I had been trying to catch Chubby all day in between classes, playing phone tag, so when his agent/girlfriend called and said she had tracked him down and he was ready to talk, I told her I needed to get off the road and call her back.
I got off Route 80 and parked in front of the KFC, and anybody who knows me understands that in a case like that, chicken must be consumed. I debated whether to eat chicken first, and then call, or vice versa. I opted for chicken first, a lucky thing, because Chubby went on like a house afire for about 45 minutes.
When my mother-in-law Betty heard that I had interviewed him and that he was to appear at Mount Airy, she said it was just the thing to celebrate her 80th birthday, so I did something I never do and called the PR gal to see if I couldn’t weasel some comp tickets. We wound up with our knees shoved up against the stage, and Chubby rocked out for 90 solid minutes, putting on a hell of a good show. Every time he got close to us, Betty gently touched his blue swede checker-board patterned shoe.
For a moment I could see her as a star-struck 15 year old. Priceless. So thanks, Chubby. I hope those bozos get their heads back in the daylight and you get installed, as well you should be!
There are four Browns (or Brownes) in the Rock and Roll hall of fame, and if you can name three of them, you are better than most. Jackson, James, Charles and Ruth all made it, but Gatemouth didn’t. And if you scroll down to the “C’s”, you might note another strange void. Right between Leonard Chess and Charlie Christian, there seems to be a name missing.
You can tell the omission puzzles and frustrates him, and attempts to discover how someone like Charlie Christian (who?) becomes one of the list was met by stoney silence on the part of the R&R Hall of Fame folks, who failed to return calls and e-mails asking about the procedures for nominations and inductions.
“I have the first platinum song, “Let’s Twist Again,” the first Rock and Roll song to get a Grammy, the biggest song of the 60’s decade, “The Twist”, the only song to be number one twice on the charts, and my music is not being played. You listen to the oldies stations, they play Billy Joel, they play Rod Steward, but you don’t hear Chubby Checker” the musical icon lamented in a recent interview.
It is indeed an odd state of affairs that a performer who had such a profound impact on music as well as on dance should be overlooked.
“Dick Clark said that the most important things that happened in the music industry were Elvis, the Beatles, and Chubby Checker. This style of dancing became the biggest thing in the music industry, dancing apart to the beat. Before Chubby Checker it wasn’t here. The Pony, the Swim, they all come from the Twist,” Checker said.
He went on to explain that “The Twist” was the B side of one of his first records, “The Trot,” and that inner city kids were the ones that developed the dance at a time when young people were anxiously looking for something to replace the jitterbug. The idea of people dancing without touching, as mundane as it may seem now, was indeed new in American culture, and there is not a person of a certain age who does not remember eagerly shaking it all about at weddings or parties after The Twist hit the charts.
“I don’t dwell in the past.The most important thing is performing for people. When they come to see Chubby Checker, they are going to see the man who showed America how to dance, they are going to say “I’ve never seen a better show,’” Checker said.
The name, odd as it may sound, has a logical origin. Working in a produce stand in South Philly, home of Frankie Avalon and Fabian, his boss nick-named him Chubby. When he first began, he specialized in doing impersonations of other rock stars, and it was during an audition for American Bandstand that he performed a Fats Domino song for Dick Clark and his wife.
“ I was doing my Fats Domino, and Mrs. Clark, she’s my fairy god-mother, asked me what my name was, and I said ‘Chubby’, and she put that ‘Checkers’ on the end of it,” he recalls. Initially, he said that the name caused some confusion among those in the music industry.
“They didn’t know if I was white or black , if it was pop music or rock and roll, they didn’t know what I was,” he laughed.
Those days are long gone, and recently the idol has been far from idle. He has released a single called “The Fly,” which is on the charts, and another, “Knock Down the Wall,” which he describes as “a parable that is a million miles wide and a million miles deep” and which straddles the line between pop love song and gospel.
“It’s probably one of the most powerful songs I have ever sung. If you close your eyes and imagine how big that is, that happens to me 24/7. It’s all about love and what God has given me. He hasn’t given that to any other singer. That’s not bragging, it’s the truth,” he said, adding that he is looking forward to returning to the new Mount Airy, a venue he remembers fondly from “the old days.”
“I just got an e-mail from someone up there who said he was in the Army, and he was excited to hear I was coming up,” he said, adding that his goal for every show, first and last, is to provide a performance that the audience will judge to be the best they have ever seen.