Commentary

Growing Up With The Grasshoppers

I was introduced to The Grasshoppers by my older brother and sister. Although the first album was released eight years before I was born, it was still in pretty good condition. And this was one of those albums I'd listen to over and over again. Its sound didn't conflict with what I heard in the house either. My father would play Big Band and Swing, so this fit right in! (And he'd also have some of those tribute albums by Eddie Maynard and his Orchestra.)  

I remember sitting in the parlor -- at my spot at the end of the couch -- sitting on the arm rest and playing The Grasshoppers album on my Arvin phonograph. And I remember when the album cover split into two. I still kept it, with the record album safely in between them. But then, one day, my mother threw it out. Boy, was I upset!  

My sister also had some 45's of David Seville and The Chipmunks; "Alvin's Harmonica"/"Mediocre", "The Chipmunk Song"/"Almost Good", and "Witch Doctor"/"Don't Whistle At Me Baby". 

Looking back now to when I was a child listening to these records, it didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary having two separate groups -- that had similar voices -- perform some of the same songs, namely Alvin's Harmonica and The Chipmunk Song. Groups did it all the time; for example, The Carpenters. Only, I did prefer The Grasshoppers. I liked their sound. And I liked the song arrangements. 

Then I got to thinking, which came first, The Grasshoppers or The Chipmunks? Or had they come at the same time? I got that answer in 1997 when I met Dr. Demento. It was The Chipmunks, of course. The Chipmunks first officially appeared on the scene in a novelty record released in late fall 1958 by Ross Bagdasarian, Sr., (as David Seville). The song, originally listed on the record label (Liberty F-55168) as "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)", featured the singing skills of the chipmunk trio. The Grasshoppers released their album in 1959, clearly inspired by this novelty. 

I'd also look around at used record stores, and later on eBay, for The Grasshoppers. But, for the life of me, I could not remember which album cover we had. Looking at the different cover versions I saw on the internet did not stir any of the dusts of familiarity. So I asked my sister. And she said it was the one with the bunnies. I still have the first record, of course -- the Spin-O-Rama record label. And I picked up another copy on eBay with the cover, (Not the one we had, of course. Because at the time I didn't know which cover we had.). 

What I did remember was the grasshoppers' dixieland straw hats, vests, and bow ties. 

I'd like to point out that I do believe that Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. came up with a very clever idea creating The Chipmunks. And those early songs he wrote were ingenious. I don't like the direction the Chipmunks went after his death. But, that's neither here nor there. If it wasn't for that spark of creativity in 1958, there would have been no Grasshoppers

Growing up with The Grasshoppers is indeed one of those memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life. 


~ C.A. Chicoine



SINGING BUGS


Excerpt from the Roctober article, MONDO CHIPMUNK-O!


The Grasshoppers "Sing-A-Long With The Grasshoppers (Twinkle TW 12, also Diplomat 2215, Spin-O-Rama MK 3074, and a number of other labels, first issued ca. 1960?)

Listening to this scratchy kids' LP is a total trip down memory lane for me. I remember my mom brought it home for me in 1963, after having picked it up while shopping at the local Mayfair grocery store. Little did I know that this cheap-o Spin-o-Rama LP was a "rip-off" of the incredibly successful Chipmunks records. The record leads off with the "The Chipmunk Song" ("Christmas, Christmas, Don't be late...) Wait a minute....GRASSHOPPERS singing "The Chipmunk Song"?? Yep. They even do "Alvin's Harmonica" - confusing the issue even more. And instead of the now-familiar Alvin, Theodore and Simon, we get Archie, Ricky and Dennis. The guy taking the David Seville role is "Eddie". The singing and instrumental back is actually pretty darn good, compared to some other "rip-off" Chipmunks products I have. Sounds like they hired some studio musicians, with muted trumpets, drums, piano, bass and guitar. Most other records of the Chipmunk Rip-Off genre that I've heard have just one cheesy organ or something as back up. I actually used to play this record at 16 rpm to hear how it was recorded by the studio singer(s), and credit this LP with my first education in harmony singing. I was in a bunch of bands years later, and was always ready to break into the familiar 3-part arrangement of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" ala Grasshoppers, but dagnab it, never got the chance. This record is actually in stereo, with neat separation of voices and instruments, but back in those childhood days, I'd never heard stereo and was perfectly happy with my mono kiddie record player. My other big memory of this record is my ultra-conservative Preacher's Wife mom, making sure I couldn't play the one rocked-up gospel version of "When The Saints Go March In", as she dutifully and skillfully "X'd" out the grooves to that one track. Of course, when she wasn't around, I just had to play this forbidden fruit, scratches, needle-jumps and all! God knows what it must have done to that needle, but hey, I was 7 years old. My original copy of this record was lost long ago, but like all good record-collectin' baby boomers, I've since picked up a replacement copy, and although I rarely play it, when I do it instantly transports me back to those simpler, pre-Beatles days. Sweet-Tarts, anyone? ~ Dana Countryman


