Chubby Checker at 75, ‘I still like to rock’

Chubby Checker rocks Disney World (Photo by Jack Dennis)

Chubby Checker twists to the top in 1960.

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“Don’t speak of me in the past tense,” 75-year-old Chubby Checker said in a solid tone. “I still like to rock.”

Back in 1959, before he was barely known as Chubby Checker, 17-year-old Ernest Evans asked his mother Eartle Evans to pray for him. He felt like a “has-been” because his one record, “The Class,” was only a minor novelty hit. Despite still being in high school, young Evans would tour around Philadelphia promoting the song.

“Nothing was happening much with the record and I figured it was the end of the road for Chubby Checker. I was in a corner so I asked my mom to pray to God for me.”

Mrs. Evans began to pray and not long afterwards told her son she dreamed he would have a hit record. Eartle Evans did just that, and had a dream that Chubby would have a hit record. Soon, Evans went into the studio to work with producer Dave Apple.

“Apple told me I didn’t sound right on the lyric ‘Daddy’s just sleeping and momma ain’t around,’” Checker laughed. “I was impatient and let him know I just didn’t have a lot of time and that I need to study. I want to graduate with my high school friends.”

The song was a cover of a minor hit recorded by Hank Ballard. I went home to tell my mother, ‘I’m going to sing a song called ‘The Twist,’ is this it?’ She just smiled.”

After his high school graduation in 1960, “The Twist” was released. Dick Clark invited him to a couple of appearances on  his hit “American Bandstand” television program. Soon Chubby Checker not only the No. 1 record in the world, but would change the field of popular music forever. “The Twist” became Billboard Magazine’s all-time No. 1 song on the Hot 100 record chart. It topped more than 25,000 songs on the chart for the past six decades.

It’s the only song to hit No. 1 in two different years, 1960 and ’62.

Chubby Checker performs at EPCOT in Walt Disney World (Photo by Jack Dennis)

“Even as old as it is, ‘The Twist’ still sounds great,” Checker, recently told News Legit’s Jack Dennis. “The song represents the dance in rock and roll. And you see the dances still being done today.”

Checker followed up with 1961’s “Let’s Twist Again,” another smash. In ’62, the original “The Twist” was re-released and jumped to the top of the charts all over again. In an 18-month span, Checker had 5 albums in the Top 12. He created other dance crazes like “The Fly,” “The Pony” and “Mess Around.”

“It’s like Thomas Edison with light; Alexander Graham Bell with the phone and Walt Disney with animation,” Checker said. “People don’t think of them when they turn on a light, talk on the phone or watch animation. It’s the same for me. People don’t think of me when they dance to rock and roll. But I’m the one with the twist who really started it.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame continues to ignore him. Many call it the Hall of Fame’s disgrace.

Despite Checker’s groundbreaking influence, come hell or high water, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame continues to ignore him.  Many call it the Hall of Fame’s disgrace. There is even Facebook page, “Induct Chubby Checker in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.”

When rappers were recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, Daryl Hall, of Hall & Oates, said during his owen acceptance speech, “Chubby Checker — how about the biggest single in the entire world —  Chubby Checker, why isn’t he in?”

Although most of America was segregated when Checker was first topping the music charts, his music and dancing transcended skin color and still does.

“My audience is very loyal and most of them are white – not only in America but all over the world,” he said.  “They stay with me and I love them. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.”

Checker was on hand at the dedication of a mural in his honor in Wildwood, New Jersey in September 2015. Wildwood’s Rainbow Club was the historic debut of the song that changed the way the world danced in 1960.

“I can’t tell you what an honor it is to be here,” said Checker, said at the time. His wife of 52 years, Catharina Lodders Evans, and his children and grandchildren were with him.

“The Twist changed the dance floor in two minutes and 42 seconds. The American people never let it go.”

“‘The Twist’ changed the dance floor in two minutes and 42 seconds. The American people never let it go. It was transformative.”

The 12-by-40-foot mural is located at the 3700 block of Pacific Avenue on the side of Romeo’s Pizza, not far from the site of the dance club Checker first performed the song 55 years ago. The mural artist, Susan Daly, greeted Checker and his family as the crowd gathered to pay tribute to the area’s musical heritage. Checker’s mural, depicting him doing The Twist, is the third such tribute in the city. Singers Billy Haley and the Comets and South Philadelphia native Bobby Rydell were honored last year with murals.

Let’s Twist Again (London Records)

Checker is possibly the most underestimated success story in Rock n’ Roll history. Although it’s been 57 years since Checker reached the Hot 100 with “The Twist,” the entertainer’s identity and style have no limitations when it comes to time, age, race, or mass appeal.

“When someone says Chubby Checker did ‘The Twist’ way back when, then you’ve already limited me, like I’m already gone. G-O-N-E.,” said Checker in a phone interview with this Dennis in 2016.  “What I did in just two minutes and forty-two seconds was change everything.”

“When we talk about The Twist, we are talking about so much more than just a song,” Checker continued. “We’re talking about the dance floor.”

“What so many people don’t realize is that dancing the way we do now had to start somewhere and it started with Chubby,” laughed Checker. “That song and that music changed everything because up until then everybody was holding each other, touching one another and were almost tied together. The Twist set you free.”

Chubby Checker at EPCOT (Photo by Jack Dennis)

“When you are on that dance floor you had the freedom, the new—N-E-W—new, never-before-freedom and liberty to dance by yourself WITH someone who was dancing by themselves.” Checker explained. “See, that’s the dance we do now. That’s the dance the audience does at my shows, even on the stage with me.”

Checker described his show as like “no other on the planet.”

“It’s not so much about me, but it’s about them—each individual audience member and believe me when I tell you I will have some audience members twisting with me,” Checker hinted. “If not The Twist, we will do the Pony, or the Fly, or the Shake, or the Limbo, or the Hucklebuck.”

Checker noted that The Twist was written by Hank Ballard, who wasn’t a dancer.

“The kids in inner city Philadelphia were listening to it, and they are the one who essentially made up the dance. The Twist was never actually going to be heard by anyone again because the disc jockeys, by that time had quit playing it.”

DeeLee Lively with Chubby Checker in 1996 (New York)

“I was young and eager so we felt there was an opportunity to perform it at the nearby Rainbow Club,” Checker remembers. “Later we did it on ‘American Bandstand,’ and simply changed the world.”

“The three most important things that ever happened in the music industry are Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Chubby Checker,” the late Dick Clark famously proclaimed on more than one occasion.

Chubby Checker has achieved some noteworthy, yet undeservedly ignored recognition that Elvis, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, and so many others have not….and he is still performing.

NOTABLE MUSIC ACHIEVEMENTS

  • Only artist to have five albums in the Top 12 all at once.
  • First Platinum record was “Let’s Twist Again.”
  • Only artist to have a song to be #1 twice (1960 and 1962): “The Twist.”
  • Only artist to have nine double-sided hits.
  • Changed the way we dance to the beat 24/7 since 1959.
  • Sold over 250,000,000 records, so far.

MARCH 2017 TOURING SCHEDULE 

March 18 Margaritaville Resort Casino – Paradise Theater Bossier City, LA
March 19 Orange Blossom Opry Weirsdale, FL
March 21 Sanjan Theater Bonita Springs, FL
March 22 Duncan Theater – Palm Beach State College Lake Worth, FL
March 23 The Palladium St. Petersburg, FL
March 24 Arlington Music Hall Arlington, TX

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