Chubby Checker: Still Twistin’

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By David DeRocco    

It’s kind of ironic, but if you’re someone who stays in shape attending fitness classes that involve any form of dance or rhythmic movement, you might owe some thanks to a guy nicknamed Chubby.

You see, in the annals of rock and roll history, the great CHUBBY CHECKER is ground zero for songs that made people shake, dance, limbo and of course, twist – on the dancefloor, in the clubs, at receptions and in the gym. When you’re connecting the dots between any hip hop, R&B or rock music that inspires people to bust a move,  you have to follow those dots back to the string of hits the South Carolina-born rock and roll legend released in the late 50s and 60s. Through a succession of up-tempo dance tracks including “The Hucklebuck,” “The Fly,” “Limbo Rock,” “Dance the Mess Around” and “Pony Time,” the name Chubby Checker became synonymous with the process of channelling teenage sexual energy into physical activity on the dance floor. However, it was his 1960 classic hit “The Twist” and it’s follow up “Let’s Twist Again,” that secured Chubby’s place in the lexicon of modern pop music. In fact, the song tops the Billboard list of “All-Time Hot 100 Top Songs,” was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and, in 2018, became one of the first songs included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s new “Singles” category.

Although Checker hit #1 again in 2008 with a modern dance track called “Knock  Down The Walls,” it’s the classics that continue to bring people out to see the 77-year-old legend perform. In anticipation of his appearance at Fallsview Casino’s Avalon Ballroom, Chubby talked to GoBeWeekly about staying in shape, the impact of “The Twist” on modern dance culture, and how to improve your marriage.

 GoBe: Before we explore your past let’s talk about your present. You’re 77 years old and still performing. What’s your fitness regime; what do you do at this stage to keep your body and your voice up for the challenge. Am I to think a man nicknamed Chubby is out there doing yoga and Pilates?

CHUBBY: Why not, I’m able to do that. In fact, I started all that back in 1959. I figured that if I became an old person I want to be in good shape, so I started way back then. You’ve seen that movie Forrest Gump?

GoBe: Of course.

CHUBBY: He started jogging. I did that already. I figured if I was going to become an old person I need to stay in shape, so I did that every day. And I prayed to God every day to take care of my parts and he’s delivered. I’m having a good show and a good life. 77 is okay for me. I don’t know about others but it’s okay for be.

Gobe: There’s really no age limit on rock and roll is there.

CHUBBY: Basically rock and roll is filled with old people. The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, these people are in their 70s. I think the guy playing drums in the Stones is 80 already. We’re not young people. We have a whole lot of fans though, and they fill the house and everything’s wonderful.

GoBe: You come from an era when singers sang. There was no Auto Tune back then. What were your studio sessions like during those hit-making days. Endless takes…or were producers more apt to just capture authenticity regardless of any flaws

CHUBBY:  They used to call me Quick Take Chubby. I would do an album in an afternoon and then they’d come and work on it after I was finished. It was no more different than what it is now really. Everything was really natural. Some performers, they dance so much that they have to use machines to get the show across. People get used to that. People are used to all of the help it takes to deliver a show now. I still go on stage and sing like I always did. It’s all natural. I’m able to do it thank God. 60 minutes, 70 minutes, an hour and a half. It’s my art. It’s what I do. I’m doing it the best we can, because we know that one day we’re not going to be able to do it. I used to be able to run 35 miles a week, and I don’t run any more. I do miss it.

GoBe: Your show is so much fun, it’s just a feel good experience and it goes by so fast. And I think that speaks to the era of music that you represent, that era from ’55 to ’65 when it was just a magical time in recorded music. Yes, there was a lot of novelty music and sometimes cheesy sentimentality. But it was music that just made you feel good. What are your thoughts on that era.

CHUBBY: You have to understand, for other singers you can say that. For people of that era you can say that. But for Chubby Checker, it’s totally untrue. We’re the people who invented the telephone. We invented the electric light. I say that, because we invented the dance floor. The way that people dance is as old as my career. There is no generation that escapes Chubby Checker no matter what you’re singing. The dance styles that we put on the floor are still happening as we speak. The latest and greatest rock singer or hip hop singer, Chubby Checker is so involved in that. “The Twist,” “The Pony,” “The Fly,” “The Shake.”  If you throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care, you’re doing “The Fly” by Chubby Checker. If you’re doing “The Pony,” what does a pony do? A pony hips and he hops. The whole hip hop era, Chubby Checker brought that here, because the dance that they do when they rap is “The Pony.”  Chubby Checker is involved in every generation like chocolate. We’re still here.

