On April 10,2017 Tim Collins from Chapel Hill News & Views and Villa Rica News & Views had the opportunity to interview Chubby Checker. He was a lot of fun to talk to. Definitely a living legend! Here is a transcript of the full interview:
Chubby: Is this Tim? How are things in Peach Town?
Tim: Nice. You’re not that far away from us. You live in South Carolina don’t you?
Chubby: Well, according to you guys that’s north for you. Someone in Alabama says, “I’m from South Carolina” they say, “oh, that’s too far north for us.”
Tim: I know. Hey, I’m really appreciative to you taking the time to talk to me and it’s really an honor to speak to you.
Chubby: Thanks for your interest. I appreciate it.
Tim: You’re welcome. I wanted to ask you some questions about your career and your music. Also, I want to touch on some of the charity work you’re involved with. Hopefully, I will throw you a question or two that may be you don’t get all the time.
Tim: How many interviews do you do in a year on average? You have any idea?
Chubby: If I have a show I will give an interview, but other than that I don’t. People that are coming to a show or something want to know something and I talk about it. But normally, I don’t give interviews but people that are coming to shows that want to know something. I talk and talk, and tell them what’s going on about my career and “The Twist” of course, and how important that is. “The Twist” was born in Georgia.
Tim: Was it? I didn’t realize that. How about that?
Chubby: Hank Ballard wrote “The Twist”. He was a Georgia boy.
Tim: I didn’t realize that. That’s really cool.
Tim: How long before you performed it did he write it?
Chubby: Maybe a year or so. It wasn’t very long, but they didn’t play it much back then. They played it a little bit. They paid no attention to it, you know? He came up with another song and that was an opportunity for me. I was having a terrible time. In high school, I had a hit record called, The Class in the 11th grade. And now I’m in the 12th grade and nothing’s happened. The record company says, “Hey, this song called “The Twist” – we want you to sing it.” I said, “That’s a Hank Ballard tune.” He said, “Well, they’re not playing it. Chubby, we think you can kill this song.”
Tim: Oh, wow.
Chubby: So they made it the B-side of my next release that I had. And a man in Pittsburgh named Pookie Chadwick turned it over and started playing it, and the phones started ringing. The rest was history.
Tim: That is unreal isn’t it? So you really recorded it before you really performed it?
I wasn’t sure if it was something you did when you had a show and performed it, and people liked it and you thought, I’m going to record it.
Chubby: Never sang it. In the studio I recorded it four times and Dave Apple who produced it says, “Chubby, there’s a flat note on Daddy’s sleeping.” I said, “Dave, I gotta go home and do my homework.”
Tim: Ha-ha. That is so funny. Back in that time when you recorded it, in your wildest dreams it was probably impossible to know what that song would become, Were you able to get a sense? It sounds like it took off right away. What were your expectations at that point? Did you have any idea it would become as big as it would?
Chubby: To me it was just a hit record that I needed very badly because the first song I made didn’t reflect the coolness I thought I possessed. When “The Twist” came along I thought, “Oh, now I’m cool.” And I didn’t know at the time, but that song changed Dick Clark’s life as well. What we brought to the music industry is the style that is still being done in the dance floor to everybody’s music. I look at the girl and the girl looks at me, and we are fully dressed exploiting our sexuality. That’s what we brought to the dance floor and it’s still here.
Tim: Wow. That’s amazing. I was born in 1960, so right about the time “the Twist” came out. Was that about the time it came out?
Chubby: By the time 1974 came around you were doing the “Chubby Checker.“
Tim: Oh, I know. I mean I really was and looking back on one of the YouTube videos, I was thinking that’s kind of how I used to dance.
Chubby: But by ’74 they were doing the other dances that we put out there, but they were doing them to different people. But the style of dance, I know you remember the girl you were dancing with when you were dancing to the Bee Gee’s. I know you was, and you were looking at her. Well, Chubby brought that style to the dance floor and it’s still going on with Taylor Swift, it’s still going on.
Tim: I guess before that (The Twist) it was more like slow dancing and things like that?
