The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #354 Message #3045789
Posted By: bobad
03-Dec-10 - 04:31 PM
Thread Name: Origins: One Meatball - blues song
Subject: RE: Origins: One Meatball - blues song
This from the liner notes accompanying the 2004 CD of Dave Van Ronk's last live performance "...and the tin pan bended, and the story ended."
Like everyone else, Dave got this from Josh White. The history he gives in his introduction, while not entirely accurate, is no weirder than the truth. The song began as a satire on medieval minstrel balladry, "The Lay of the Lone Fish Ball," apparently written by a Harvard Latin professor, George Martin Lane, in the 1850s (though its first publication, in 1855, is credited to a Richard Storrs Willis). It became a popular ditty among the college crowd, and sometime in the next decade or two, Francis James Child and James Russell Lowell took it upon themselves to dress it in fancy clothing, Child producing the one-act Italian opera, Il Pesceballo, with an English translation by Lowell. (Both texts were published by the Caxton Club, Chicago, in 1899.) I can find no evidence that Longfellow was involved, but it is possible that the others were just too drunk to remember him. As "The Lone Fish Ball," the song appeared in Sigmund Spaeth's Read 'Em And Weep: The Songs You forgot to Remember (1926), and it was in that form that it was heard at a party in the early 1940s by the Tin Pan Alley songwriters Hy Zaret (who later wrote the lyric to "Unchained Melody") and Lou Singer. They transformed it into "One Meatball," and it was simultaneously introduced at the two Cafe Society nightclubs: Josh sang it at the Greenwich Village room, and the comedian Jimmy Savo did it uptown. Josh's version was his biggest hit, shortly covered by the Andrews Sisters, and so on down to Dave.