An icon of rock-n-roll, Chubby Checker will be taking the stage Nov. 2 at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts (SMCPA) in Franklin.
Born in Spring Gulley, S.C. but raised in Philadelphia, Checker began his musical career singing in a street-corner harmony group, honing his skills and carving a niche for himself as an entertainer. He would do impressions of popular singers at the time, which included Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Fats Domino.
While singing to customers at a produce market he worked at, others began to see his raw, unique talent. They got him into a recording studio and soon his world flipped upside down, starting with an immortal performance on American Bandstand with Dick Clark. During the show, Checker sang and shook his body to “The Twist,” a melody and motion that took the music industry by storm.
Nothing was ever the same after that program. Checker offered up more sensations through the likes of “The Hucklebuck,” “Pony Time,” “Let’s Twist Again,” “The Fly” and “Limbo Rock,” amongst others.
Now, more than a half-century later, the music still endures, as fresh as the day his voice was put to vinyl. In 2008, “The Twist” topped Billboard magazine’s list of most popular singles to have appeared in the Hot 100 since the chart debuted in 1958.
At 71, Checker is still as mobile as ever. Fresh from a performance in Australia, he caught up with The Smoky Mountain News while bouncing through a Dallas airport, on his way to another gig in Ft. Lauderdale.
He is a Southern boy at heart, something he holds up with pride. With eyes aimed for his upcoming show in Franklin, Checker is excited to bring his style and flare to Southern Appalachia.
Smoky Mountain News: When did you first realize you wanted to be a singer?
Chubby Checker: When I saw Ernest Tubb in Jamestown, S.C. at a county fair when I was 4 years old. And when I get down there to the theater (SMCPA), I’ll be getting into my country side, so be looking out for that. The first music I ever heard was country music. It’s what inspired me to do “The Twist.” That music sounds so fresh, even today. It goes back to my childhood. When I was a young boy, I heard cowboy music.
SMN: It seems when people get older they tend to go back to the music they originally grew up on.
CC: That’s so true. And when people come to see us in North Carolina, they’re coming to see the number one song on the planet. From 1958 to 2008, it was named the number one song. The next time that event takes place will be 2058, so that means the next song hasn’t been nominated yet, so “The Twist” will reign for a hundred years.
SMN: What is “The Twist” to you?
CC: “The Twist” is the dance floor. That style of dancing was born when that song was showcased on American Bandstand. Nothing in the music industry was the same again. It’s not line dancing. It’s not slow dancing. And as we speak, it was the biggest event in the music industry because anybody that has a song, has a beat, they’re always coming through the Chubby Checker post office.
SMN: Who invented that style of dance?
CC: You know, I watched kids in the inner city and added some things to it.
SMN: Do ever get tired of being tied to it all?
CC: I’m tied to this because it was a big event in the music industry. “Let’s Twist Again” was the first song to receive a platinum award. It was also the first rock song to receive a Grammy. In those days, rock and roll was considered a dirty type of music that nobody appreciated, and then we won a Grammy.
SMN: What is it about that era that resonates so deeply with people?
CC: It’s not an era. It’s the light bulb in an office. When this came along, it’s not a period that we remember. We remember that the lights went on, and the lights are still on. The way we dance on the floor is still here.
SMN: Why do you still keep touring?
CC: It’s the only thing I can still hold onto. I’m in a business where everything is controlled by other people. The only thing I can hold onto is the performance. So, when we come to North Carolina, you better bring your helmet because we kill people, and there are stray bullets.
SMN: You turned 70 last year. Do you see a rebirth at this age?
CC: All I know is God steps into this body he gave me. When I go onstage, he just gives me everything I ask for when I perform for those people. If you’re coming to see an old worn out man, stay home. If you’re coming to see Chubby Checker and you’re curious, come out and see it. I’ll be doing this as long as I’m healthy. I still run like a racehorse, but not as fast as the one that ran in 1960. The one in 1960 ran 150 miles an hour, but the one in 2012 goes 107 miles an hour.
Want to go?
Chubby Checker will be performing at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin on Nov. 2. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $28-$36.
www.greatmountainmusic.com or 828.524.1598.