Chubby: Well, slow dancing was good and it’s still here, but the music that had a beat to it – that’s the style we brought to the dance floor and this type of music, in fact rock and roll, pop, and hip-hop. My song that’s called “The Pony” a whole musical movement was named after my song, “The Pony”. What does a pony do? He hips and he hops. And the dance that they do, disco and all of the other dances that they do is “The Pony”, that’s what we brought here. By the way, if you throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care you’re doing “The Fly”.
Tim: That’s really cool. I didn’t know that either.
Tim: When you first sang the song and threw the B-side out there did you sorta have a vision of the dance that would go with it or were you just trying to record the song?
Chubby: No. The kids in the inner-city, bless the kids in the inner-city. They are mimicked more than anybody on Earth. Everybody wants to be cool like the kids in the inner-city, and the kids came up with this little dance to Hank Ballard. When they stopped playing Hank Ballard’s song no one was going to see them do it and no one is going to hear the song anymore. The window of opportunity opens and here comes Chubby Checker. So what we did was campaigned that thing in high school and all the record hops and everything. We didn’t know that in 2008, “The Twist” was going to become the first #1 song of all time since God put us on the planet. And it will be #1 until 2065.
Tim: I saw that. There’s only one #1 and you got it. That’s really incredible.
Chubby: People didn’t know that the first televised Super Bowl was Chubby Checker. In 1988, or something they didn’t know that song was going to become the #1 song of all time.
Tim: That is amazing.
Chubby: I’m bringing all my frustrations to Georgia. When I play the theater, so I don’t want no body to miss it. If you don’t come I’m going to throw rotten peaches at you.
Tim: Ha-ha. That’s funny!
Tim: What are your concerts like? I know, obviously, you perform “The Twist”. You do have a lot of other songs, so do you do through all your hits?
Chubby: You know I’m the only guy who has five albums on the charts in the top twelve all at the same time? I have a lot of songs to sing.
Tim: I saw that too. It’s just amazing to me how much you were able to accomplish.
Tim: Are your touring any now?
Chubby: I’m touring pretty good. I always like to play. It’s like a car if you don’t run it, breaks down. I’m in constant motion all the time. I have a tour bus and the guys get on it, and we travel around the country. We make it happen, that’s what we do.
Tim: That’s really cool. I was born in 1960, so I’m 57 now. I was watching you on YouTube and was thinking if I was doing that I’d be so sore the next day!
Tim: Do you work out a lot to stay in shape?
Chubby: Every time I eat I always think about it. There’s consequences, Chubby. So one day I’ll have a couple of donuts and some coffee and maybe some potato chips. And I guess that’s it for the day. Guess I’ve eaten enough calories and spoiled my whole day. That’s it! I’m finished!
Tim: Yeah, donuts are my downfall too. Do you guys have QuikTrip around where you live? Have you ever stopped in one of those?
Chubby: Hey, we are around the world and country. Nothing goes on in this country on the highway that we don’t know about.
Tim: They have really good donuts there.
Chubby: Quicktrip and Stop n Go. We know them all. McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Yeah, we know them all. And you know something? Every now and then we will go in there and convenience stores, and we get candy bars. Listen, we live a good life but we are very careful.
Tim: Definitely. Have you ever tried to figure out how many concerts you have done in your whole life?
Chubby: Hmmm, nah. You know when I do a concert, the one that I did doesn’t bother me anymore because I’m looking at the one coming up. The most important one is the one I’m going to do in Bremen. After it’s over, I don’t think about it. You want to know what I do at my concert, that’s what you ask?
Chubby: Well the answer to that is we come to town and we burn it down, and go home. That’s it.
Tim: I was thinking about the number of times you have played. You’ve probably seen some unusual things. Is there anything that stands out as the most bizarre thing that has happened at a show?
Chubby: You know, I will tell you something. Every night something happens because I do audience participation. I’m just looking for an excuse to party; it’s all about the people who come to the show. The last show that we did, there was this lady who came on to help me do “The Hucklebuck.” Tim, You ought to have seen that. There is no show like the Chubby Checker show. There’s nothing like it anywhere in rock kingdom it’s all about the people when they leave they have a total experience. You don’t have to be 60 or 70 and your 11; Chubby Checker is Walt Disney World.
Tim: You have a wide range of ages in the audience?
Chubby: Yeah, always. As a matter of fact I think you can go to a wedding and see the generations come together and decide to do “The Twist”.
