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Fact #17533


Short story:

After seeing The Twist danced at The Peppermint Lounge, influential New York Journal columnist Cholly Knickerbocker (real name Igor Cassini) writes that you don't have to be a teenager to enjoy doing this new dance.

Full article:


The Twist was, without any question, the biggest dance craze of the rock’n’roll era. Unlike its predecessors, The Lindy Hop and The Jive, it crossed over from the young to the older generation and trampled across class and society barriers. It also spawned numerous hit records and opened the floodgates of an era in which dance crazes such as The Shake, The Hully Gully, The Watusi, The Frug and more, became an integral part of the youth music experience. Here is the story, told by those who made it happen.

Hank Ballard : In 1958, I was watching my group (The Midnighters) going through a routine and they were twisting their bodies so that their leg would go up, real low down and dirty like, then they’d lean back. I think they just made it up, anything to grab attention, y’know. And that was when the lyric came to me, The Twist.

I knew the song was going to be big but King Records put it on the b-side of a ballad, Teardrops On Your Letter. I kept telling them ‘Turn it over, the monster’s on the other side’ but I couldn’t convince them.

Some kids saw us doing it at The Royal Theatre in Baltimore and next thing I know, they took it to the Buddy Dean Show, a dance party show on afternoon tv. When he saw kids doing the Twist he was really shocked. He called Dick Clark and told him about it. Dick said ‘I don’t even wanna hear it. I know it’s just another one of those dirty records.’”

Dick Clark (presenter, American Bandstand) : I was in the middle of the show in the summer of 1960 when I saw a black couple doing a dance that consisted of revolving their hips in quick half-circle jerks, so their pelvic regions were heaving in time to the music. ‘For God’s sake keep the cameras off that couple’ I yelled.

Betty Pomantini (dancer, American Bandstand) : We started doing it on Bandstand and the big issue was that you could move your hips. The other breakaway was that you weren’t following the lead of your partner. He was doing his thing and you were doing yours, and that was a very new concept. It changed the way we danced from that point on.

Dick Clark : The next afternoon, I noticed that The Twist was spreading. Already there were half a dozen couples who’d gotten the hang of it. We decided to let it go and see what happened. I also called Bernie Lowe at Cameo Records and asked if he remembered Hank Ballard’s record The Twist from a year earlier. I suggested he should re-record it with another singer.
He did it with an unknown singer called Ernest Evans, who was better known for doing impersonations. I’d seen him do Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard. My wife took one look at him and said ‘He’s cute. He looks like a little Fats Domino, like a chubby checker.” Ernest has lived with that name ever since.

Chubby Checker : Kal Mann from Cameo calls me up and says, ‘We got this record called The Twist. You come and sing it, you sound just like Hank Ballard’. So they set up everything and I sang it.

Hank Ballard : I was in Miami during 1960. I was taking a swim and I heard this record, The Twist, blasting across white radio. I thought ‘Wow, I’m finally getting some white airplay. I’m gonna be a superstar’. I thought it was me, almost to the end, but it was Chubby. He’d done such a beautiful clone of my record.

Dick Clark : (US tv presenter) : In the fall of 1961, I went with Tony Orlando, Glen Campbell and some other friends to a joint on 45th Street in New York called the Peppermint Lounge. It was a hangout for street people, hookers, dancers and after-hours musicians. The house band was Joey Dee and the Starliters.

Lloyd Price (r’n’b vocalist) : Joey Dee, one of our all time great rockers, opened the Cheetah Club and the Peppermint Lounge. Man, you couldn't get in that place. You couldn't get in from Monday to Sunday. It was just impossible to get in the Peppermint Lounge. It was more than a happening, I guess to get in that place it was an event.

The Peppermint Lounge was where the artists would hang out because of Joey Dee. He was there every night. He would put his band up and they would play, plus give records so it was a good thing during that time. The Peppermint Lounge was right, I guess you could say, in the centre of the Brill Building, because most of the people who was in the Brill Building also hung out at the Peppermint Lounge because of Joey Dee.

Joey Dee : One particular night … it was raining, teeming, outside … and two couples with one extra guy came in, very fashionably dressed, so I knew they were people of means, and they sat at a table off to the corner.

About halfway through our show, we did The Twist, and two of these people got up, I guess on a dare, and they danced with these roughnecks, these rowdies.

The extra guy was Cholly Knickerbocker, a newspaper columnist, who wrote about it saying you didn’t have to be a teenager to dance The Twist. The next night about ten people came in from the theatres, and the night after maybe twenty. Then it just escalated until the place was inundated.

Ron Grevatt : (journalist) : What had happened was that the publicist for the Peppermint arranged with a firm named Celebrity Services to bring some highly-placed society people into the spot. The idea was to gain mentions for the club in the society columns. Within a couple of days, Eugenia Shepherd, fashion columnist in the New York Herald Tribune also mentioned the Twist. These mentions had the effect of a chain-reaction and within a couple of weeks the publicity steamroller was well under way.

Joey Dee : Judy Garland was one of the first stars to come in. Shelley Winters always let you know when she was there. Marilyn Monroe, Liberace, Andy Warhol. John Wayne, ‘The Duke’, came by one night but he didn’t do The Twist. If he had, I wouldn’t have been his fan any more. You don’t expect The Duke to do the Twist.

