#506: Do The Freddie by Chubby Checker
Ernest Evans was born in 1941 in Spring Gulley, South Carolina. He grew up in South Philadelphia. As a child, his mother took him to a show performed by child piano prodigy Sugar Child Robinson. Also at the performance was the country singer Ernest Tubb. Ernest was so inspired, that he decided to become an entertainer when he grew up. At the age of eleven he formed a street corner doo-wop group. He took up piano and while attending South Philadelphia High School, one of his friends was Fabian Forte. After school he worked at Fresh Farm Poultry on 9th Street at the Produce Market. His boss decided to give a nickname to his portly employee and called him “Chubby.”
Chubby got a reputation as someone who told jokes and sang at the store. Fresh Farm Poultry’s owner, Henry Colt, was proud of Chubby. One thing led to another and Colt arranged for Chubby to make a recording with Dick Clark of American Bandstand. The recording was a novelty version of “Jingle Bells”, which Dick Clark sent to his colleagues in the music industry. At the recording session Ernest Evans got his stage name from Dick Clark’s wife, Barbara Mallory. She asked him what his name was. “Well, my friends call me ‘Chubby’,” he replied. Since he’d just done a Fats Domino impression, she smiled and said, “As in Checker?” By the end of the recording session he became known as Chubby Checker. Cameo-Parkway Records took notice and signed Chubby Checker to a record deal. His first release was a song he co-wrote called “The Class”, which became a minor hit in 1959. It climbed to #38 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #34 on CKWX in Vancouver (BC).
Later that year he recorded “Whole Lotta Laughin'” and early in 1960 “Dancing Dinosaur”. Neither song caught on. But another song he recorded in June 1959 was one Chubby Checker wanted Cameo-Parkway to get behind. It was called “The Twist”. Though the record company president, Bernie Lowe, was skeptical of the song’s potential, Chubby Checker proceeded to appear on TV and in live performances and featured “The Twist” at every opportunity. In June 1960 Checker appeared on The Buddy Deane Show in Baltimore. Next, he performed the song at the Rainbow Club in Wildwood, New Jersey, in July 1960. The response was electric. “The Twist” debuted at #49 on the July 30, 1960, on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Subsequently, 18-year-old Chubby Checker appeared on American Bandstand on August 6, 1960. On August 8, “The Twist” jumped from #49 to #11 on the Hot 100. It spent the next six weeks in the Top Ten until it topped the Hot 100 chart on September 19, 1960. And later it returned to the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1962 for two more weeks.
“The Twist” was not only the #1 song but it introduced the concept of “dancing apart to the beat,” instead of dancing while holding hands. Chubby Checker has said “the way we dance on the dance floor is because of this song. What “The Twist” gave us was, you’re dancing in front of her, she’s dancing in front of you – you had a chance to exploit your sexuality while being fully dressed. Before, that wasn’t happening in music.”
In the midst of the ‘Twist” craze, there were many songs recorded to cash in on the fad. These include Kissin’ and Twistin’” (Fabian), “Twistin’ USA” (Danny and the Juniors), “Dear Lady Twist” (Gary “U.S.” Bonds), “Let Me Do My Twist” (Jo Ann Campbell), “Let’s Twist Again” (Chubby Checker), “Oliver Twist” (Rod McKuen), “The Peppermint Twist” (Joey Dee and the Starliters), “Spanish Twist/Twist Español” and “Florida Twist” (all by Bill Haley & His Comets), “Tequila Twist” (The Champs), “Twist And Shout” (Isley Brothers and later The Beatles), “The Alvin Twist” (The Chipmunks), “Arkansas Twist” (Bobby Lee Trammell), “The Basie Twist” (Count Basie), “Bo’s Twist” (Bo Diddley), “Bristol Twistin’ Annie” (The Dovells), “Do You Know How To Twist?” (Hank Ballard and The Midnighters), “Everybody’s Twistin’” (Frank Sinatra), “Hey, Let’s Twist” (Joey Dee & the Starliters), “Jungle Twist” (The Fortune Tellers), “Kissin’ Twist (Kiss ‘n’ Twist)” (Connie Francis), “Percolator (Twist)” (Billy Joe & the Checkmates), “Slow Twistin’” (Chubby Checker and Dee Dee Sharp), “Soul Twist” (King Curtis) “Twist-Her” (Bill Black’s Combo), “Twistin’ All Night Long” (Danny and the Juniors), “Twistin’ Matilda (And The Channel)” (Jimmy Soul), “Twistin’ Postman” (The Marvelettes), “Twisting Bells” (Santo and Johnny), “Twisting The Night Away” (Sam Cooke), “Twist, Twist Senora” (Gary “U.S.” Bonds), “The Peppermint Twist” (Danny Peppermint and the Jumping Jacks) and “Little Miss Twist” (Beau-Marks). While in film there were several ‘Twist’ movies: Twist All Night, (Hey) Let’s Twist, Twist Around The Clock, and Don’t Knock The Twist. Chubby Checker starred in the last two.
