“C’mon baby:” Chubby Checker has never stopped twisting

Published on March 25th, 2021

By Jim Dail

Sometimes there’s a song that is so powerful that it dominates the charts, becomes connected to an era and lasts long after it has had its run. Then there is “The Twist,” the classic Chubby Checker song, that many argue is the greatest song of the rock and roll era.

Checker performs at Pala Casino on Saturday night.

“’The Twist’ is the most important song in rock and roll because it produced and gave us a style that we could enjoy on the dance floor,” said Checker. “On the dance floor I am looking at the girl, she’s looking at me and I’m looking at the movement. You could do that to anybody’s music and we realize today some 57 years later, people are still doing that style of dance.”

Checker was born Ernest Evans in South Carolina, and it was seeing a show at a local fair that put the thrill into Checker to try and be a music star. And star he is. He is the only artist to have five albums in the Top 12 all at once, the first to have a platinum record, nine double-sided hits and a song that hit Number One two different times.

“When I was four, my mom took me to the Georgetown County Fair in Georgetown County, South Carolina, and I saw Ernest Tubb singing on stage,” he said. “I said ‘Oh my god! I want to be a singer and be a cowboy.’ That’s all I thought about from the time I was four years old until I was 17 and in a recording studio.”

He hit the charts with “The Class” in June of 1959, reaching as high as Number 38, but his second charting single was “The Twist” which hit the top of the charts, followed by “The Hucklebuck,” “Pony Time,” which was a Number One hit,” “Let’s Twist Again,” “The Fly” and then “The Twist” again hitting Number One, as well as other hits over the years.

“It’s all about dancing,” he said. “For example, ‘Limbo Rock’ was by The Champs and we put a lyric to it and everybody loved it. It was a dance that people did in the islands and it was a funeral procession and the lowest under the bar was sent higher into the kingdom of God. We didn’t expect it to be a hit and we were just fooling around.”

It is also true that Checker did not create all the songs he covered, but that doesn’t bother him one bit.

“I was like Elvis who never wrote a thing, and everyone wrote for him,” he said. “I didn’t write the songs but the point is we are closely associated. I have ‘a patent on The Twist dance, not the song itself, but that title belongs to Chubby. That song has made so much money. Everyone is still twisting whether it’s at the supermarket or a fast food restaurant.”

Nor is there a fear of being typecast. After all, “The Twist” was named the biggest chart hit of all time by Billboard Magazine, so it might be hard to be considered for anything else.

“Alexander Graham Bell is stuck with the telephone, Walt Disney is stuck with Mickey Mouse and Thomas Edison is stuck with the light bulb,” he said. “They are never going to get away from those things and I’m not going to be away from “The Twist” and I say ‘Stick me with it!’”

And when it comes to a live show with Checker, it is all about putting on a high energy show.

“When we come to town, we come on the stage and we start a fire, burn the place down and go home,” he said. “It’s the best way I can describe it. Before I go on, someone says ‘Chubby Checker’ and something happens and I become that dynamic guy. Afterwards I am like, ‘Wow, that was me?’”

But it is about giving the audience everything he has.

“For maybe an hour and a half, they just forget everything they have been tied up with,” he said. “We become involved with each other and that period of time, in that hour and a half, and we are so involved with each other.”

And what people will always get is the same Chubby Checker that burst onto the scene in the early ‘60s.

“It’s almost like a Hershey bar or Coca Cola,” he said. “It tastes the same and everybody likes it. Chubby does what chubby does and it has been that way from the beginning.”

And time hasn’t changed much.

“It’s like a 1960 corvette with a big 427 in it,” he said. “We still get along with the new Ferraris. I can still run with the new people. I do what I do and it’s unique, and it’s Chubby Checker. It’s all supped up and ready to go.”


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