Jerry Blavat As The Geator

A living legend celebrates 50 years in show biz.

By Jeffrey Barg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 38 | Posted Jan. 26, 2010

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Hot Sauce!: When the Geator spins Wednesday nights at Parx Casino, the dancers still show up in droves.

Photo by Jeff Fusco

According to! The big! Tick-tock! On the! Tower of power! Clock correct! Time tonight! For the! Big boss! With the! Hot Sauce, and it’s got to be! The Geator with the Heator, Heator beater on the records, a-swing-a-ling, a-lop-a-bop-a-choo … ” and before Martha and the Vandellas hit the song’s first “Whenever I’m with him … ” he’s off and running again. No sweat.

Old man Boo is still out there working some rocking-a-baby-in-his-arms move, but he’s not the only one with skills. One older woman with orange hair, thinking she’s about to take a break, starts walking off the floor when she’s grabbed around the waist by a gray-haired man and is immediately thrown into a quick two-step. A few minutes later, when the Geator is playing James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing,” her skirt is hiked to midthigh. The song ends and finds a seamless segue into a double shot of the Isley Brothers: “This Old Heart of Mine” followed by “I Guess I’ll Always Love You.” The dancers, in line and in sync, don’t miss a step.

For two hours the Geator MCs, calling out dancers by name and dealing out music history from Perry Como’s “Wanted”—a huge hit in 1954—to Cupid’s “Cupid Shuffle,” a song just three years old.

As I look down at you folks ,” he calls out, “ you look so happy!

At Blavat’s regular gigs, everyone shows up, dancing with everyone. But it wasn’t always that way.

When he started at Wagner’s and Chez Vous in the end of ’61, “it was the white kids going to record hops,” he says. “The black kids didn’t go.” By the time those dances ended in 1970, it was half white, half black.

Of course, plenty happened in the intervening years: the Civil Rights Act, the Summer of Love, Vietnam, Malcolm X, MLK. But in the neighborhoods, where national trends can be slower to pick up, Blavat’s barrier-breaking covered a lot of ground.

Years before he was a DJ, Blavat got his start as a dancer on the original Bandstand , hosted by Bob Horn before Dick Clark took over and turned it into the international juggernaut American Bandstand . Kids would flock to the studios at 46th and Market, and Blavat, prominently featured on the show as the one who picked the music for a segment called “Rate-a-Record,” turned into a local celebrity/teen sex symbol. (His in-the-works autobiography all-too-graphically details how he reaped the romantic rewards of this hometown fame.) When Horn was inclined to play a white cover of a song—say, “Sh-Boom” by the Crew Cuts or “Ain’t It a Shame” by Pat Boone—young Blavat would instead give him the original by the black artists: the Chords or Fats Domino. “My love,” he says now, “has always been rhythm ’n’ blues.”

When Blavat worked as a DJ, WDAS and WHAT were black stations, playing whatever was released on black labels: Scepter, Chess, Checker, Argo. But he was on WCAM, a white station. “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.”

The Geator, it’s clear, is a man of passions. Beyond his encyclopedic knowledge of who-recorded-what-song-in-what-year-with-which-producer-and-what-tambourine-player, he tends to frequent the same restaurants, patronize the same businesses, tell the same stories and hang with the same people.

“I drink wine, I ride my bike, I go to the gym, and I make love with somebody I love,” he sums up, taking another sip. “I don’t fake it. You can’t fake life. You can’t fake it, brother.”

Curiously, he also ranks among his passions a breathtaking knowledge of Native Americans. Like music, they come up frequently in conversation, drawing parallels to his independence as a performer.

“I can experience and grow and do what I want and bring my audience along with it,” he says. “There’s the secret. Who can do that today? Who has the freedom to do it? Freedom. Native American Indian: I roam the plains. I’m hungry—I hunt the buffalo. I hunt the antelope. Another tribe comes to fight—I protect my area. This is my neighborhood. You don’t belong here.”

He continually refers to one famous Native American who, he says, never got the credit he deserved.

“My hero was an Oglala Sioux by the name of Crazy Horse,” Blavat explains. “Crazy Horse was one of the only Native American Indians of prominence who never was photographed, never painted. He stayed away from the white man. He lived a native Indian life. He was the true warrior in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Crazy Horse was the warrior.

“Because he was so free, his own people were jealous of him,” he continues. “And in the end his own people killed him. They arrested him and they bayoneted him. But the freedom—they never took that away. Look at Julius Caesar. Who killed Julius Caesar? Brutus—his own people.

“Who’s gonna kill Jerry Blavat?” he asks quietly. “Me. Because nobody is left in my world.” ■

Jerry Blavat’s Legends of Rock ’n’ Roll and R&B : Sat., Jan. 30, 8pm. $41-$81. Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Broad and Spruce sts. 215.893.1999. kimmelcenter.org

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 38 of 38
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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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38. Ruby said... on Nov 4, 2014 at 11:16AM

“Looking for photos both inside AND outside if the Chez Vous in Upper Darby”

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