Little Richard and Chubby Checker

Privilege: Little Richard and Chubby Checker

Andrew Olson

Reader weekly

Little Richard and Chubby Checker Tutti-Frutti-Twisted the crowd at Black Bear Casino this past Sunday into a nostalgic evening of original rock and roll tunes.

Initially the show was billed as Little Richard and Chuck Berry, but after Chuck Berry sadly pulled out Chubby Checker was inserted. A crowd pleaser, Checker turned out to still have some turns left in his twist.

Chubby Checker opened the show and looked spry and energetic as he moved around the stage. At one point he talked about how back in the day what was acceptable from a performer on stage is mild by today’s standards. He then danced the “Hucklebuck” with some of the tightest jeans that I can remember seeing on a performer. This was framed by the giant jumbotron located directly in front of my side-stage seats. The ladies seemed to like it, but everything looked squished and too upfront… Maybe times haven’t changed much from what was acceptable back then?

Checker also called out to have some women come up on the stage to dance with him. Soon there was a giant line of Northern Minnesotan women up there twisting and shaking away. Later he called up all of the men who twisted as well.

It was entertaining.

Little Richard also called out to have some dancers come up when he played later, but his way was much more direct.

“I want a big, juicy, white woman to come up here,” Richard said. “And a black woman too.”

Soon the stage was filled with what he had desired, and the women were dancing all around his piano.

When Little Richard came out to begin his set he was in a wheel-chair and was helped to the piano by some assistants while the band serenaded his entrance. Back when he was the top seller in the country Little Richard was the show. He moved, danced, and was the center of attention. Today his backup band does the dancing, and to stand out Richard wears a sequenced covered outfit, right down to his sparkling cowboy boots.

My only question was whether Richard “needs” to keep playing shows or if he “wants” to keep playing.He had a rather large band and entourage, but when he was helped onto his stool in front of the piano he winced in pain. It lasted only a minute or so while he became situated, but I felt sinking feeling in my stomach. I felt like the person who originated rock and roll deserved better.

“I thought Tutti Frutti gave me a fit, but this gave me a fit,” Richard said after he got situated. “Woo-hoo, I screamed like a white lady.”

Little Richard told a lot of stories between his songs, which was the opposite of Checker, who was more of a continuous flow of rock and roll. Richard played through his catalog and a few of Fats Dominos hits as well. Both Richard and Domino were from the earliest stage of rock and roll, and were architects of a sound that has influenced humanity ever since. While sitting next to a few older concertgoers I couldn’t help but hear them complain about that they couldn’t make out what Richard was saying and other issues. I was reminded how lucky I was to be in the same room with a living legend, and to hear him tell his stories and give his trademark yells.

Between songs Little Richard bantered back and forth with a young blind man who had a large walking stick. He kept calling him sticks and joked about bringing him on tour. He also went out of his way to throw him a poster during the show, and afterward he called the young man up to the front of the line to meet him.

During the show Little Richard also pulled out some posters and explained to the crowd that his sister would be selling them for twenty dollars. While he was speaking he was attempting to roll up a poster to hand to an audience member. He was more or less crumpling the poster, but he was also talking with the audience.

Little Richard explained the picture on the poster saying he was still great looking.

“That natural born suntan,” Little Richard joked. “Shut up… I’m so glad you all came… Tutti Frutti, you know.. I was at the greyhound bus station in Macon, Georgia. A little country boy...You know, very pretty... Everybody said, you so beautiful, and I said, you think so? I was sitting in that bus station all night long…and I watched the bus come through... and then when I didn’t have no money I would sing Tutti Frutti…”

Then the band interrupted his tale, to which Richard responded, “See, I don’t like that when the band do that. And this song about Tutti Frutti, before Pat Boone messed with it… This white boy came from Nashville, Tennessee, and he sang, “A Whop baba loo bop a whop bam boom.” So then I got a deal to record. So what song are you gonna do, and I said A WOMP-BOMP-A-LOOM-OP-A-WOMP-BAM-BOOM! WHOOO! Then I moved my family to Los Angeles… Everyone sing, A WOMP BAB…. Wait, you sound like Pat Boone, I wanna hear A WOMP…“

Little Richard then talked about Taylor Swift and his love of country music before going into a country song. He quietly sang to himself and then said he needs to take it easy.

“Don’t mess with the hip,” Little Richard said. “I asked God, why are you doing this to me, you know what he said? He just kept doing it. God has seen fit to have me here to sing today though.”

After the show both performers stayed a few hours to meet with the audience and sign autographs. I shook hands with Little Richard and became Chris Farley in that SNL skit where he attempts to interview Paul McCartney. He was real, and shaking his large, dry hand reminded me of the long road he has traveled. He is an icon of culture and yet shook the hand of some nobody from Minnesota. He spoke with each fan in a long line and was touched by their prayers and memories. What a difference from young musicians who could care less about the fans today.

Chubby Checker was very personable too and thus had a long line of well wishers and autograph seekers.He took the time to talk to each person and shake their hand. When it was my turn I talked about remembering him best for his remake of “Twist” with the Fat Boys back in the 1980s. It was one of the first cassettes I purchased in grade school and used to listen to the song on the bus. He told me that I must be pretty young and that this was his first time in the area.