Jerry Blavat As The Geator

A living legend celebrates 50 years in show biz.

By Jeffrey Barg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 37 | Posted Jan. 26, 2010

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If you saw Boo on the street, you wouldn’t pay him much mind. Your first thought: This guy is old.

He looks every bit the 67-year-old that he is: His hair is gray and thin, covered by a camo-print baseball cap, and his mouth hangs open in the way that old-man caricatures seem to have a perpetual drool. His black T-shirt, reading “IF MY MUSIC IS TOO LOUD, YOU’RE TOO OLD,” looks straight off the Ocean City boardwalk.

But when you see Boo on Jerry Blavat’s dance floor, your first thought: This guy can fucking move.

With one hand pressed behind his back, the other leading his partner, Boo spins her around with grace and ease, taking care to keep his dance steps in sync with hers. While James Brown’s 1973 smash “Doing It to Death” pumps over the speakers at Parx Casino in Bensalem, Boo draws his partner in close and, with his thumbs tucked into his eagle belt buckle, begins doing pelvic thrusts and squats, his baseball cap turned backward by now. Even when his hat drops to the floor, he doesn’t just bend down—he improvises a dance move to pick it up. Smooth and seamless.

Boo is an extraordinary dancer, no doubt, but tonight he’s just one of hundreds in the casino’s 360 Bar, where one DJ, Jerry “the Geator with the Heator” Blavat, is presiding over it all. The Geat is spinning records of old doo-wop and R&B, rock ’n’ roll and funk ’n’ soul, rapping over the tunes and calling out dancers by name. As of this month, he’s been at it for 50 years.

There was a time when the Geator was more famous than he is now. But what his audiences have lost in hair they’ve more than made up for in devotion.

Blavat, who’ll be 70 this summer, hears the shouts as he bikes around the city. “Yo Geator, how’s it going?” “My man!” “The Geator with the Heator!”

Back in the ’60s, when he held dances at the Wagner Ballroom or the Chez Vous Lounge, 2,000 kids would show up. Today—at Parx Casino on Wednesday nights, the Buck Hotel on Thursdays, Chickie’s & Pete’s and the Springfield Inn on Fridays, Memories in Margate every summer weekend—the crowd numbers more in the hundreds. But they show up—blue hair, back problems and all—and they hit the floor, still masters of the moves the Geator taught them 50 years ago.

“The love that I have for my music is the same respect that I have for my music as always. Back then, my audience were kids—I called them ‘yon teens’—they’re beyond teens today,” says Blavat. “And these are the ones who still support me. I am one of the most fortunate guys in America.”

The “beyond teens” line is one of Blavat’s favorite catch phrases, and it, along with a handful of other choice plays-on-words, is almost certain to come up in any conversation with the Geator lasting more than five minutes. (See also: “I play music from the heart, not a research chart!”) His speech and steps are constantly punctuated with finger snaps, mimicked by nearly anyone he encounters. Like your favorite record on repeat, it’s part of the rhythm ’n’ jive that Blavat has been repping for 50 years now.

It’s the hottest show on the radio! The Geator with the Heator! The Boss with the Hot Sauce! My main man, pots and pans! My brother from another mother! My sister from another mister! Here we go!

The sound is vintage, from when radio was king in Philadelphia. Jocko Henderson, Hy Lit, Georgie Woods, the recently passed George Michael—these DJs were local superstars on stations that defined neighborhoods—WIBBAGE, WDAS, WHAT—with call-letter allegiance determined by race, parish and hip factor. And Blavat ended up the biggest of them all, if not by celebrity, then at least by staying power.

“As commercial radio continues to blow, legendary DJs are dying,” says WXPN’s Bruce Warren, who puts the Geator on the air every Saturday night. “There was something about growing up in Philly listening to these guys. There are very few great DJs left on the radio. DJs-as-storytellers is a vanishing art form.”

Blavat and his audience have grown together, in a way: When they go see him for two, three hours a week, they step back in time to a day when they were the coolest cats in the parish, when a wild night out involved necking in the back of Dad’s Chevy at the drive-in movie theater at Broad and Pattison. They step back into this old Philadelphia, where they find the Geator, holding court. Like he never left.

“Everybody wants to go back and relive a moment in their life where you can relate, and I do that,” he says. “I bring you back for two hours with my music to a better time in our world—a time when kids were the product of a neighborhood, kids went to dances—Wagner’s, Chez Vous, Starlight—and they met other kids from different neighborhoods.”

As he loves to remind anyone who will listen, Jerry Blavat too is very much the product of a neighborhood. He grew up half Jewish, half Italian on McKean Street in what was then a very Italian South Philadelphia. But with his father in and out of jail and his mother working as a riveter at the Navy Yard, Blavat was raised mostly by the nuns of St. Monica’s Parish at 17th and Ritner. “I always hung with older people because I always wanted to learn from older people,” he says. “I always dressed older.”

