “stealing” traditional melodies and lyrics, so it’s worth remembering that there was a time when folksingers were at least as likely to pawn off their compositions or adaptations as “traditional.” John Jacob Niles famously presented several of his own compositions as traditional, then got very irritated when other folksingers copyrighted “Black is the Color,” for example, as a Public Domain song they had collected and arranged.

Be that as it may, this is another romantic Western ballad, based on an older song called “Roving Gambler,” and a good example of the sort of middle ground between what cowboys sang out west and what cowboy folksingers sang back east.