Five Songs That Inspire Willi Carlisle

By Willi Carlisle, for Folk Alley

As part of Folk Alley’s Pride Month feature, we’ve asked a handful of LGBTQ+ artists to make a list of the songs or artists who most influenced them.

This list was written by Willi Carlisle and artist-written lists will be running throughout June, alongside the Pride-themed playlist in the Classic Folk stream.

Maredith Sisco – “Fair and Tender Ladies”

There is so much to say about Maredith Sisco. I’ve admired her work for the better part of a decade, and she’s one of the few ballad-singing tradition bearers that the Ozarks has left. She is best known for her work on the movie soundtrack to Winter’s Bone, but has been well known in the Ozarks for her organizing and radical politics for a lot longer.

Cowboy Jack Derrick – “Truck Drivin’ Man”

I read that this song was kicked off the radio for the lines that mention cross-dressing. As for whether Jack was serious about it or not, we may never know. Still, it’s a queer-friendly trucking song from 1948, and I betcha can’t find a dozen of ‘em.

Louis Killen – “The Flying Cloud”

Louis Killen was a true original, one of the founders and great contributors to the folk scare in England in the middle of the last century. They founded a folk club in Newcastle, transitioned late in life, and boy could they sing! This is one of those folk songs that’s hard to trace. Pulled from the fires of oblivion, it tells the brutal story of a pirate slave ship. Yup, you read that right: a ballad sung by a queer person, about selling human beings. One of the reasons I love this song and this singer is because it proves to us (again and again) that the oral process is complicated. History is bloody and awful. Another great folksinger, Steve Goodman, copped this melody for his Vietnam protest ballad “Penny Evans.”

Tret Fure – “This Train”

Tret Fure has maintained a cult-like following and a steady series of releases for decades. I first met her at Folk Alliance in 2018 and was struck by her poise and the power of her songs. Production-wise, she’s an experimenter and a shapeshifter, but writing- and audience-wise, she’s a folksinger through and through. Her fingerpicking shines on this record. Dig deeper for big 80’s vibes.

Carl Sandburg

OK, now, this one might be a headscratcher. One of America’s best-loved poets? Queer? Well, hear me out. Sandburg was one of the folks who first did a biography of Abraham Lincoln and identified a “streak of lavender” in Lincoln’s relationships with men. Having read Sandburg’s autobiographies, I think Sandburg may have had a streak of lavender himself. This is, of course, unconfirmed, but Sandburg’s gentle treatment of people, folksongs, and poetry makes him a must for this playlist.

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