On the occasion of his 50 years in show biz, Blavat has been working on his memoirs—a detailed account of the life and times of the Geator. Though still a work in progress, it details his education on the streets of Philadelphia, his early days working as a manager for Danny and the Juniors (“At the Hop”), the South Philly dances where he hosted thousands of kids at a time, and his fortuitous entry into the world of radio, when, as a new jockey on Camden’s WCAM, he started spinning in the middle of a snowstorm. When no relief jocks came, he just kept spinning his records—Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino—musicians who at the time weren’t played on radio. The phones lit up, and the program director offered him a permanent slot.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 37 of 37
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1. Sandy Kirk said... on Jan 27, 2010 at 09:57AM

“great article I graduated St Hubert's in 1958 and still live in "the far greater northeast" the neighborhoods in Philadelphia are still great with few exceptions - we do still know our neighbors and keep our eyes out for them
Jerry, I will see you at Parx you are the main man”

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2. Maria/Prendie '67/Drexel Hill said... on Jan 27, 2010 at 05:30PM

“I was one of those kids @ Chez Vous in the early 60's and wouldn't think to miss Discophonic Scene on Saturdays. Hell, I even had the album! Jerry, you totally defined my social life back then. We had the Discophonic Walk way before line dancing to country music was the trend. Thanks PW this article had me take a few moments out of my day and enjoy a brief walk down memory lane.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jan 29, 2010 at 12:02PM

“I grew up in the Hartford - Springfield area and all the songs and artists mentioned were played on the white stations, as I imagine was true in most cities. I was in school in Philadelphia during that period and heard both Philly radio and during vacations New England radio. Blavat played some doo wop songs not heard in New (“Back then you couldn’t get your product played on a white station,” Blavat says. “When I started to play the newer things like ‘Twist and Shout’ by the Isleys and Dionne Warwick—all of the black artists—the white kids would be listening to me on WCAM and going into the stores and saying, ‘Hey, the Geator last night played “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers.’” Suddenly, white kids in Philadelphia were listening to the Chiffons, Jimmy Soul and Gary U.S. Bonds, all of which white kids in other cities never would’ve heard. “I legitimized that rhythm ’n’ blues music.”)”

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4. Debbie Bayles said... on Feb 5, 2010 at 07:39PM

“All kids in Warminster and the other NE Philly suburbs loved Jerry and the music he brought us. We may not have been as close to it as Philadelphians but we loved the man and the music he and all the Philly DJ's of the 50's and 60's brought us. Only made it to one dance at Wagners. What a scene. Always caught Discophonic Scene. Jerry please get that book completed! Still loving the oldies.”

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5. Joan said... on Feb 11, 2010 at 12:04PM

“I grew up in South Philly (St. Monica's Parrish) and lived for Friday night when ten of us would ride the subway and El to 69th Street to dance our legs off at Chez Vous. Jerry always made the night great playing the best dance music of the 60's. When we were leaving ,Jerry would be standing on a column near the door and always called me "red top" with a big smile as he waved us all out the door. I still find him to be just as nice 38 years later with a smile and genuine joy to be with people no matter where the dance or event is held. Proud to be a Philly guy..we are lucky to have someone like him for 50 years who never forgot where he came from. Love you Geator.”

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6. Little Caesar said... on Feb 12, 2010 at 12:28PM

“I can not access the Geator's web site - geatorgold.net, does anyone know if he's having a problem with it? Thanks.”

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7. Barbara said... on Feb 14, 2010 at 03:00PM

“I also can not access Jerry's web site-geatorgold.net. Can anyone help finding the problem? Appreciate you help. Thanks.”

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8. Great Kahuna said... on Feb 19, 2010 at 03:57PM

“I first went to Chez Vous in 1953 when I was 13. I was a suburb kid and I got to 69th street by taking a Bus & a Trolley at first. I was so young that I didn’t really know what it was but it was mesmerizing. Almost right away I began going to the Riviera Ballroom and Wagner’s on Sundays and I think there was a dance in Claymont Delaware that we went to. I quickly learned to dance by dancing to every single record and with lessons from Garry “Rubber Legs” Wysocki & Bernie Cabbadeci I got pretty good. I eventually met Jerry and soon became one of the featured dancers on the TV show. Jerry was always a sweetheart he always had a smile and always played that great music. He called me “Little Ruberlegs” and "Fran A Fonic Fran". I will never forget those days. Jerry is a Philadelphia institution. Jerry Blavat, The Geator is one of the people that define this cities soul.”

