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Chubby Checker: Let's twist again and other stories

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chubby Checker removes his overcoat, bends his knees slightly and slowly swivels his hips.

Chubby Checker talks during an interview with Reuters in New York, in this January 25, 2007 file photo. Few musicians are so closely linked to a single dance as Chubby Checker and the Twist, and Chubby Checker is twisting again, like he did last summer, and 47 summers before that. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid

The big guy is getting into it, lightly snapping his fingers, pointing his toes.

“The Twist is putting out a cigarette with both feet, coming out of the shower, wiping off your bottom with a towel to the beat of the music,” he explains.

There may be no band, and no chorus of screaming girls, but Chubby Checker is twisting again, like he did last summer, and 47 summers before that.

Few musicians are so closely linked to a single dance as Chubby Checker and the Twist. Johann Strauss and the waltz is perhaps another.

The revolutionary thing about the Twist, he says, is that it made boy give up holding girl.

“If you’re wiping off your bottom with a towel, you’re not touching your partner,” says Checker, now 65, but going on 17.

Just about every dance since then is just a variation of that simple set of moves. The Pony, the Fly, the Shake, even the Hucklebuck and hip-hop. Blame it all on Chubby Checker.

“Now you’ve got this great girl in front of you and you’re there all dressed in your nice clothes and the music’s playing and you’re doing this,” Checker’s demonstration continues.

“That got the world so crazy! After I did that on American Bandstand in 2 minutes and 42 seconds, the next week everybody in the world was doing this.”

“ROUND ‘N ROUND ‘N UP ‘N DOWN WE GO AGAIN”

As he likes to remind anyone, his recording of “The Twist” was a Billboard No. 1 hit twice -- in September 1960 and again in January 1962. Then there was “Let’s Twist Again” and “Slow Twistin’,” “Pony Time” and “Limbo Rock.”

Born Ernest Evans in South Carolina and raised in Philadelphia, he went to school with two others who became pre-Beatles pop stars, Fabian and Frankie Avalon.

When he got his big break, Ernest morphed into Chubby Checker, a name given him by the wife of Dick Clark, the host of ABC television’s American Bandstand, as a takeoff on the name of singer Fats Domino.

Checker was the only recording star with five albums in the Top 12 at once, yet he was still in high school when he took the world by storm. “The Twist” was the biggest song of the Sixties, according to Billboard (The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” was No 2.)

“When I was in high school, the Twist was being played on the radio and in my yearbook I was already Chubby Checker.” He recalls the ribbing from classmates: “They knew me as Ernest and all of a sudden I was Chubby Checker. They were like ‘Man, get on outta here!’”

Checker, who married 1962 Miss World Catharina Lodders in 1964, is a seven-time grandfather and is still making music.

He toured in Europe and on the oldies circuit, with occasional recordings like a 2003 remix of his 1962 hit “Limbo Rock,” which featured “Chubby C.” His new album “Knock Down the Walls” -- with Checker’s own lyrics and Santana-style guitars -- comes out in March, with a single on Feb 14.

“BABY LET ME KNOW YOU LOVE ME SO ‘N THEN”

Asked the source of his talent, Checker says, with no hint of arrogance : “God gave me that, he didn’t give it to anyone else. Didn’t give it to Elvis, didn’t give it to the Beatles. He gave it to me. Dancing apart to the beat, alright?”

Checker, who has become a successful businessman with his Chubby Checker Snacks line of meats and chocolate, ends his one-man Twist show with a revelation.

“When I go on stage, I’m a different man. I become Chubby Checker, And when I’m not Chubby Checker, I’m preparing to be him,” he says, referring to himself in the third person.

“Chubby Checker is going to come out and I want him to look great. I want him to be energetic, to have power, I want him to be sexy, I want him to be exciting.

“He’s not the guy talking to you now, either. This is Ernest, telling you all about Chubby,” he confides.

But if you can create an alter ego, you can kill it too.

“I’m going to miss him, because I’m going to dismiss him one day. One day, I’m just going to say: ‘That’s it. I love you, Chubby, bye.’ I love him, he was great and beautiful, and I’m not even going to think about it.”

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