Tim: Yeah, I bet that’s really cool.
Chubby: Everything that has happened to me. When I get to Bremen it’s all going to be bottled up and I’m ready to throw it at you. I’m going to throw bombs at you. All my frustrations and everything that has happened to me you’re going to get it.
Tim: Yeah, I’m going to come to that it sounds like a fun time.
Chubby: You need to come to that, so we can burn you up and send you home.
Tim: Just don’t get me up on the stage or I will embarrass you.
Chubby: Hey, you never know. You might be one of them. You never know.
Tim: Ha-ha. I’ll be heading for the exit. No, just kidding.
Tim: I do have a couple more questions. I posted on our Facebook page that I was going to interview you and see if anyone had any questions. Someone wanted me to ask you where you got the nickname “Chubby”?
Chubby: A guy named, Tony gave me the name when I was about 11 years old. I was in the studio doing something for Dick Clark, and his wife decided that Checker would be good because Chubby is like Fats, and Checker like Domino.
Tim: Oh, that’s a cool story.
Chubby: And I became Chubby Checker.
Tim: I thought of a question for you. It was right at the beginning of the interview. I didn’t catch it. You said when you were in the 11th grade and you had a hit song. What was the name of it?
Chubby: “The Class”. It was my first hit song. I didn’t like it very much. Like I said, it didn’t express the cool I thought I possessed.
Tim: I was listening on YouTube last night to some of the other things you have recorded. There’s a song you had recently called Changes, which I really like. You have such a great voice. That’s a really beautiful song, and it showcases your voice. You still got it. Some people when they get older they don’t sound good, but you’ve got a great voice.
Chubby: God has blessed me with good health, in all areas. When I go the shows I try to do all I can. Some people have a couple of years left and some people have a couple of days left. I want to make the most out of it. May be in 5 years I won’t be doing it anymore. But I’m sure having a good time.
Tim: What is the meaning of your recent song, “Changes”? It sounds very introspective, and reflective of your life. What were you thinking when you wrote that?
Chubby: It’s about everybody’s life. No matter how old or young you are, we all need to make some changes. You know you’re a devil and need to change it.
Tim: Yep. That’s true.
Chubby: And you know when you hear it it’s about you.
Tim: Yeah, I need to quit steeling cookies from the cookie jar.
Chubby: There you go! There you go! That’s what it’s all about!
Tim: I like that. It really is a good song, and on YouTube it has 150,000 listens. I didn’t know if you knew it had that many. That’s impressive.
Chubby: I would have liked for radio to play the song more. That would have been good. It’s very difficult to get radio to play. We thought it was one of those songs. We didn’t get a lot of action, so it was back to the drawing board.
Tim: The music industry has just changed so much. Music in general and the way things are distributed, just in the last 10 years, and the use of ITunes.
Chubby: A lot of my songs are on ITunes. In fact, if you go to my country, pick up a song called “Honkie Tonk Girls”. It’s on an album called, The Texas Twist.
And the latest country song I have is called, “Looking For Me”.
Tim: I was going to ask you about that because I heard that this morning. Wow, that’s a whole different side of Chubby Checker.
Chubby: We don’t fool around. When I was born there was no rock and roll around. it was country music. It’s been a big part of my life and a big part of me growing up. I love it, and I think I do it well.
Tim: Yeah, you really sounded great. You’re multi-talented.
Tim: What kind of music do you enjoy listening to?
Chubby: Anything that’s good. Anything that’s not good I don’t want to hear it. Music is music. It doesn’t matter what it is, if it’s good.
Tim: That’s true. I have found my taste has widened a lot as I’ve gotten older.
Tim: Who are some of your favorite songs or artists of all time?
Chubby: Just old stuff. You know those songs that get stuck in your head all of the time, chestnuts roasting on an open fire… Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Ray Charles, and Frank Sinatra. The songs that get stuck in your head are my favorite. There are some new people I like.
Tim: It’s hard to keep up with. You’re talking about songs being stuck in your head. For the past three days I’ve had “The Twist” stuck in my head. I guess since I was going to interview you it got stuck in my head.
Chubby: You go the supermarket and hear a song for the next three days! Stupid song in my head!
Tim: I know, sometimes you do get songs stuck in there that you wish you could get out.