In addition to twist related songs, there were other dance hits that included “Mashed Potato Time” and “Do The Bird” (both by Dee Dee Sharp), “The Loco-Motion” (Little Eva), “The Wah-Wahtusi” (Orlons), “Bristol Stomp” (Dovells), “Blame It On The Bossa Nova” (Eydie Gormé), “C’mon And Swim” (Bobby Freeman), “The Madison Time” (Ray Bryant Trio), “Cool Jerk” (Capitols), “Mickey’s Monkey” (Miracles), “The Hully Gully” (Olympics), “Shake” (Sam Cooke). All of these dances involved dancing apart in relation to one or more persons across from, or near, you. Chubby Checker was prominent in launching new dance crazes with “The Fly”, “The Hucklebuck”, “Popeye The Hitchhiker”. “Limbo Rock” and “Pony Time”. The latter was also a number one single in 1961. In 1962 Checker won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance for “Let’s Twist Again”.
In 1963 he had more hits on the pop charts including “Birdland”, “Twist It Up” and “Loddy Lo”. While hits kept coming, the highlight of 1964 was Chubby’s marriage to Catharina Lodders, Miss World 1962. In 1965 he added another song to the dance scene called “Do The Freddie”.
“Do The Freddie” included these dance instructions: “You flip your wings just like a bird….You wave your hands up to the sky. Kick your legs out to the side.” To do the Freddie, the dancer simply stands in place; then, in rhythm with the music, extends the left leg and raises both arms, as if doing jumping jacks, then extends the right leg and raises both arms again. For a moment the dancers hop. The moves are repeated until the song’s conclusion.
“Do The Freddie” first appeared on the AM-Top 40 chart in Syracuse, New York, in mid-March 1965. It was inspired by British Invasion band Freddie and the Dreamers who had a Top Ten North American hit in February ’65 titled “I’m Telling You Now”, a song that peaked at #2 in the UK in 1963. The band’s stage act was enlivened by the comic antics of the 5-foot-3-inch-tall Freddie Garrity, who would bounce around the stage with arms and legs flying. In addition, his three guitar-playing bandmates Roy Crewdson, Derek Quinn and Peter Birrell (bass), all kicked their legs out from side to side as they played their instruments. Only the drummer, Bernie Dwyer, remained unaffected on stage.
In Canada Chubby Checker’s hit was titled “Do The Freddie”, while in the United States it was titled “Let’s Do The Freddie”. The song first appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 on April 3, 1965. This was the same week that “I’m Telling You Now” by Freddie And The Dreamers jumped from #20 to #3 on the Hot 100, and to #1 for the next three weeks. With the exposure of Freddie And The Dreamers comic dance antics whenever they sang their number one song, deejays started spinning Chubby Checker’s dance novelty song that mimicked Freddie Garrity’s wild movements on stage. Subsequently, Freddie And The Dreamers released their own song with different lyrics also called “Do The Freddie”. While Chubby Checker’s song stalled at #40 on the Hot 100, Freddie And The Dreamers song climbed to #18.
