Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Roots of David Seville: Ross Bagdasarian & William Saroyan - Come On-A My House

A recent (and very cool) post over at Record Robot got me to thinking about Ross Bagdasarian (AKA David Seville, the Chipmunk impresario), and better yet, it spurred me to finally dig through a big stack of ancient cassette tapes to locate this little gem.

Ross Bagdasarian grew up in Fresno, California. His heritage was Armenian, and he was first cousin to author/playwright William Saroyan, who was eleven years his senior.

Bagdasarian and Saroyan colaborated in writing the song 'Come On-a My House' while traveling together in the summer of 1939.

The song was first used in 1950, incorporated into Saroyan's off-Broadway play, 'The Son'.

The first recordings of it were released in 1951, on the Federal record label by vocalist
Kay Armen (Mrs. Bagdasarian), as well as this version released on the Coral label, featuring vocals by Ross, accompanied by Saroyan supplying the narration.

It was the Rosemary Clooney version that became a HUGE hit, released that same year on the Columbia label (despite her reluctance to record it).

It was somewhere around this time that Ross Bagdasarian concluded that he *was* in fact in the music business, and so changed his name to David Seville. (He'd been stationed in the Seville region of Spain during WWII)

During the next few years he continued to record (with moderate commercial success), issuing singles on the Liberty label under the name 'Alfi & Harry', and then more singles and an LP as David Seville.

He had a few film roles during that time as well, including his appearance in Afred Hitchcock's 'Rear Window'.

It was 1958 when everything changed. He played around with recording his voice sped up, and released his novelty song 'The Witch Doctor', which was ridiculously successful. He took the process a step further in creating The Chipmunks, and a dynasty was born.

Listen to: Ross Bagdasarian, with narration by William Saroyan - Come On-A My House (click for audio)


Iggy said...

I didn't know that he was Saroyan's cousin. I DID know that he was in the opening Broadway cast of Saroyan's play, "The Time of Your Life" as the Newsboy. Which is the only think I ever knew of him doing, outside of The Chipmunks.

Anonymous said...

My mother would kill for a copy of this record- she has one she loved that broke in half and she can't find the B-side music anywhere. Can anyone help?

Michael Krikorian said...

I have been trying to find this recording made by Ross Bagdasarian and William Soroyan for decades - seriously. My grandmother Sanam Krikorian gave me her 78RPM copy of this recording and I cherished it until my brother sat on it and broke in in half. My mother threw it out. I would dearly love to have another orginal copy, though I doubt I could afford it. I even went to used record stores (when they existed) in Sacramento, Fresno, and San Francisco with no luck. I would tell them that was the only recording done by Saroyan and Bagdasarian and they would say it never existed or the only such recording was done by Rosemary Cloony. They thought I was dillusional!? I grew up in Fresno and I still remember seeing Ross Bagdsarian's brown over brown Rolls Royce driving by when he came to town. At any rate PLEEEAASE!! IF YOU KNOW OF HOW I COULD GET AN ORGINAL COPY PLEASE RESPOND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Michael Krikorian

jeffm12012 said...

A minor correction; Kay Armen was not Mrs. Ross Bagdasarian, though reports I've read on line conflict on whether or not (like William Saroyan) she was also his cousin. Kay Armen's real name was Armen Manoogian; Ross Bagdasarian's wife's maiden name was Armen Kulhanjian. Ross Bagdasarian wrote and recorded many instrumentals and some non-Chipmunk-related vocals for Liberty Records in the 50's and 60's; some under his real name and others as David Seville, copies sometimes turn up for sale on ebay.

Freshly-stirred links