Ernest Evans did a private recording for "American Bandstand," where he covered a Fats Domino song. He got asked for his performing name, one joking comment led to another and Chubby Checker was born.
It's been more than half a century since the 18-year-old delivered his version of Hank Ballard's "The Twist," and it's still the only single to top the Billboard Top 100 chart in two separate runs — 1960 and 1962.
Checker, 70, brings "The Twist" and decades of experiences to the Curry County Special Events Center for the signature performance of the Clovis Music Festival. Tickets for the 7 p.m. Saturday show are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.
Chubby Checker is the featured performance for Saturday night at the Clovis Music Festival.
He answered a few questions last week from his home in the Philadelphia area.
Q: First off, should we go with Mr. Evans, Chubby, Mr. Checker … ?
A: It's Chubby most of the time.
Q: How did you come into the opportunity to do the Clovis Music Festival?
A: It comes up. It's a show, it comes up. We get ready and do it.
I've been through Clovis before. I'm very excited to go wherever there is an audience. Whenever we can play and do what we do in front of an audience, it's exciting.
Q: What was the appeal of this show?
A: I'm inclined to think the music I play is for the generation it began with, but I think every generation is affected by Chubby Checker. Even your generation is affected. Remember when you were going to your prom? The girl you danced with? While you were dancing, you were looking at her twist? That's because of Chubby Checker.
I'm singing for a generation that I began with, but all generations of music use my method to have fun.
Q: We can look up a history of you, but it feels better to let you the artist use their own words. How did you get your start in music?
A: I was just hanging around, singing on the streets. Somebody took me to a recording studio, that's where it began. We never thought we'd make a big mark on the world. Nobody knows.
Even as we speak, the whole spectrum of music, very few people can say, I did that. I don't want to sound like I'm boasting, but … you're talking to the man who has the No. 1 song on the planet, the only song to be No. 1 twice since God put us here.
We're bringing all of that with us when we come for Clovis. It's not just for the generation that heard it first; it's for everybody to see it.
Q: That was a recording session for "American Bandstand," which leads me to the late Dick Clark. When I bring up his name, what's the first thing that comes to your mind?
Dick Clark, he brought dancing to us. The biggest thing Dick Clark had on his show is that people danced one style, but they danced another style when Chubby Checker came in. That's why when Dick Clark died, everybody came running to my house to talk.
When I hear Dick Clark, that's what I think of. I always told him his fame was my fame. I think he was too close to it to realize it.
Q: What do you recall about the remix you did with The Fat Boys?
A: The Fat Boys, I think it was '88. They weren't born when I started, or maybe they were just born.
It was their idea. They found me and said they wanted to do "The Twist." I said "What do you need me for?" They said, "You just need to sing, we'll rap."
A new generation of kids had a chance to see Chubby Checker. I think those kids are now 25, 35 years old.
Q: Over the years, you've had the opportunity to perform in a lot of places. What one performance stands out the most?
A: The next one: Clovis, New Mexico. That's exactly how I look at it. My biggest challenge is in front of me.
Q: You've said that for all the positives it's brought you, "The Twist" typecast you. What's something about your music that the average fan might not know?
A: I'm not typecast. It's something we live with. When you go on the floor and you dance to anybody's music, Lady Gaga or anybody, that's Chubby Checker.
The only difference between some dances and the Chubby Checker beat is you just slow it down. Instead of, "Pop pop pop pop pop pop," you go, "Pop pop," and there it is.
If I'm typecast, then Walter Disney was typecast. The guy who gave us the light bulb, he was typecast. Alexander gave us the telephone, he was typecast.
Q: Do you have a favorite Chubby Checker song?
A: "The Twist," "The Pony," "The Fly," "The Shake." These are my songs, with a few others. It's like a musical scale on the piano. That's the alphabet.
Like Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse, before he came along there were no animated cartoons. Before Edison, we didn't have a light bulb. Before Alexander, we didn't have a telephone. The way we danced on the dance floor wasn't here. I compare myself with these people, because it's a fact as we live right here.
Sometimes I get very negative reviews for how I talk about the record business … but I won't stop talking about it. It is what it is.
Q: Is there a genre of music you always wanted to try but never really got the opportunity?
A: No, not really. I like a lot of music. I do a little country. I have an album called "The Texas Twist." I like opera. I like the swing era with Frank Sinatra.
In fact, there's a song sung before I go on — "The Twist," by Frank Sinatra. The King of Swing is singing about the King of the Twist, which is kind of cool.
Q: What's in your CD player or mp3 player right now?
A: I'm like a comedian. Comics seldom listen to what other comics play, because they don't want to accidentally pick up anything.
I listen to radio for a little bit and then I turn it. If I turn to something I like I listen for a little while. But I like to be totally original.
I'm working on some songs. There's a song called, "There Will Be Some Changes." There's a very strong possibility we'll get some airplay. That's what I'm listening to right now.
Q: What's a song that can always pull you out of a bad mood?
A: Da da daaa da da da da, da da daaa da da da, da da doo doo …
Rolling Stones ("I Miss You"), man. "I've been hanging on the phone, I've been sleeping all alone."
That song tears me up; it does. When I hear that, I'm like, "OK, let's go."
Q: Who would you love to do a song with that's performing today, or somebody that you never got a chance to sing with?
A: I would love to be singing on stage with Paul McCartney, doing, "Twist and Shout."
I wanted to sing with John Lennon. I wanted to sing with the Beatles, with them singing "Twist and Shout."
I had a chance with Paul in California, but he turned me down and that was it. Crushed my little bubble. They were doing a private affair for charity.
Q: Easy question to close it out — what can people expect from a Chubby Checker show?
A: We come to kill. We come, we make a statement and we leave. If you're coming to see something washed out, stay home. Don't come see me. If you want to get rocked, come see me. You've seen McCartney, you've seen Mellencamp, you've seen Springsteen. I'm as good as they are. We kick butt.
— edited for length and clarity