The Grasshoppers "Sing Along With The Grasshoppers: the Chipmunk Song and 11 other songs" a/k/a "Sing-A-Long With The Grasshoppers" (Parade SP 374, and dozens of other records,196?)

The Grasshoppers "More Sing-A-Long With The Grasshoppers Vol. 2" (Spin-O-Rama MK 3100, Diplomat 2216, and Promenade 2216)



Used record archeology is an inexact science, but it would seem from the sheer volume of Grasshoppers material unearthed that they were the main knockoff group of the Chipmunks. But unlike the Chips, who had a big record company behind them and chart positions, merchandising and crossover (to adults) appeal on their minds, these are kiddie records on cheapo labels directed at parents who’d rather spend the minimum for kids who can’t tell the difference. I’m not sure exactly how it worked, but the recordings that the Grasshoppers did were leased, sold, rented to (or stolen by) dozens of labels over the years. On many of these the same drawing, or a variation thereof, of the Grasshoppers appears. OK, as best I can tell these are the basic tracks on their "debut" album: "Alvin’s Harmonica," "Big Rock Candy Mountain," "Chipmunk Song," "Counting Song," "Glow Worm," "I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy," "I’ve Been Working On The Railroad," "Little Tin Soldier And A Little Toy Drum," "On Top Of Old Smokey," "Row Row Row Your Boat" "Take Me Out To The Ballgame," "When The Saints Go Marching In." Volume 2 introduces these songs: "A Boy In Buckskin," "A Hunting We Will Go," "Aloha," "Anchors Aweigh," "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," "Dixie," "Doggie In The Window," "Happy Birthday," "On A Bicycle Built for Two" "Red River Valley," "76 Trombones," and "Swanee River." So you basically have 24 tracks that subsequently get shuffled around on countless LPs with slight difference in art and title for decades. Often they would even change the group’s name (see Woody and the Woodchucks in CRITTERS section). But to dismiss these bugs because of their budgetness would be a mistake. These are pretty great records. The music is fun and well arranged, and all the singing and speaking is intelligible (not so with many knockoffs, or even some latter day Chipmunk records). Most importantly, mischievous Dennis, Archie and Rickey and their human friend/manager/dad Eddie Maynard can be really funny. In "A-Hunting We Will Go" Eddie asks what animals they want to hunt. They respond "E-le-phants!" "Hip-po-pot-o-mi!" "Cows?" On their cover of "Alvin’s harmonica Dennis explains that he likes his harmonica because he dropped it in his mom’s cake batter and it tastes good. They play baseball in the studio while recording. One thing that really differentiates the Hoppers from the Chips is that instead of 50s pop/novelty, their act is more rooted in vaudeville/Minstrel traditions, with old timey songs, Riverboat references, and pictures of them dressed as a Dixieland/barbershop quartet type outfits, with straw hats and bowties. Sometimes they hover around a microphone (or daisy) and on one record they even gather around an upright piano crooning. Musically these records are really a pleasure. Their harmonies are always tight and funny, "A Boy In Buckskin" is a wonderful fun recording, and "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" (a rare example of a hip choice) is a blast. One notable thing is that though Eddie never really loses his temper like Seville, he can at times be far crueler than David would ever be, threatening the boys with death more than once. At one point when they don’t sing he tells them a story about a man who was going to step on some grasshoppers because he couldn’t hear them singing, with "the bottom of a big, heavy shoe coming nearer…and…nearer" until they fearfully break into song. When Dennis decides to test the waters of transgenderism by wearing a grass skirt to sing "Aloha," Eddie tells him "Boys don’t wear grass skirts." When Dennis insists, Eddie comes after him with a lawnmower! Perhaps his brutal discipline can be attributed to his background; when the Hoppers improvise lyrics that don’t rhyme he laments, "Why did I ever leave the navy?" Of course, these bugs may deserve tough love, they can be worse behaved than Alvin and the gang ever were, lighting dynamite instead of birthday candles, shooting arrows, threatening Eddie with bayonets when singing "Dixie," and knocking ladies over with their "Bicycle Built for Two." Their biggest Chip ripoff, by the way, isn’t their honest covers but their "I’ve Been Working On The Railroad," in which they use "Choo Choo Choo" to copy the upbeat groove of the Chips’ "Old MacDonald Cha Cha Cha." Perhaps the law self-esteem that has them rip off the chipmunks stems from the fact that they usually only appear in the corners of their own album art, with centerstage held by naked chipmunks playing instruments, a farm animal/forest animal band or bear cubs that an artist thought were chipmunks.  ~ Jake Austen


