The Billy Strange Story of Chubby Checker Hit Song ‘Limbo Rock’


Covers of “Limbo Rock”

On Billy Strange’s homepage I found this great story about the birth of the hit song “Limbo Rock”. Billy Strange – a singer, guitarist, arranger, songwriter and producer – wrote the song. Here’s the incredible story in his own words, that took place in 1960:

It began with a friend and I sitting in a drive in on Sunset Blvd. drinking coffee to sober up after we finished a recording session. (BTW —- the drinking took place AFTER the session!)

We were listening to the radio …. some country station …. and a record came on by Wayne Raney & Lonnie Glosson titled “What This Whole World Needs Is A Lot More Jesus And A Lot Less Rock And Roll”!!! At that point I said, “I could write a better song than that in five minutes!” My friend pulled a hundred dollar bill out of his wallet and threw it down on the front seat and challenged me to do it!

I always kept a small score pad in the back seat and I reached for it and began to just write down some notes and titled it, “Monotonous Melody”, which I sang to him, and picked up his hundred and we had a big laugh over it. I didn’t give him the hundred back, either!!! I threw the score pad into the back seat and forgot about the entire thing.

Several weeks later I were doing a Ricky Nelson session and his band leader, Buzz Adlam, asked if anyone has a song that he could publish in his new music publishing firm. When Buzz left the studio the musicians and I laid down a track and then we all sang the words. “What A Monotonous Melody … What a monotonous Melody” etc, etc, etc. Again we all had a great laugh about the dumb thing that we’d just laid down. Buzz came back and I gave him a tape of it and, again, totally forgot about it.

Several weeks later I got a phone call from Dave Burgess asking if he could record my song “Monotonous Melody”. Naturally I said “Yes”. He then asked if he could change the title, to which I said, “I don’t give a damn WHAT you want to call it!!!” I never knew what the new title was! A few months later I received a call from Chubby Checker’s manager, Jon Sheldon, asking if he could put lyrics to my song. I was thrilled that I might have a Chubby Checker record and told him, “Certainly”!

Fast forward a few months to royalty time….. I received a check from BMI in the amount of $63,000.00. After enjoying the check for a few minutes I called a friend at BMI and told him that they had made a terrible mistake and that I wanted to return the check to them. He told me to hang on for a minute …. so I did. In a couple of minutes he got back on the phone and asked if I’d written a song entitled, “Monotonous Melody” … to which I answered “Yes”!! He then went on to explain that it had been recorded by “The Champs” under the name of “Limbo Rock” and that it had consequently been recorded by Chubby Checker and was a big hit!!! You could have knocked me down with a feather when he said that the check was, indeed, mine!!!
End of story!

Source: Billy Strange Forum

Cover “A’ Lotta Limbo”Billy Strange himself recorded an instrumental version of “Limbo Rock” together with “The Telstars” in 1962. It was published by Coliseum. It’s a 33 rpm LP, but it only has one extended version (over 10 minutes) of “Limbo Rock” on each side. I guess that was kind of special back in 1962. And it was the “World’s Longest Limbo Record”.

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