Archived Story

Twisting with Chubby Checker

Published 9:18pm Wednesday, July 9, 2014

By Frank Roberts

Chubby Checker is justifiably unhappy that he has not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

His claim to fame, of course, is his 1961 hit, “The Twist,” which, like its follow-up song, “Let’s Twist Again” are considered among the most popular songs in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. The latter was the first song in that genre to receive a Grammy Award.

When “The Twist” was introduced, Checker checked in with several radio stations to promote his dancing baby, a common practice in those days. One fine day, he visited my morning show in a station in North Carolina, ready to do his thing.

The artists usually allot a certain amount of time before sailing out to the next station. We were the exception.

There were the usual questions about life, career, the future and all the etceteras.

Checker was affable, lark-happy and was having such a good time with us, he stayed on for about three hours. It was a treat for us and for the listeners. We carried on, we joked — he constantly “twisted” as we described the movements.

It was one of the most fun days I had in my lengthy career, and I still have a few pictures to remind me of it. He was behind schedule by the time he left, but it didn’t faze him.

Of course, we played “The Twist” over and over again, and the listeners enjoyed it.

Why he is not a member of the R ’n’ R Hall of Fame, I have no idea. Normally, a person is nominated by someone and, since no one has entered his name for consideration, he is doing it himself.

He told the Associated Press, “If you put me in when I’m too old to make a living (yep, he’s still working) then it’s no good for me to be in there.”

Checker continues to ‘twist’ at 72. He and his wife, the former Rina Lodder (they were hitched in ’64) have three children. A son, Shan Egan, wears a red jump suit and is lead singer with a group called Funk Church. I watched a video. Yuck!

Here’s some CC history: He was born in ’41 in Spring Gulley, S.C., the son of a tobacco farmer. The family moved to Philly, where Chub worked as a shoeshine boy, sold ice and worked for a butcher. He also worked in a produce store, spending his spare time impersonating such folks as Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.

He sang in churches and on the streets with his group, The Quantrells. Some music executives heard him, liked what they heard and signed him. That was in ’59. His first two records were “The Class,” and “Dancing Dinosaur,” and, like those prehistoric animals, they became extinct.

Then, the turnaround. A singer named Hank Ballard was having modest success with “The Twist.” Checker picked it up, added the dance steps, and the rest is history.

“The Twist” was a No. 1 Billboard hit for 18 weeks, re-entering the charts at a later date and hanging in for 21 weeks.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.

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