I have a special place in my heart for Chubby Checker, growing up I knew who he was of course and I had heard “The Twist” and was very familiar with his part in musical history due to the popularity of that song but I did not know he was born in South Carolina so lucky me I get to tell my “Chubby” story! It was the 80’s and I was playing in a band with Mike Amos out of Orangeburg, SC. Mike was someone I looked up to both for his guitar skills and his knowledge of music in general, (the guy knows a lot about a lot when it comes to music trends and the industry). I remember coming in for practice one night and Mike put an album on the turntable and dared me to guess who it was - kicking off with “Running”, “I’ve Got Love”, “Harder Than Diamonds” and by the time a brilliant interpretation of the Stones classic “Under My Thumb” faded out I was bought and sold - It was then Mike grinned and revealed “that’s Chubby Checker’s new release “The Change Has Come”.
This release by Chubby has remained on my best-of-the-best premium playlist for the past 33 years and I’m still amazed at how flexible and above all else, brave an artist Chubby Checker is. Brave because in the music industry for an artist who has been defined by one major hit sensation like “The Twist” to step out and do something completely radical and redefining as this release was, well, that takes guts and vision and Chubby Checker will always have my respect for that.
Bio (From the press kit):
Ernest Evans was born in Spring Gulley, South Carolina, but grew up in South Philadelphia, where he lived with his parents and two brothers. When he was a small boy, his mother took him to see Sugar Child Robinson, a child piano prodigy and also the famous country singer Ernest Tubb. Young Evans was so impressed, that he vowed to someday enter show business and took his first step toward that goal by forming a street corner harmony group when he was only 11 years old.
By the time he entered high school, Ernest had learned to play the piano a little at Settlement Music School and could do a number of vocal impressions. He also went to South Philadelphia High School with his friend Fabian Forte, who would have show business success of his own. He entertained classmates whenever he could. After school, Chubby would sing and crack jokes at his various jobs including Fresh Farm Poultry on 9th Street and at the Produce Market. It was Ernest’s boss at the Produce Market, Tony A., who gave Ernest the nickname “Chubby”.
The storeowner of Fresh Farm Poultry, Henry Colt, was so impressed, he began showing off his employee to his customers through a loud speaker. Henry and his friend Kal-Mann arranged for young Chubby to do a private recording for Dick Clark. A Yuletide novelty tune called, "Jingle Bells" on which Chubby did several impressions of top recording stars, was cut. Dick Clark sent it out as a Christmas greeting to all of his friends and associates in the music business. Cameo-Parkway liked it so much that they wrote a song called "The Class" and it became Chubby's first hit in early 1959.
In June of 1959, Chubby recorded "The Twist". Bernie Lowe, president of Cameo Parkway Records was not initially impressed with Chubby's recording and felt it may be a "B" side at best. However, Chubby felt "The Twist" was something special and worked hard promoting the record by undertaking non-stop rounds of TV dates, interviews and live performances. Fourteen months later, in the summer of 1960, "The Twist" was a hit.
"The Twist" was not only the #1 song but it introduced the concept of "dancing apart to the beat". Over the next few years, endless songs incorporating "The Twist" into its name sprang up such as "Peppermint Twist", "Twist and Shout" and "Twistin' the Night Away". In addition, each new song brought a new dance involving "dancing apart to the beat" such as "The Jerk", "The Hully Gully", "The Boogaloo" and "The Shake". At the forefront was Chubby with "The Fly", "The Pony" and "The Hucklebuck".
The next few years were prolific for Chubby as hit followed hit. In 1961, Chubby recorded "Pony Time" written by Don Covay and John Berry. It went to #1 and stayed on the charts for 16 weeks. In between recording and touring, Chubby took time to add feature films to his portfolio with the releases of "Don't Knock The Twist" and "Twist Around The Clock".
In the fall of 1961, record industry history was made when Checker's original hit record, "The Twist", re-entered the charts and by January of 1962, it was back in the #1 position. No other record before or since has accomplished that feat. Combining its 1960 run with its 1961/62 return, "The Twist" spent an amazing nine month total on the U. S. best seller charts.
Chubby Checker merchandise was everywhere, and included T-shirts, shoes, ties, dolls, raincoats, and chewing gum. His success continued for years with the release of one dance record after another, with "The Fly" and "Let's Twist Again", for which he won a Grammy for the "Best Rock Performance". More hit records followed. "Slow Twistin'", "Dancin' Party", "Popeye the Hitchhiker" and "The Limbo Rock" all came along in 1962.
1963 saw Checker return to the hit parade with "Birdland" and "Twist It Up", after which he followed with "Loddy Lo" and a series of other novelty type tunes. Eventually, teens incorporated these movements to all songs that had a beat and called these movements "The Boogie", a permanent fixture in Rock and Roll and popular Music 24/7. While hits kept coming, the highlight of 1964 was Chubby's marriage to Catharina Lodders, Miss World 1962.
The 80's were dominated by almost nonstop touring with some unique twists. ABC aired their answer to NBC's Saturday Night Live, a counter culture show called Fridays which starred Michael Richards (Kramer) and Larry David. A special appearance by Chubby as he sang his current hit, "Running" (excerpted on his website) was broadcast before a live national audience. However, by 1988, Chubby demonstrated extreme musical diversity by recording a very different "Yo Twist" with the Fat Boys. This song went to #14 on the charts.
In 2000, Chubby branched out into the snack food business commemorating 40 years of "The Twist" with Chocolate Checker Bars, Beef Jerky, Hot Dogs, and Popcorn, all to be washed down with Girl of the World Water (dedicated to his wife).
The Limbo Rock Remix and The Original Master of The Dance Hall Beat, released in 2004, became top 5 Disney Radio hits and a favorite of DJ's with its ability to bring audiences out of their seats and on to the dance floor. With the single and "LP" both on the Billboard charts, a new generation of Chubby Checker fans was born.
In 2007, Chubby returned to the charts yet again with "Knock Down The Walls", Billboards #1 dance track. This song introduced Chubby to a whole new audience with its powerful straight ahead rock tempo and captured Chubby's continuous musical evolution.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio rewarded Chubby in July of 2008 with a special award presentation. An honored Chubby thrilled a fervent crowd by performing his hits, new and old, to the delight of everyone. A lengthy photo and autograph session followed, which highlighted Chubby's favorite part, getting to interact with people.
As Chubby's touring continued, 2009 took Chubby abroad including special shows in Germany (2010) as well as his annual appearances at Disneyworld. 2009 also marked the release of an updated version of "The Fly". A younger generation now shook their hands as the dance reappeared in clubs.
Now we have entered The 50th Anniversary Year of The Twist. Special ceremonies have taken place in front of City Hall in Philadelphia and Wildwood, N.J. and the 50th Anniversary Tour continues along with a Chubby Checker cruise in May, 2011.
What keeps this artist going? According to Chubby, "It's the fans. The energy I get from singing and dancing with all these people over the years is unlike anything else I experience. I never want it to end."
Neither do we.
Chubby Checker - the only artist to have 5 albums in the Top 12 all at once.
Chubby Checker - First Platinum - "Let's Twist Again".
Chubby Checker - the only artist to have a song to be #1 twice - "The Twist".
Chubby Checker - the only artist to have 9 Double-Sided Hits.
Chubby Checker - changed the way we dance to the beat 24/7 since 1959.