From The Desk Of Drive-By Truckers: Chubby Checker

After fighting writer’s block for four years, Drive-By Truckers singer/guitarist Mike Cooley is now back to work. English Oceans (ATO) is Cooley’s return to full-on songwriting—splitting the tracklist right down the middle after letting bandmate Patterson Hood steer the ship for the two albums prior—and is a return to form for the group as a whole. While DBT has never been a band to slack on the road or in the studio, English Oceans has the vigor and exuberance that made it one of America’s best rock groups. Cooley, Hood, bassist Matt Patton and multi-instrumentalist Jay Gonzalez will be guest editing all week. Read our brand new Drive-By Truckers feature.

Patton: Everyone who knows me a little bit is aware of my insatiable appetite for seven-inch, 45-RPM records. They are little slices of heaven. Shuffling through box after box of dollar 45s is not only relaxing; it’s also my preferred method of discovering new music. For instance, Chubby Checker is a singer I didn’t know a lot about outside of the handful of massive hits he had in the ’50s. I have to admit it was the label that first caught my eye. It was a 1963 release from Parkway Records. It was just past his heyday as a teen sensation in America, although he would still be huge in Europe for years to come. The song was called “Black Cloud.” I stuck it in my pile and moved on. What I heard when I got home had sort’ve a country/gospel feel with a nice church organ right off the top. It reminded me of Charlie Pride a little bit. “With an old black cloud hanging over my head there ain’t no such thing as good luck.” Although penned by Bill Brock, an established white songwriter in Nashville, it struck me as an attempt at social commentary by Checker. If he ever got close to making similar statements, I am unaware of it. Then I dug a little further. Whenever I see Beatles covers I buy without discrimination. I came across a 45 of Chubby Checker doing a pretty cool version of “Back In The U.S.S.R.” (Buddah Records, 1969). It’s not as cool as the John Fred & His Playboy Band version, but cool nonetheless. On the b-side was a song called “Windy Cream” about which I was most curious. What I discovered when I played it at home was pretty groundbreaking stuff. It wasn’t unlike some of the bubblegum stuff coming out at the time, but the lyrics were downright scandalous. It gave it a glam-rock vibe. It could have sat in Gary Glitter’s catalog. So here you have squeaky clean Chubby Checker lamenting a lover whose, “creamy lips keep me busy.” Jeez! Just when you think you know someone.