Atlanta Music Scene

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Chubby Checker, at 76, still touring and still twistin’ (Mill Town, Bremen, July 14)

The Pennsylvania resident  does 50 to 60 dates a year

Originally posted Wednesday, July 11, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ on Melissa Ruggieri’s AJC Music Scene blog

Despite many hits in the 1960s, 76-year-old Chubby Checker is well aware that one single song has defined his lengthy career: “The Twist.”

Over six decades of the rock era, the infectious dance-craze hit remains the No. 1 song of all time on Billboard magazine, based on chart performance. It’s also the only tune to ever hit No. 1 twice, first in 1960, then again in 1962.

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 30: Chubby Checker (L) performs onstage with Craig MacGregor and Bryan Bassett of Foghat at the Paradise Artists Party during Day 4 of the IEBA 2014 Conference on September 30, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by (Rick Diamond/Getty Images for IEBA)) (Rick Diamond/Getty Images for IEBA)

“I wish radio played it more,” Checker said in an interview to promote his concert this Saturday, July 14, at Mill Town Music Hall in Bremen, where he appeared last year. (Buy tickets here.)

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But it’s hard to overstate the song’s significance at the time. It crossed racial and cultural barriers, played not just on top 40 and R&B radio but in dance halls, cafes and living rooms across America. He even did a follow-up song, “Let’s Twist Again,” which also hit the top of the charts.

Ever since, he has been a nonstop touring act and expects to do 50 to 60 concerts this year. “The phone still rings,” he said. “We’re still able to go out and make it work.”

And his band — whose members range in age from 26 to 42 — keeps him young. “You have to be very strong to play my music,” Checker said. “The drummer has to be in great shape. Same with the guitarist. You have to be a monster to play with Chubby!”

Randall Redding, CEO and co-founder of Mill Town, said Checker’s 2017 appearance was so fun, he asked him back this year and expects him to sell out.

“Our people enjoyed him so much it was one of the best shows we had in 2017,” Redding said. “It was a very easy decision to bring him back so quickly.”

Redding marveled over Checker’s youthful exuberance: “You’d never know he is 76. He looks like he’s in his early 60s. It’s amazing how much energy he has. … As soon as he grabbed that mic and by the end of the first line of his first song, I knew it was going to be a great show. It was power packed. There was a lot of audience participation. He could still sing like he always could.”

The singer’s only extraneous demand this year is to return to a nearby Waffle House. “He enjoyed meeting all the waitresses and signing everything,” Redding said.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 23: Singer/songwriter Chubby Checker visits at SiriusXM Studios on March 23, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by (Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)) (Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)

Checker, who goes by “Chubb” among friends and rarely hears anyone call him by his real name, Ernest Evans, still loves performing and said he is healthy. “I think my voice sounds better than it did 20, 30 years ago,” he said.

And he can do “The Twist” like he did on “American Bandstand” in 1960. “I can still make it look good,” he said.

For many years, he stayed in shape by running. He now does floor exercises and carefully watches his food intake to avoid literally becoming too chubby.

Though in the past he has publicly complained that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland has never inducted him, he no longer kvetches so much about the snub. It helped that this year, the hall added a new category dubbed The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Singles and “The Twist” was included.

He is now lobbying just for a statue of himself in the courtyard. “It’s not a power play,” he said. “I just want to be the ambassador to introduce people inside.”

Checker, over the 40-minute interview, said he believes he deserves more credit than he has gotten. “I want more recognition,” he acknowledged.

For instance, he said “The Twist” and other dance crazes emanating from his hit songs such as “Pony Time” and “The Fly” provided the inspiration for many dances that followed. “When you throw your hands up in the air like you just don’t care, you’re doing ‘The Fly’ by Chubby Checker!” he noted. “And with the Pony, he hips and he hops. That became hip-hop. I’m everywhere — even if they don’t know it.”

He said he thinks when Taylor Swift dances to her “Shake It Off” song, it’s a combination of several of his moves. “They try not to play my music and forget about Chubby Checker,” he said. “We’re there and we’re going to be there forever.”

At the same time, he is thrilled he can still entertain people in 2018 and make them smile when he hits the stage. “I’m thankful for whatever I get,” he said “I was born in South Carolina. On my dad’s farm, I didn’t have much. I’m just a poor kid who worked in a produce market.”

About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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