Also to simplify from what I said earlier, I took out the Creative card which was just confusing for you and me both, so I just have the cd cable going to the motherboard connector for the nvidia nforce2 audio, and that works to play cd's.
The problem there was solved by compiling a kernel with alsa audio drivers having "oss emulation". That put /dev/snd/pcm* in and things find them for audio cd playback. If a cd seems to be playing but no sound is coming out, then you probably need to run a mixer app and un-mute and turn the volume up.
/dev/dsp didn't show up for other apps until I installed alsautils, alsabase, not using those binary modules in those packages because I have later code in the kernel for alsa, but some of the startup scripting for alsa makes /dev/dsp.