Cisco – Nevermind San Fran, here’s Cisco
Cisco is one fair motherfucker.
No, that’s not a critical assessment, that’s straight from the horse’s mouth. “I’m a fair motherfucker. That’s what I am,” he says, with no hint of sarcasm. “I’m as polite as I can be in most situations. But you get in my way, I’m bound to kick you in the face.”
Such a kick in the face — figuratively, if not literally — was demonstrated toward the close of a recent gig at the Mint, a mostly blues bar in Los Angeles, Cisco’s home base. With a dark complexion, bulging muscles, tattoos and a tank top, the Fresno-born honky-tonker more closely resembles a hoodlum from an outer borough than a student of the Bakersfield sound.
At the Mint, he gave the small crowd the typical “we’ve got one more number” spiel, to which the soundman responded over the P.A. with something like, “That’s not possible.” “You tell Jed to go fuck himself,” Cisco barks, referring to the club’s booker. He then played not one but two more songs — likely the last two he’ll ever play on that stage.
What set Cisco off? On that particular night, as he divulges a few days later at a Hollywood coffeehouse, it was a mostly empty club, which he blamed on shoddy booking practices. But for him, such verbal fisticuffs, it seems, are not an aberration. He is one to speak his piece — a trait that at times is refreshingly combative, at other times off-putting. (Regarding San Francisco, he raps: “It’s full of hippies and liberals and passive-aggressive motherfuckers. If I can avoid that city entirely the rest of my life and still make a living, I’d be thrilled to do it.”)
Whether such up-frontedness works to his advantage or frightens off music biz decision-makers who are now barking up his tree remains to be seen, but at least he also walks the walk when it comes to his debut release, Wishing You Well From The Pink Motel (on the very indie label Propellant Transmissions).
As if fusing the musical sensibilities of Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam — Earle in voice and grit, Yoakam in snap and twang — Pink Motel is a stunning introduction to the world of this thirtysomething singer-songwriter who cites Buck, Merle, Dylan, Johnny Thunders and Ted Nugent as his greatest influences. Produced by James Saez and Orange County punk hero Mike Ness (of Social Distortion, himself a closet country fan), Pink Motel is feisty, stripped-down ‘tonk, in both word and sound.
Woven through tireless hooks, the words capture Cisco’s own journeys, whether related to romance (“I was one weakness too many/One strength too shy/I was 30 years crazy when you met me/33 when you said goodbye”) or lifelong rehabilitation stemming from a broken-home youth (“I’m not a bad man/I just stray once in a while/I’m not always happy/So I don’t always smile”).
Musically, Tele slinger/steel player Chris Lawrence is the secret weapon of this two-guitar-bass-and-drums outfit (Cisco plays acoustic). A former Austin scenester inspired by Clarence White, Buck Owens, Danny Gatton and Sweethearts Of The Rodeo — and who’d never even heard of Mike Ness before this project — Lawrence joined Cisco two years ago and has been firing off ferocious licks ever since. Think Cisco and Chris as you might Buck and Don, or Dwight and Pete. In fact, Pink Motel just might be the best, purest, honest-to-goodness country music to come from these damned old L.A. streets since Yoakam himself emerged thirteen years ago with Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc.
The mere mention of such a comparison causes Cisco to swoon. And while on one hand his ambitions are boundless — “I want to be doing this when I’m 60 and have crazy eyes like Merle,” says Cisco, who, it’s worth noting, has eyes plenty crazy of his own — there’s no doubt he’s just happy to have made it this far.
“If I hadn’t been given the gift of songwriting, I’d be fucking dead or in jail, I’ll tell you that right now,” he says. “Fresno, you either get out alive, or you stay there and rot like a ball of cotton that ain’t been picked. You either make it into a pair of jeans or you’re a ball of cotton sitting there going, ‘fuuuuck.'”