David Seville’s real name was Ross Bagdasarian. Ross was born January 27, 1919 to grape farmers in Fresno, California. His father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and become a grape farmer also, but Ross had other ideas. He wanted to be an actor, so off to New York he went. He worked in theater for a while and then WW II happened and he joined the Air Force to fight.
After the war, he returned to California, got married and prepared to settle down. But, instead of growing grapes, he started writing songs. He wrote “Come on-a My House” which was a number one hit for Rosemary Clooney. He also wrote “Hey Brother, Pour the Wine” for Dean Martin.
In 1958, he was fooling around with recording techniques and found that he could record at half speed and playback at full speed and it would sound, well, like chipmunks. He didn’t think of chipmunks right away, instead he used the technique to record the voice of the witch doctor for the song “Witch Doctor.” He got the name of the song from a book in his library called “The Duel with the Witch Doctor.”
His record label told him that no one could pronounce Bagdasarian and he should come up with a better name for himself. When he was in the Air Force, he spent some time in Seville, Spain and thought David Seville would be a good name. And, so David Seville was born. “Witch Doctor” did so well that it kept Elvis Presley’s latest hit “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck” out of the number one spot. It was Elvis’s first record with RCA that did not make number one.
Novelty songs were big in 1958. We will see two more before the end of the year and, yes, one of those had something to do with those famous chipmunks.
“Witch Doctor” hit the charts on April 14, 1958 and stayed at number one for three weeks.
Here is David Seville singing the “Witch Doctor” on the Ed Sullivan Show.
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