When Chubby Checker released his version of the song “The Twist” in 1960, it not only became a radio sensation, it also was a dance sensation.
You can bet that Checker performs “The Twist” along with other songs from his stellar career during his show at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Arcada Theatre, 105 E. Main St., St. Charles. Tickets are available at arcadalive.com.
Kane County Chronicle reporter Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to the 80-year-old Checker about the upcoming show. The interview has been edited for length and style.
Eric Schelkopf: Of course, you’re best known for “The Twist.” I was just wondering what made you want to cover Hank Ballard’s song “The Twist” and did you think it would have such a big impact?
Chubby Checker: Dick Clark thought it was a good idea if I would sing it because no one was playing it. He thought it might be something. I was still in high school.
They told me it was already recorded and all I had to do was come in and sing it. I had told my mother a few months earlier that I was having a hard time and I was feeling pretty bad and she said she had a dream that I was going to record a song and it wasn’t going to be my song but that it was going to cover the world.
And so when I was going to the studio to record the song, I said, ‘Mom, that dream you had. You think this is it?’ And she said, ‘Oh Ernest, just go sing the song.’
Schelkopf: Did Dick Clark ever say why he thought you should cover the song?
Checker: I think it was because of my personality. And my ego had a lot to do with it.
Between me and Cassius Clay, I didn’t know who was the greatest. We were 18 and 19 years old and we just thought we could do anything.
This was the song for me to be whoever I was. Hank wrote the song, but I don’t think he would have done what I did with it.
Schelkopf: What did you want to do with the song?
Checker: I wanted to be a great rock star and that song was the song to make me that. That was the greatest song in the world.
It was a dance song and it was sexy. I could stand and look at my girl and show my body and do my moves and I could watch her do hers. And that was something different in those days.
What “The Twist” brought to the dance floor is what the dance floor had become and what the dance floor would be forever more. That’s what “The Twist” is. We gave rock ‘n’ roll the dance that it has.
“The Twist” is the dance floor. Even right now, “The Twist” is the dance floor.
And then we came up with The Pony and The Fly dance styles and The Shake. All of that is Chubby Checker.
What does a pony do? He hips and he hops. That’s what he does.
The whole hip hop generation comes from one song called “Pony Time.” That’s the dance that they do while they’re holding their crotch.
Schelkopf: You were still in high school when “The Twist” became a hit. All of this must have been pretty overwhelming for a high school student.
Checker: Well, when I was four years old, I saw Ernest Tubb singing on stage in South Carolina, where I was born. I told my mom that’s all I wanted to do.
I was very calm and very settled. I was glad it was happening.
Schelkopf: Of course, “The Twist” was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. A lot of people wonder why you’re not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Checker: It doesn’t matter, Eric. I’m in a business where other people call the shots. Whatever they decide is OK.
The most important thing in my life is happening at 3 p.m. Sunday. That’s what I focus on.
Because without the people, I’m nothing.
Schelkopf: What kind of advice do you give to up-and-coming musicians? What do you tell them?
Checker: To just keep doing what you’re doing, not only in the music business, but in anything that you’re doing.
If you believe in it, go for it. It’s not about the money, it’s about the feeling that you get.