Dick Clark : Ahmet Ertegun, head of Atlantic Records, began to bring his diplomatic friends and the jet-set crowd to the Peppermint Lounge. The result was a wild mixture of people including Jackie Kennedy, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jayne Mansfield, most of whom would dance The Twist. It gained tremendous social significance. Over-night it was OK to be older and say you liked rock’n’roll.

Ronnie Spector (leader, The Ronettes) : Since we were under-age, my mom helped doll us up so we could pass for at least twenty-three. She even gave us Kleenex to stuff in our bras. Eventually we got a job dancing there. We would work the rails, which meant dancing above the crowd on these narrow banisters that circled the dance floor. The pay was $10 per girl per night. We’d Twist on these rails until 2.00 am. Sometimes, we’d Twist so hard our Kleenex would shift, and we’d have to run to the bathroom to re-stuff it.

Joey Dee : The girls (The Rosettes) were great and they had so much charm and so much energy. When they came to The Peppermint Lounge, they must have been fifteen or sixteen years old, and they got up onstage and sang a song with my band. I took them to Wildwood, New Jersey, for their first professional engagement and, while we commuted back and forth from Wildwood during one trip I turned on the Murray The K show on the radio and heard Be My Baby. Unbeknownst to me, Phil Sector had heard of them and he was recording them. I was very happy for them.
(Source : Setting The Record Straight -The Music And Careers Of Recording Artists Form The 1950s and Early 1960s by Anthony P. Musso.)

David Brigati (The Starliters) : We suffered mightily for that (having a racially-integrated stage act), without actually knowing it in those days. We were ostracized quite a bit for being integrated. The United States had ways of integrating the act or the show and then segregating you after the show, at the hotels and where you ate.

Bob Bogle (The Ventures) : By the end of 1961, The Twist was just beginning to happen, so we did a twist album or two. We’d write some songs with ‘twist’ in the title and use twist tempos. Once again, we used the format established earlier in our career by taking current vocals that were coming up on the chart at the time, do them instrumentally and put about six or seven of them on the album for title strength. Then we’d write songs that had the same feel for the rest of the LP. We’d release maybe four or five albums a year doing that.

Robert Pruter (musicologist) : The Twist didn't get corny until the middle-class white kids started doing it - and then it really got lame after The Twist became a big society thing in 1962 when Jackie Kennedy and Noel Coward were doing it at the Peppermint Lounge.

Joey Dee : It became so big. It became a monster. A film producer came by the Peppermint one night and said he wanted to make a film about The Twist, and that was ‘Hey, Let’s Twist’ which was a huge drive-in hit. He just knew he’d make money on any film with the word Twist in the title. After that came Twist Around The Clock.

Lionel Blair (British choreographer and dancer) : I went to see the film Twist Around The Clock and I met Chubby Checker, who was charming, afterward. He taught me in the foyer of the Columbia Cinema, how to do The Twist.

Jeff Dexter (schoolboy) : The Twist didn’t really hit Britain until Let’s Twist Again came out in 1962. In with the record was a picture of the foot movements and how you were supposed to do it. So I followed the instructions and danced it with two girls in The Lyceum, which was the coolest place at that time. For men and women to dance apart, bend over backwards, twist your bum around, that was an outrage in a Mecca ballroom. These six-foot bouncers stopped me and took me to the manager, who barred me for being obscene.

I was so cheeky, I told him he was wrong, this was the new dance, and it was really good for his ballroom. In the end, he agreed to let me stay on condition that I didn’t do it again. I’d been filmed though, and it went out on Pathe News, so the next time I went back I got banned again.
A week later I tried to sneak back in, and the bouncers took me straight to the manager who said, “Do you want a job?” It turned out that the band leader Cyril Stapleton had seen me on Pathe News and told the manager to find me. I was on the cover of Dance News the next week, then on Come Dancing. I was still at school, I’d just turned fifteen, and they asked me to leave and go work for the Lyceum full-time as a resident dancer.

Ian Samwell (deejay) : I was deejaying at The Lyceum at that time, and Jeff came in and he could dance the twist. People actually gathered round to watch him do it. He caused quite a sensation. I used to get him up onto the stage to demonstrate it.

Jeff Dexter : Once it really took off in Britain, it spawned all kinds of bizarre events, like Twist marathons where kids would pass out from exhaustion. One time, 1000 kids and ten bands got on a cross-channel steamer, the Royal Daffodil, at Southend and danced the Twist non-stop right across the channel to Calais.

Betty Pomantini (dancer, American Bandstand) : The Twist started a craze for increasingly unusual dances, getting more and more bizarre, like The Frug, The Elephant Walk, The Lurch. By about 1964 people had just got tired of it all, and that’s when rock’n’roll dancing became free self-expression, which is what’s it’s been more or less ever since.

George Melly (musician/author) : The Twist was, above all, a dance for the very young. Danced by the young, it is certainly immensely erotic, but danced, and danced badly, by the middle-aged it becomes obscene. For some reason, it was the last dance which the middle-aged felt obliged to learn.

Hank Ballard : http://www.history-of-rock.com/hank_ballard_and_the_midnighters.htm
Dick Clark : http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=clarkdick
Chubby Checker : http://www.chubbychecker.com/
The Twist : http://www.sixtiescity.com/Culture/dance.shtm