“Do The Freddie” by Chubby Checker was co-written by Doc Pomus and Dave Appell. Jerome Solon Felder was born in Brooklyn in 1925. He contracted polio and walked with crutches in his youth. He eventually spent much of his adult life in a wheelchair. Felder wanted to become a blues singer and billed himself as Doc Pomus because he liked it better than Jerome Felder. He wrote magazine articles for R&B recording stars. He began songwriting and wrote “Lonely Avenue” for Ray Charles in 1956. Pomus had a big break when he co-wrote “Young Blood” for the Coasters, together with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The single climbed to #8 on the Billboard pop chart in 1957. In addition to the songs mentioned above that Doc Pomus co-wrote with Mort Shuman, he also wrote “She’s Not You” for Elvis Presley and “Don’t Try To Change Me” for the Crickets.
With lag irons and a wheelchair, Doc Pomus gained a lot of weight. But he was the life of the party. He spent a quarter of a million dollars in earnings by 1963 and his wife left him for a career on the stage. In a review of Alex Halberstadt’s Lonely Avenue: the Unlikely Life and Times of Doc Pomus, Christopher Hawtree writes that after his wife left, “Another young woman, Shirlee, came along, stayed – and shied as much from a gun-waving Phil Spector (who gave the grateful Pomus a blank cheque) as she did from the homespun gamblers with whom Pomus augmented funds. Such sessions ended when the Mob moved in, one participant ending up in the East River. Another friend’s death inspired Looking for Mr Goodbar.” Doc Pomus died of lung cancer at the age of 65 in 1991.
“Do The Freddie” co-writer, Dave Appell, was born in 1922 in Philadelphia. During World War II he became an arranger for African-American big band leaders Jimmy Lunceford, Earl “Fatha” Hines and Benny Carter. He appeared in the 1956 Alan Freed rock ‘n roll film Don’t Knock The Rock. With his band the Applejacks, they backed Charlie Gracie on his million-selling 1957 single “Butterfly”. In 1958 his band backed John Zacherle on the novelty tune “Dinner With Drac”. Later that year The Applejacks had a Top 20 instrumental hit with “The Mexican Hat Rock”.
In the early 60s Dave Appell became the leader of the house studio band at Cameo-Parkway backing Chubby Checker, Dee Dee Sharp, The Dovells, The Orlons and Bobby Rydell. Appell also co-wrote “Let’s Twist Again” for Chubby Checker, “Bristol Stomp” for The Dovells, “Mashed Potato Time” for Dee Dee Sharp and “South Street” for The Orlons. He later produced “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree” and “Knock Three Times” for Tony Orlando and Dawn.
“Do The Freddie” by Chubby Checker climbed to #3 in Lansing (MI) and Long Beach (CA), #4 in Vancouver (BC) and Honolulu, #5 in Portland (ME) and Manchester (NH), #6 in Providence (RI), Erie (PA) and Syracuse (NY), #7 in Boston and Hartford (CT), and #10 in Montreal.
“Do The Freddie” was the last song Chubby Checker recorded to reach the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 for twenty-three years. While Chubby Checker maintained a touring schedule with oldies revival shows, it was in 1988 that a new version of “The Twist” was recorded and augmented with rap lyrics from The Fat Boys. The song peaked at #16 on the Hot 100.
In 2000 Chubby Checker got a chocolate bar named after him for his business that created the Chocolate Checker Bar. And in 2008 he had a #1 dance chart hit titled “Knock Down The Walls”. That same year he was awarded by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Singles Award for “The Twist” in recognition of singles that had shaped rock and roll.
In the past decade Chubby Checker has toured in Germany, appeared in Disneyland and performed on a Chubby Checker cruise in May, 2011. In 2013 and 2015 Billboard magazine named “The Twist” as the Billboard Hot 100s all-time top song.
October 11, 2019
Gary Trust, “Let’s Twist Again,” Billboard, August 20, 2013.
“Chubby Checker Biography,” Chubby Checker.com.
Freddie and the Dreamers,”I’m Telling You Now“, Merv Griffin Show, November 29, 1965.
Tom Wright, “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony “The Twist” Changed Everything. Thank You, Chubby,” Perfect Music Today.com, May 8, 2018.
“Dave Appell Biography,” Dave Appell.com.
“Doc Pomus Biography,” Felder Pomus.com.
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