The Grasshoppers "The Grasshoppers Sing the (picture of a Beatles’ wig) Hits" (Diplomat D2337, 1964)



When I said the Grasshoppers only had 24 songs I wasn’t counting this record for good reason. I guess Eddie retired because the patriarch is now referred to as Jerry. And I guess Grasshoppers have a short lifecycle, because three new ones appear here, Henry, Leroy and Herman. Most significantly this differs from the other recordings because instead of a slick studio band this music seems to have been recorded by possibly real kids, certainly not pros. This is a raw rock and roll record with amateurishly stiff drumming. And forget early Grasshoppers comparisons, more importantly this sounds like a garage band compared to the slick Chipmunks Beatles LP. These bugs do skits, giggle and interject mid song, instead of the way the Chips played their LP too straight with minimal Seville. I think it’s pretty clear that Seville (and Eddie Maynard of the Grasshoppers) likely didn’t get 60s rock and thus couldn’t really put a genuine rock record out by their pets/kids. This, then, is the first, and possibly the best ever Chipmunk style rock and roll record. There’s a budget thing going on here (they don’t have the Beatles name anywhere, using a wig as a rebus-style symbol for the band’s name), but despite only having three Beatles songs, they accurately Merseybeat up the other public domain stuff ("Good Old Summertime," "In The good old Summertime"), hiply including material the Beatles covered as a Beat band in German clubs. On wax we learn, after we hear some garage-style tuning up, that, "We just came back from Liverpool." Jerry sings an extremely square version of "My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean," mocking stiff whiteness like a Def Comedy Jam comic (humor that would be impossible for Eddie Maynard to comprehend) and then the Hoppers update the song. But Jerry keeps begging the younger generation for validation, "That wasn’t square, was it? Was it!?" The best song on the record (if it’s not the raw as salmonella chicken version of "Shortenin’ Bread") is an original(?) called "Wearyin’ Worryin’ Blues." It opens with Jerry playing acoustic guitar, making the Grasshoppers interrupt: "Jerry…Jerry!" "What?" "DON’T PLAY!" As he mumbles dissent they skiffle on! The cover art is awesome. Only the bowties are left over from their last incarnation. Other than that it’s Beatles wigs, left handed electric sitar, minimal drum kit and a Beatles bass. And a frog (maybe Jerry is a frog?) is conducting with a baton while playing guitar. By the way, this is definitely the same Grasshoppers "franchise" as before, not just a coincidental thing that may have sprung from the Beatles-bug connection, because this is on a label that also licensed old Grasshoppers stuff.  ~ Jake Austen and James Porter