Chubby: I’m having a good time and everything is going well. You know we are playing some shows. I’m getting a chance to exercise my body, my vocals are good and still can sing in the same key. I was going to do a show with Loretta Lynn. We were going to be on tour and I was going to be Conway Twitty. I practiced to go to her place there in Tennessee. We did have one show, but I thought she sang in the same key. When I was singing, I sang so low. It took me a week to get over it because my vocal cords were so damaged. I sure would have loved to be on tour with Loretta, and be Conway Twitty so I could hug on her.
Tim: Yeah, she’s another legend. When I was like 5,6,7 or 8 years old I really liked Charlie Pride, Loretta Lynn, and Merle Haggard. I loved that kind of music too.
Tim: Can you tell me about your involvement with Mascots for a Cure, and “The Twist Challenge”?
Chubby: The mascots come out on the football field, and the audience does The Twist for36 seconds. We want people to send in their donations to mascotsforacure.org/donate to help childhood cancer. Everyday 36 children get cancer. Can you imagine that? There are 365 days a year, and 36 children get cancer a day? I’ve lent my career and my dedication to help kids with childhood cancer. We don’t know if we will cure cancer in our lifetime, but it takes money to fight. We are getting closer and closer to it not being here anymore.
Tim: I know. My oldest son passed away at 35 years old from a rare cancer.
Chubby: There you go. My mother died from cancer and my uncle died from cancer.
Tim: And it comes so suddenly too. One day they are here and the next year they’re gone. It’s a terrible thing. I am really grateful to you for doing that.
Chubby: All you guys send money to mascotsforacure.org/donate. We would appreciate that.
Tim: Do you talk about that in your concerts sometimes?
Chubby: They are starting to run ads on TV and putting ads out in the country. I am there on camera, and at radio stations. They are taping it and sending it out. It’s starting to happen.
Tim: Comparing yourself as a person, how have you changed from the 1950’s until now? And how do you want to be remembered?
Tim: That’s a tough question isn’t it?
Chubby: No, not really.
Chubby: It’s like Walt Disney when he died. What did you do? I did Mickey Mouse – that’s it. Out of all the things you did in your life, what did you do? “The Twist.” How can I do better than that? I had the first #1 song of all time. How can you do better than the first #1 song of all time?
Tim: That’s true. Perfect answer. It really is.
Chubby: If I live until it comes around again, I will be 114 or something. So I won’t be here, but I want them to put it on tape and it’s the number one song, but remember folks I am not here.
Tim: How old are you now?
Tim: You look younger than me and I am almost 20 years younger than you.
Chubby: All the rockers are old. Mick Jaggar. Even Bon Jovi is getting there. Rod Stewart, they are old guys. Some of them have left us already. Chuck Berry just passed. His funeral was yesterday.
Tim: I didn’t know that.
Chubby: He is gone forever. Glenn Frey is gone.
Tim: I remember when I was a kid my grandmother said, “It used to bother me when people passed away, but now it happens so much I don’t think about it anymore.”
Chubby: Don Rickles just left us.
Tim: Yeah, I’m seeing what she means now because all of these people I grew up with are all going.
Chubby: Al Jarreau just left us.
Tim: Oh, I didn’t know that either.
Tim: You look really good. You really do.
Chubby: I just keep praying for God to give me another day. I spend a lot of time thanking God for keeping me and blessing me. I really do. I don’t take it for granted.
When God created Adam out of the ground, and he made Adam, then he breathed the breath of life into Adam and he became a living soul. When I read that it tells me that the air we breathe is God. Thank you very much sir, that’s all I know.
Tim: Has faith always been important to you?
Chubby: Faith better be important to everybody. I got news for you, whether you believe it or not, it’s happening to you. You don’t believe in God that’s your problem. You’re breathing God; so just shut your face.
Tim: I like that. It could be a good quote.
Tim: I really do appreciate you taking the time. I’m looking forward to seeing you out there.
Chubby: Come to see us, Tim! We are going to tear it up!
Tim: I’m going to. It sounds like a really fun time. I’m going to put you on the cover of one of the magazines. I would put you on both, but I promised some people they’d be on the front of one of them. I will put you on the cover of the Villa Rica though.
Chubby: Wherever you put me I’m good with that. Thank you, Tim and God bless.