Mister Noah (Dave Van Ronk/Frank Shay)

This is another amusing tidbit from Dave Van Ronk: Folksinger, and is probably the first song I learned off that record, because if you hear it once or twice, you know it, like it or not. I don’t know where Dave learned it,* but a similar four-verse version was printed in Frank Shay’s My Pious Friends and Drunken Companions, a wonderful book published in 1927 and illustrated with woodcuts by one of my favorite illustratorsMy Pious Friends, John Held, Jr. The concept behind the book was to preserve the songs men used to sing in saloons, which were endangered due to Prohibition — which had not ended drinking, by any means, but had ended loud singing around the piano in the local bar. (Held also illustrated a book called The Saloon in the Home, or a Garden of Rumblossoms, which purported to present an evenhanded debate for and against Prohibition, the “pro” side represented by severe tracts on temperance and the dangers of alcohol, and the “anti” represented by cocktail recipes.)

Shay titled this song “Brother Noah,” and it was apparently a popular favorite for barroom harmonizers, with a mock-religious chorus of “Hallelue, Hallelue, Hallelue-eu-eu-eu-ya.”

Dave’s version replaces the hallelujahs with “doodlee-doo,” an improvement I would recommend to singers of Handel as well.

Other than which, the song speaks for itself very nicely.


*Andy Hedges writes to tell me that Billy Faier learned this as a kid and taught it to Dave, which makes perfect sense.