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9. Big Jim said... on Mar 2, 2010 at 12:22PM

“I can't access Jerry's appearance schedule. Can anyone help or suggest a web site that will give me info.”

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10. shotime369 said... on Mar 15, 2010 at 10:36AM

“The Geator made many significant achievements during his career. I'll never forget when his TV show went National. We were all excited about it. Those kids could really dance, and the show was dynamic. Long live the geaTOR”

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11. DonnaChr said... on Apr 19, 2010 at 04:42PM

“The Geator is currently doing a dance on Monday night from 4-8 at Nicolosi's in West Deptford, NJ....... Exit 22 off 295 on Hessian Ave. Great music and great fun just like it was at the Riviera ballroom in the 60s!”

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12. Carol said... on May 2, 2010 at 11:56PM

“I used to frequent Starlight, Riviera, Chez Vous and Wagners, Collingswood Jr. High, wherever Blavat was we always car pooled, bused it or subwayed our way to the dance. The Kids today are missing out on all the fun friendships and memories we made while living for the weekend just to dance! Recently went to a function at Camdn Catholic and Jeannie (who used to be on stage with him at the dances....his biggest loyal fan) was there just as always. Amazing...He;s still the boss with the hot sauce !!!!”

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13. mikev said... on May 10, 2010 at 05:44PM

“growing up in the 60's,a group of us kids from woodbury area ,just over the bridge from philly followed jerry's dances on friday -satur. nites. Riviera,Maple Shade,Woodbury Hieghts Fire Hall, Ocean City and Wagner on sunday. went to chev-vous twice before it burned down(i think it did,anyway). i remember being in school on fridays(west deptford and pitman h.s.) and getting all pumped-up while making plans with friends on getting to the dances. i loved taking time off from school to dance t.v.' teen seventeen',as well as i can remember, with dance partner Anita and my girlfriend,Gayle. Man, we all had the moves and the specific dances down.Jerry gave me a pass to get on the show. he said i had a lot of rhythem.i'm 60 yrs.old this summer and i still enjoy the music that was unique in the s.phill.-s. jersey area. great times and great memories all brought about by Jerry Blavat and his dedication to kids having fun.”

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14. VinnyDaPoo said... on May 11, 2010 at 03:46PM

“We all just loved when Geat got some poor slob wacked or chummed up wit da crime bosses in the city, isn;t he just great? Some people would say we are weak minded moronic losers for being geat fans but heck with them, what's a few innocent lives between friends anyway right? what's a few drug deals? as long as it doesn;t hurt me personally who cares right? Geat rules!”

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15. Mary said... on May 17, 2010 at 07:39AM

“I was one of the lip sync girls on Jerry's show I sang Smartie Pants..we taped in Philly....Jerry found me at Charlie's other brothers in East Hampton New Jersey..on Thursday nites..”

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16. su said... on May 29, 2010 at 08:11PM

“geator.net has jerry's appearance schedule”

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17. marvin said... on Jul 25, 2010 at 10:24AM

“we need you in wake forest north carolina to livin up this dead state, please hurry ! maybe tonite while your still here with us .”

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18. Mark Winship said... on Aug 3, 2010 at 01:49PM

“I saw the Geator in LA on TV in the 60's. I never saw anybody like him before or since!! The "Geator with the Heater" rocked and still does; keep doin' it, man, we ALL need it. ROCK ON, ROCK ON!!! It's JIVE AFTER 5, THANKS....”

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19. "the Trenton Girls" said... on Aug 24, 2010 at 02:59PM

“we have been going to Jerry's dances for over 50 years....we love him and go to the Buck Hotel in Feasterville, PA and Lighthouse Pointe in Wildwood.....he is the best and his feelings about growing up in neighborhoods where people care is so true. the young kids today have really missed out and that is a shame....he is one of the last good DJ's that plays music we can related to. We 'the Trenton Girls" love Jerry!!! Long life to you Jerry many more great, happy and healthly years!!!”

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20. sra said... on Sep 23, 2010 at 05:35PM

“This guy could move! Had the pleasure of meeting him once. Great era!”

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21. Tom Melchiorre said... on Oct 25, 2010 at 10:36PM

“I am so glad that Jerry Blavat was ,and sill is,apart of my life. My teenage years were happy when I was at Wagners, Starlight , Ocean City music hall ,Atlantic city and everywhere Jerry had a dance for his "Yon Teens." Like so many others we Wildwood dancers got to see Jerry by bus, subway, and old cars with everyone "chipping in" for gas.
Learning from the best dancers,the kids from Discophonic Scene, you know who you are, Kathy and Wayne, Discophonic Sue, ect! God bless Jerry Blavat and thanks for all those good times!
Tom Melchiorre”

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22. jmcewen134@aol.com said... on Jan 27, 2011 at 02:18PM

“Come on to Chickie & Pete's!!”

