Keep on twistin’…
Believing Chubby Checker’s The Twist is an iconic pop song worth not just remembering but replaying, Ridgefielder Gary Lefkowith has remixed and remastered the song, which was re-released as a CD single Dec. 16 and is available on iTunes.
Lefkowith, a music producer and promoter, has worked with Chubby Checker since 2002.
But he remembers The Twist from being a kid in the ’60s.
“It was a cultural revolution at the time, how people danced and expressed themselves,” he said.
The song, written by Hank Ballard, was first recorded by Chubby Checker in 1960.
“I was 11 years old,” Lefkowith said.
It spawned a craze. Checker had a slew of twist songs: The Twist, Slow Twistin’, Let’s Twist Again, La Paloma Twist, Twistin’ In the USA.
Other artists did Peppermint Twist, Dear Lady Twist, and the Isley Brothers’ classic Twist and Shout, which was covered by The Beatles. Even Frank Sinatra did Everybody’s Twisting.
The Twist is Billboard’s number one single of all time and the only record to top Billboard’s Top 100 singles chart twice, in two different years, Lefkowith said.
“He recorded it in early 1960 and it went to number one in September of that year,” he said.
The song faded but “never really went away” even as Checker kept turning out hits.
“He had three, four, five hits in between. They did Let’s Twist Again. He had Pony Time, which went to number one…”
Then The Twist made a comeback.
“What happened is John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy were seen twisting at The White House, and they re-released the record,” he said.
“The first single I ever bought was Chubby’s number one hit Pony Time, and at the same time I bought one of his albums: For Twisters Only,” Lefkowith said.
He bought The Twist’s re-release in 1961.
“…And I did meet him when I was 11 years old,” he said. “I became president of the Reading, Pa., chapter of the Chubby Checker fan club.”
In a Billboard Magazine interview, Lefkowith explained the reason for remixing the song.
“The digital era has of course given listeners a whole new way of listening to pop music, and it’s for primarily this reason that Chubby wanted an upgrade. The audience still listens in many different ways, so it’s ideal to have a recording that sounds good on an iPhone, computer, or even big audiophile speakers,” Lefkowith said. “It’s funny that the telephone speaker is a lot like listening on a small AM Radio speaker, circa 1960.”
The original Parkway Records recording of The Twist went out of print and the song was re-done as part of a “biggest hits” album in 1973 — this is “the popular version” which was featured in a Spider-Man movie and is most widely known today, according to Lefkowith.
Lefkowith often works with Mike Rogers, a producer, engineer and musician, and they collaborated on the re-mix, trying to recreate the original 1960 release — not the 1973 version.
“This project was not intended to be what most people characterize as a re-mix,” Lefkowith told Billboard. “My vision: something like bringing an antique Rolls Royce back to brand new condition.”
With Rogers playing drums they simplified the rhythm section part, de-emphasized the hi-hat cymbals. Lefkowith played guitar — dropping the ’73 track’s “punkish” feel for original 1960 producer Dave Appell’s style. Studio singers James Epps and Jamie Wilson provided background vocals that mirrored the Dreamlovers singing on the original.
Chubby Checker will be at Mohegan Sun’s Wolf Den on Friday, Dec. 23, at 8 p.m., and is doing an “in-store event” at FYE there just before the show, promoting the new single of The Twist.
Lefkowith is married to Lyn Merrill, a former school administrator and school board member in Ridgefield, where they’ve lived since 1977.
Checker’s from Philadelphia. “He’s married. His wife of over 50 years is the former Miss World of 1962,” Lefkowith said.
Lefkowith and Checker first worked together in 2002, remaking Checker’s old tune, Limbo Rock.
“It was a huge hit. Radio Disney played the record for two years,” Lefkowith said, and introduced it to “really, a whole new generation of kids.”
They did a tour.
“Miami, Philadelphia, Hartford, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas — all over the country — between 2004 and 2006,” Lefkowith said.
“A Radio Disney concert we did for the Hartford radio affiliate back in 2004 was the first time I played guitar with him, and I had to pinch myself as we played Pony Time — thinking ‘I’m playing with Chubby Checker and it’s the first song I ever bought.’ Being involved with him and producing the records I’ve done with him over the last 15 years is beyond a dream come true.”
They played the Daytona 500 pre-race show to a worldwide audience of 50 million people.
At a Nets basketball game, when they played against LeBron James’ team, Lefkowith and Checker did halftime.
“Awesome night. He and I played live in front of over 10,000 people and my kids were there.,” he said.
They’ve explored different musical styles.
“We’ve done some original stuff in the last 15 years,” Lefkowith said. “We had a record called Changes that was a Top 50 record on two Billboard charts. It got into the top 40 on Gospel and top 40 on Adult Contemporary … Changes, that was an original song that he and I wrote.
“We just did a country song this year, called Looking for Me.”
On The Twist remix “we upgraded it from the analog master tapes,” Lefkowith said, but “intended to stay totally true to the original.”
Radio programmers and other professionals have said it ‘sounds better’ as a result.
“It sounds better for this era, on computers and big speakers; without changing the integrity,” Llefkowith said. “…Have a listen — and play it loud.”
— by MACKLIN REID