#494: The Hucklebuck 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”, “Popeye The Hitchhiker” and “The Hucklebuck”.
“The Hucklebuck” is a jazz and rhythm and blues dance tune first popularized in 1949 by Paul Williams and His Hucklebuckers. The tune was composed by Andy Gibson, with lyrics added latter by Roy Alfred. Albert “Andy” Gibson was born in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1913. He learned to play violin and later trumpet. In 1929, at the age of fifteen, he joined Zack Whyte’s Chocolate Beau Brummels. He later joined McKinney’s Cotton Pickers in 1934, Willie Bryants jazz band in 1935 and Lucky Millinder’s band in 1936. In 1937 Gibson focused more on being an arranger and composer for band leaders Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Charlie Barnet and Harry James. From 1942 to 1945 Andy Gibson was a band leader with the United States Army. He gradually shifted from swing to R&B and later was hired as the musical director for King Records from 1955 to 1960. In 1961, at the age of 47, Andy Gibson died from a heart attack.
The lyrics for “The Hucklebuck” include “Wiggle like a snake/ Waddle like a duck/ That’s the way you do it/ When you do the Hucklebuck.” Dancers are also invited to do a little movement in their sacroiliac. This is a joint between the sacrum and the ilium bones in the pelvis. It can be moved a little, but not a lot. Each person had one on the right and one on the left of their sacrum. The purpose of this joint is shock absorption for the spine. The dance is also supposed to be done when the “lights are down low.” For anyone who doesn’t know how to do the dance properly, the singer advises “ask my little sis.”
In 1949 “The Hucklebuck” was recorded by Roy Milton who had a #5 hit on the Billboard R&B chart. The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra did a cover of the tune with vocals by Charlie Shaver, which peaked at #5 on the pop chart. Frank Sinatra also covered the song and his version climbed to #10 in 1949. When Chubby Checker recorded the song in 1960 it climbed to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song peaked at #2 in Vancouver (BC) and Toronto, #4 in Phoenix, #5 in Chicago, Chattanooga (TN), Norfolk (VA) and Atlanta, #6 in New York City and San Antonio, #7 in Montreal, Honolulu and Duluth (MN), #8 in Boston, Tulsa, Indianapolis (IN) and Erie (PA), and #9 in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Fort Wayne (IN).
The composer of the lyrics for “The Hucklebuck,” Roy Alfred, was born in 1916. His first success as a composer was in 1946 with “The Best Man”, recorded by The King Cole Trio, who recorded Alfred’s tune “You Don’t Learn That In School” the following year. He wrote “Don’t Do Something To Someone Else (That You Wouldn’t Want Done To You)” (Mel Torme), “Congratulations To Someone” (Tony Bennett), “That’s The Price I Paid For Loving You” (Fontaine Sisters), “Lean Baby” (Dinah Washington, Frank Sinatra), “Now And For Always” (Sal Mineo), “Cozy Little Compact Car” (Brian Hyland), “Who Can Explain” (Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers) and others. In 1955 he co-wrote “Rock And Roll Waltz”, a number one hit for Kay Starr in early 1956. In 1961 he wrote “She Can’t Find Her Keys” for Paul Petersen. In 1964 he co-wrote “Let’s Lock the Door (and Throw Away the Key)”, a Top 20 hit for Jay & The Americans. He set up a publishing company in 1988. If his lack of visibility online is any indication, it would seem Roy Alfred kept a private life. He died in 2008 at the age of 92.
“The Hucklebuck” was covered by the Royal Showband and Big Eight, featuring Brendan Bowyer. Their recording climbed to #1 on the Irish pop charts in 1965. And in 1981 the British band Coast to Coast took “The Hucklebuck” to #5 on the UK pop chart.
Chubby Checker kept releasing more dance-themed singles with “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”. This was a dance inspired by the lead singer of the British Invasion band Freddie & The Dreamers, and the comic antics of the 5-foot-3-inch-tall lead singer, Freddie Garrity.
“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.
January 27, 2020
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.
“Andy Gibson,” Wikipedia.org.
“Andy Gibson, King A&R Dir., Dies in Cincy,” Billboard, February 20, 1961, p. 5.
“Roy Alfred,” Discogs.com.
“C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, December 3, 1960.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.