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23. Bobby (From Marco Island) said... on Feb 17, 2011 at 12:08PM

“~As I sit reading about the "geator" I'm listening to one of the vinyl's I bought eons ago. The Dupree's & The Riveria's. Thinking about the love lost back in that time. Never saw Jerry in person. But perhaps someday when I get off this island.”

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24. Pat "Rubber Legs" Miller said... on Feb 17, 2011 at 04:23PM

“As a young boy moving to the big city of Philadelphia back in the mid 60's, I was introduced to the music and moves of the Geator and the dancers who followed him everywhere. It did not take long until I was one of those many who danced at Wagners and even spun discs for Jerry at the Wood High School dances back in 68 and 69. I had the pleasure of dancing on Jerry's show a number of times but most of all Jerry never forgot any of us.
He was the heart and soul of Philly as much as the dancers who still today breath the music of our yon teen years. God Bless You Jerry and tell everyone in Philly I miss them all.”

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25. jace said... on Feb 28, 2011 at 09:51AM

“I love Jerry because Jerry honestly loves his fans. He cares about the music and making people happy and it all comes out when he is performing. To have the bravery to play only what he wants to play and not cave in to the know-nothings who run radio stations these days is a rare thing. Long live the Geator with the Heator. P.S. great article!”

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26. Sylvia Mashaw said... on Mar 8, 2011 at 10:58AM

“I use to go see Jerry when he was at Charlies Other Brothers (Eastampton, NJ) downstairs back in the early 70s. Loved him!”

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27. Texas Bill said... on Mar 28, 2011 at 03:18PM

“His knowledge of the Music from that era is awesome.If he had a bad habit
it was "steppin on the song". Trivia Do you know the name of a famous poet
who worked with Jerry?”

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28. Jace said... on Apr 29, 2011 at 05:03PM

“texas bill - who is the poet?”

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29. Confused said... on Jul 17, 2011 at 03:08PM

“What is a "Geator"?”

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30. Mr. Chris said... on Aug 12, 2011 at 05:22AM

“DIes anyone remember the clothes at that time that was hip! Remember the converse sneakers, and the heringbone jackets? I used to work at the Esquire Theater across the steet fron Wagners Vallroom...I live in Logan.”

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31. HCH said... on Sep 8, 2011 at 04:30PM

“OMG--Just thinking about that today while listening to his "for Dancers Only CD.
What a great time that was. Not a guy but know the clothes well. Almost a "Uniform"

Guy's--The Herringbone jackets, wing-tip shoes (or desert boots), Khaki pants, v-neck sweater vests,Canoe fragrance for the guys. the girls wore Ambush. Must of been tough on a guy who didn't dance, eh?

From New Jersey, but live in Florida now. Wish I could find a some people here who knew what a Jerry Blavitt was? I would love to bring his sound and dances to our town. It would be a blast"from the past" for all us "Old" people. Enjoyed reading the comments

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32. Patti Rothman said... on Oct 14, 2011 at 10:40PM

“Would love to see old clips of the Jerry Blavet show from the late 60's . I use to dance on the show and never missed our filming. Drove up to Philly from Wilmington after high school to dance. Where is Cagney my partner ???
Ceasar? Remember us girls from Wilmington, Jerry please respond would love to hear from YOU!
Little Patti
xox”

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33. Anonymous said... on Jan 11, 2012 at 11:21AM

“Just read You Only Rock Once glad he told Terrys insufficiencies even back in the 50's. Believe it girls still true today.”

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34. Bob-o-phonic bob said... on Jan 18, 2012 at 12:46AM

“And for a couple of years at the cathedral in Roxborough on Friday nights. Used to end each time with Lenny Welch, "I know I need someone"”

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35. Bluto said... on Feb 3, 2012 at 10:25AM

“I'm confused too. What is a geator?”

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36. Anonymous said... on Jan 22, 2013 at 06:24AM

“Good god. Your the best!. The drunken batchlors are all grown up. Will be visiting ghe bhck hotel soon geator. Get ready”

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37. Anonymous said... on Jul 13, 2013 at 10:33AM

“recently visited brother in Colorado,he began talking about the chez vouz in . Philly.I Hadn't heard that name since I was 13.He related how he and I would sneak out go to upper Darby,dance at the Chez Vous and my "boyfriend"Jerry Blavet.Vaguely remember removing my panties and throwing them on the stage.The "Geater" threw me his hankie that he had wiped his forehead with. "
I do remember being taken out of public school and being "placed " in Quaker school for my own good after we were caught.We are in our 60's now and thanks to the Chez Vouz dances and Jerry we can still"Bust a move"

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