GoBe: Your success truly helped define dance music. When you see what dance music has become today, with its twerking and grinding and sexuality, does it make you feel glad you’re not 19 and starting over. Or is that just a natural evolution of dance.

CHUBBY: Being 19 and 20 is always a lot of fun. But when I look at it, if you ask Alexander Graham Bell what he thinks of the cell phone, he’s going to say, ‘hey, I did that.’ Chubby Checker’s like that. When you ask, what do you think of dance music? I put it there. The way we dance on the dance floor is as old as Chubby Checker’s career. No one else can say that. Every generation benefits from what we did. And “The Twist” by the way is the #1 song on the planet. And it will be #1 until 2068, because every 50 years they nominate another song. In 2018 “The Twist” was nominated again. We kind of engulfed all that’s going on out there. Elvis doesn’t have the #1 song on the plant. No one else does either. Chubby Checker does. It’s a wonderful life.

GoBe: You mention “The Twist.” You sold 15 million copies of that song in the first five years. You were a millionaire by age 22. It’s both a blessing and a curse to have  recorded that song. What’s your relationship with that song now when you look at how it impacted your life and career.

CHUBBY: It’s impacted everybody’s life, not just mine. All the musicians that make money off dance, they owe it to “The Twist.”  When you go do yoga or Pilates like you mentioned, before Chubby Checker they didn’t dance to music when they were exercising. That industry came about because of Chubby Checker. Someone says ‘oh, we can do exercise to this stuff.’ That’s how that industry began. That dance, that style on the dance, all they did with “The Twist”, “The Pony,” “The Fly” and “The Shake” was slow them down, and that became the boogie. I follow how my career evolved and how it impacted things. The only problem I have is we’re not getting enough recognition for what we put here. We need more people to discover Chubby Checker. That’s the only disturbing thing about my life. I don’t get enough credit for what we’ve done. “The Twist” is the #1 song on the planet. I’d like to hear it played every day on the radio. I would like that, so we could go out and entertain for 30 or 40 thousand people like my counterparts who are doing great things.

GoBe: The song is pervasive, it’s not unrealistic to think that if it got more airplay today that young people would embrace it as other generations have. You’ve had other hits of course, and in 2008 you hit #1 again with a different kind of dance song, “Knock Down The Walls.” What were your thoughts at the time when you hit #1 again at that stage in your career.

CHUBBY: I just thought that it was all mechanical. It wasn’t really like every radio station was playing it. There were still problems getting airplay. It was a little explosion, but not a big one. I appreciated it. But at the end of the day, I’m having a great life. Things are really very good. I complain, but things are still good.

GoBe:  You’re still performing, so things are good. What’s the biggest joy you take away from performing these days.

CHUBBY: When I get to the Fallsview to play, it will be the most important thing in my life, because wherever I am, that’s where I am, and that’s where I love to be. Where ever I am, that’s the greatest place to be at the moment. Right now I’m having a great experience with you.

GoBe: It’s certainly my pleasure. I’m a fan of your music and the music of your era. I’ve been married a couple times so your music has been a big part of the reception on the dance floor.

CHUBBY: (Laughing) You’re married a couple times? You’re a very brave man.

GoBe: I didn’t have the luck you’ve had, finding the right one the first time.

CHUBBY: Well, you be careful out there. There’s a lot of things going on. Treat them all wonderful. And keep smiling. If you do that, it gets easier to get through the day.

GoBe: Getting marriage advice from Chubby Checker is the best part of my day. Final question, what can we expect from your show. I imagine you cover all eras of your career?

CHUBBY: We come to town, we burn it down. That’s what we do.

DID YOU KNOW:

Chubby Checker was born Ernest Evans. He worked at Farm Fresh Poultry in North Carolina, where the owner first started calling him Chubby. After completing a Fats Domino impression during a private recording session with American Bandstand host Dick Clark, Evans was asked what his name was by Clark’s wife. Evans replied “my friends call me Chubby.” She smiled and said, “as in checkers,” referring to the board game. The name stuck as a sort of nod to Fats Domino.

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