By Tim Kelly
Chubby Checker, 77, taking a pause from his high-energy show Friday night at the Ocean City Music Pier, put it all in perspective.
“At this stage of my life, each and every day I wake up, it’s a miracle,” said Checker, whose ’60s dance anthem, “The Twist,” is the biggest selling rock ‘n’ roll record of all time.
The comment brought a smattering of applause from the near sellout, mostly 70-something crowd.
“And some of us are still makin’ money!” he quipped to laughs, then applause.
With the mellow moment behind him, Checker went back to the business of rock ‘n’ roll.
It was like that throughout the show, the kickoff event for Ocean City’s Night in Venice weekend.
Checker, who will also be waving to the crowd in one of the lead vessels in the annual boat parade Saturday evening, put on a show one might hope to see from a rocker one-third his age.
Backed by his hard-driving, five-piece band, the Wildcats, Checker reeled off cover versions of old-school rock standards such as Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin’” and “Blueberry Hill” as well as his own string of hits, including “Let’s Twist Again,” “The Hucklebuck,” “Limbo Rock” and, of course, “The Twist.”
The fans were getting into the concert as much as the iconic rocker, a South Carolina native who grew up in South Philadelphia. They clapped along, danced in the aisles and took hundreds of pictures on their smartphones.
Still fit and trim from a daily workout regimen and a concert schedule that sees him performing more than 70 dates per year, Checker’s enthusiasm and energy were infectious.
Typical of the fans were Diane and Mel Jenkins of Marmora, high school sweethearts who have been married for 56 years and said they’ve always loved Chubby Checker and his music.
“I was a senior in high school and Diane was a sophomore when the Twist (burst onto the music and pop culture scene),” Mel said. “We used to do the twist at our high school dances. When we saw he was coming to Ocean City, we got right on it (and bought tickets).”
Mel and Diane Jenkins scored seats in the front row of the historic venue, as did Wayne Schaible and his wife, Sharon, of Ocean City.
“We’re going to try and get an autograph,” Wayne said.
He held up a poster from Checker’s first live performance of “The Twist” at the Rainbow Club on Pacific Avenue in Wildwood.
If that didn’t catch Checker’s attention, Sharon displayed a vintage “The Twist” ukulele.
Checker, wearing a pale blue shirt, black pants and jacket and blue and black checkerboard pattern boots, put on plenty of athletic dance moves to complement his still-strong vocals.
About eight songs into the concert, he bounded down the stairs off the stage and began pulling spectators, both male and female, out of their seats to dance along with him.
“He’s unbelievable,” said Lynn Culvers, of Lumberton, who saw Checker recently at a show in Florida. “What an entertainer.”