Chubby Checker: The Wheels Rock Rolls On?

Singer, Twist inventor claims invention of 'dancing apart to the beat'; demands statue at rock hall of fame.

When Chubby Checker was asked recently to guest on “Ally McBeal,” he thought he was being recognized for his contributions to popular music. His elation turned to frustration, however, when a character on the show read the line, “Gee, I thought Chubby Checker was dead.”

“That was it for me,” Checker said Tuesday from Boston, where he was performing. “I wanted to make sure everyone knows I’m not dead.”

Checker, who turned 60 on Wednesday, may have gone a little overboard. He certainly seems to have some, er, twisted ideas. He bought a full-page ad in Billboard magazine declaring himself the most important figure in the history of rock and roll. He also asked the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland to erect a statue of him in their courtyard because he invented “dancing apart to the beat,” a concept he describes as “the wheels that rock rolls on.”

Although Checker is remembered best for his cover of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ “The Twist,” with which he scored #1 hits in both 1960 and 1961, Checker insists his major accomplishment is “dancing apart to the beat” — that is, grooving alone on the dancefloor without holding your partner.

“Rock and roll didn’t have a dance before the Twist,” Checker said. “The Twist is putting out a cigarette with both feet or coming out of the shower and wiping off your bottom with a towel to the beat of the music. If you’re wiping off your bottom with a towel to the beat of the music, you can’t touch your partner at the same time. That instantly gives us this thing we call dancing apart to the beat.”

Simple though it was, Checker said the revelation irrevocably changed the course of rock music.

“Dancing apart to the beat has been with us 24-7 worldwide since 1959, and before Chubby Checker it just wasn’t here,” he insisted. “They do the Chubby Checker to the Beatles and to Elvis and to Britney Spears and Michael Jackson. It’s the most powerful statement in the music industry without a doubt.”

Although nowhere near as significant as “dancing apart to the beat,” Checker also claimed to have invented aerobics.

“Before Chubby Checker, there was no aerobics to music,” he said. “That happened on television when we were demonstrating how to do the Twist. Aerobics was born right there on television.”

Checker thinks the Nobel prize would suffice to acknowledge his achievement, but he recognizes it’s a long shot. He asked the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum to honor him with a statue, he said, because not only does he deserve the credit but also because fellow Twist pioneer Hank Ballard has already been inducted.

“They don’t need two of us in there,” Checker reasoned. “So I said, ‘Why don’t you put a statue of me in the courtyard inviting everyone in to see these wonderful people in the museum. Because I’m the wheel that music rolls on. You can buy a car, but without the tires, what have you got?”

Hall of Fame president Terry Stewart told the Associated Press he has no intention of heeding Checker’s wishes, because, “The idea that we could elevate one individual with a statue out front would suggest I would have to do likewise for all the rest of the people in the pantheon. It’s just not a reasonable request.”

At least one other curator sides with the institution. “There were amazing jitterbuggers in the ’30s and ’40s who often danced together,” said Jim Fricke, senior curator of the Experience Music Project in Seattle. “But they danced apart just as often and did amazing stuff. So it doesn’t make sense to me that anybody could take individual credit for that.

“Chubby was one of the people who helped popularize this version of rhythm and blues we call rock and roll and bring it to a white audience,” Fricke continued. “All those dance-crazed tunes he was so good at played an important role in generating the mass audience’s interest in this music. That’s a pretty important claim to fame without arguing he invented the revolution in asocial dancing.”

Popular opinion be damned, persistence seems to be Chubby’s middle name.

“One day they’re going to have one of their meetings and I’m gonna knock on the door and say, ‘Gentlemen, I have a proposal,’” Checker said. “If Mr. Alexander Graham Bell came on television, you’d say, ‘Mr. Graham Bell, you did the telephone. Look at all these wonderful things we did to it over the years. It has push buttons and other things.’ Somebody needs to say to me, ‘Chubby Checker, look what’s happened to your creation since it’s been out there.’ It’s time for the world to know who Chubby Checker really is and what Chubby Checker’s really done.”