In sad despair I wander my heart is filled with woe,
Though in my grief I ponder what to do I do not know,
For cruel fate does on me frown and the trouble seems to be,
That there’s a fellow in this town and he just looks like me.
Oh wouldn’t I like to catch him, whoever he may be,
Wouldn’t I give him particular fits, that fellow that looks like me.
One evening I sat speaking to a girl as dear as life,
When a lady who had just dropped in says “Brown how is your wife?”
In vain I said “I’m a single man, ’tis married I wish to be,”
She called me a swindler and kicked me out for the fellow that looks like me.
With a lady fair I started to the Central Park to go,
But was stopped in the street by a man who said “Pay the bill you owe.”
In vain I said “I know you not,” He would not let me free,
’Til a crowd came ’round and the bill I paid for the fellow that looks like me.
Then to a ball one night I went, and was just enjoying the sport,
When a policeman caught me by the arm saying “you’re wanted down in court,
You escaped us twice but this here time we’ll take care you don’t get free,”
They dragged me off and locked me up for the fellow that looks like me.
I was tried next day, found guilty too, was about to be taken down,
When a second policeman then brought in the right criminal Mr. Brown,
They locked him up and set me free wasn’t he a sight to see,
For the ugliest wretch that ever you saw was the fella that looked like me!
This month I chose a light-hearted song that I have been meaning to learn for a while. I came across it via the rich digital archive of MacEdward Leach’s field recordings from Newfoundland made available by that province’s Memorial University. Leach recorded a wonderful, lilty version from Trepassey singer Cyril O’Brien in 1951. “The Fellow That Looked Like Me” was also sung in logging communities in Pennsylvania and Michigan as well as in Appalachia where it eventually made its way into the old time country repertoire by way of recordings by Al Hopkins and his Buckle Busters and others.
The song had its start in the 1860s during the early days of vaudeville in New York where it was written by Dublin-born John F. Poole and performed by the “Father of Vaudeville” Tony Pastor around 1867. Irish composers, melodies and themes were a central part of vaudeville in those years. Poole and Pastor also teamed up on the famous song lamenting anti-Irish job discrimination, “No Irish Need Apply,” as well as the original “Tim Finigan’s Wake” (yes that “Finnegan’s Wake!”).
Of all the versions I’ve found from folk sources, Newfoundlander Cyril O’Brien’s is my favorite and it’s also the closest to Poole’s original composition. The above melodic transcription is from O’Brien and the text is my own blend of O’Brien’s text and the original text published by Poole. Poole’s original is available online here.