Jerry Blavat, the fast-talking Philadelphia DJ and developer known as “The Geator with the Heater,” has died at the age of 82. His tireless promotion of leading black artists of the 1950s and 1960s shaped the city’s pop culture as he maintained an iconic presence for seven decades.
Mr. Blavat first became famous as a dancer on a television pop music show aimed at teens band platform In the 1950s. After learning how to watch his mother and aunts and uncles dance to the Artie Show and Tommy Dorsey—”Italians, he said, when the radio was on, they’d start dancing”—he quickly established himself as one of the stars of the show, then hosted by Bob Horn.
After hearing Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” and Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti”—played by black DJs like Jocko Henderson and George Woods on Philadelphia station WDAS—he advised Horn to play the originals, rather than the watered down versions. Like Pat Boone.
Little Richard later said of Mr. Blavat: “For a white boy Geator had so much soul. And could that boy dance! I remember doing his TV show jumping on the piano and starting to do The Slop. … There is only one Geator “.
He went on to make his mark as a band manager, record store, club owner, television host, concert promoter, DJ, friend of the famous, and a living, breathing repository, indispensable to the history of Philadelphia music.
Mr. Blavat was confirmed dead Friday morning at Jefferson Methodist Hospital by his close friend AJ Mattia and Keely Stahl, his companion of more than 30 years. was the cause of death myasthenia gravisan autoimmune neuromuscular disease, and other health problems.
Read more: What is myasthenia gravis, the condition that contributed to Jerry Blavat’s death?
A family statement released on Friday said Jerry proudly said life is precious and I am happy. And when I’m happy, I want the world to be happy. … His love of Philadelphia only superseded his love of music. He was proud of this great city, and nothing made him prouder than the impact the music of Philadelphia had on the world.”
At the time of his death, he was still heard regularly on his Geator Gold Radio network, and on his weekly Saturday night show on WXPN-FM (88.5), Rock and Roll Rhythm and Blues Express from Gator.
In recent months, he had cut back on his always-packed schedule, canceling appearances at the Margate, N.J. club, Memories, due to painful shoulder injuries. He also postponed his annual All-Star Gala at the Kimmel Center, scheduled for January 28.
Mr. Blavat – a genius self-promoter who also called himself “The Boss with the Hot Sauce” – was well connected to the world of music and show business.
Artists such as Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin benefited from his early support and remained loyal to him throughout the decades. He became friends with Sammy Davis Jr. in the 1950s and was best man at his wedding in 1970.
He served as a valet for Don Rickles, who introduced him to Frank Sinatra at the 500 Club in Atlantic City. Sinatra called the skinny Blafft “the matchstick.” Later, he becomes smitten with the ravioli Mr. Blavat’s mother cooks for him when he plays Atlantic City.
Memoirs of Mr. Blafft You only rock once — His title was shortened from one of his favorite sayings: “Keep rocking, ’cause you only rocked once!” – was published in 2011. Then Motown founder Berry Gordy wrote about Mr. Blavat: “For all artists and all other people working in the music business, you have been very important to all of us over the years.”
The Soul Queen said more succinctly, “I love Gator!”
Mr. Blavat grew up in South Philadelphia, the son of a Jewish father known as Louis the Lame who, it was said in the memoir, ran an illegal bookselling operation out of their home on Bancroft Street. He had an Italian mother who went to work in the Navy Yard during World War II and was called “Lucy the Riveter”.
My mother taught me love.” Mr. Blavat He told The Inquirer in 2011. “My dad taught me the streets, the nightclubs, how to be tough.”
Mr. Blafft had excellent taste and preferred original versions of songs through authentic rhythm and blues acts – rather than versions re-recorded by nice regular singers.
Mr. Blafft’s advocacy of original R&B influenced the sound of music made in Philadelphia, as black and white makers were shaped by soul music.
In 2019, when Todd Rundgren inducted Hooters into the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame – Where Mr. Blavat was appointed in 1993 – Rundgren said, “I tell people everywhere I go that I’m a product of the Philadelphia music scene. People ask me what that means? I tell them it’s about one thing: I grew up listening to Geator. He played music that was supposed to be called Race Records at that.” Time, the music that made south of the Mason-Dixon Line. That’s why so many white kids in Philly grew up wanting to sing R&B.”
Mr. Blavat spoke his own language, embodying the tradition of the Hip Cats DJs who kept a steady stream of patter while highlighting records on the air.
He filled dance floors at venues like Memories with loyal fans he called “yon teens” long after his teenage years had passed. Old friends, acquaintances, and strangers were greeted as “My man, lead me and my pots!”
Mr. Blavat coined his nickname early on as a variation on “crocodile,” because his radio show would gobble you up like an alligator.
In 1960, Dick Clark interviewed Mr. Blavat on the show and asked him, “What are you doing, sir?” He replied, “Geator with the Heater.” Clark then explained to the television audience that Mr. Blavat was “the hottest youth DJ in Philadelphia and Camden, NJ”.
In the late 1950s, Mr. Blavat was road manager for the Philadelphia group Danny & the Juniors’ hit single, “At the Hop”. When he got off the road and returned to South Philly, he used the $120 he won in a dice game to buy time on Camden radio station WCAM-AM.
He then sold time to advertisers to make a profit, which allowed him to use broadcasting however they liked, and freed him from the chains of program directors.
It began with a talk show he hosted from the Venus Lounge in South Philly, in 1960. His first guest star was Mickey Mouse Club veteran and actress Annette Funicello. But during a snowstorm, he took over the WCAM airwaves in Camden and began playing records.
“I took all my rock and roll records,” Mr. Blavat recalled in 2021. In an interview with the National Association of Music Dealers, And I started playing Little Richard and Frankie Lymon and the Cleftones and Earl Lewis and the Channels and my friend Earl Carroll and the Cadillacs. And these kids, who were out of school, were hearing this music, which was older than me, but was new to them. … And so it began “.
Mr. Blavat was involved in many aspects of the Philadelphia music business. In the 1960s, he was a partner in the Lost Nite and Crimson Record labels, and co-owned the local chain Record Museum. From 1965 to 1967, after Dick Clark and band platform Leaving for Los Angeles, he hosted a Philadelphia musical show aimed at teens called light scene.
“Expressway To Your Heart”, a Soul Survivors song written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff that was the duo’s first of five hits, appeared on Crimson.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of our very dear and longtime friend Jerry Blavat,” Gamble and Huff said in a statement on Friday. Not only was Jerry a legendary radio personality here in Philadelphia, but he has always been known for promoting Philly’s music and its rich history around the world”.
His influence was powerful in turning songs first regional and then national. In 1962, he broke Warwick’s first single “Don’t Make Me Over” and invited her to a record-breaking jump at Mount Ephraim, NJ, for her first public appearance.
on Friday, Warwick wrote on Twitter: “My heart is heavy as I post this. My true hero Jerry “Geator” Blavat made his transition! From the beginning of my recording career, he has continued to play music on his radio show. My prayers are that he rest in peace now.” She plans to give a eulogy at Mr. Blavat’s funeral on January 28th.
“His passion for music and dance was very authentic and honest,” said Ben Vaughn, the musician and radio host who fronts The Mr. Blafft Show on WXPN on Saturday.
“People from the Delaware Valley have a knowledge of music unlike anywhere else in the country,” Vaughn said. “We have hundreds of fuzzy tunes and fuzzy souls stuck in heads that no one outside of our neighborhood has ever heard of. … And that’s because of one guy… Jerry Blavat.”
Mr. Blavat’s name is often mentioned in stories about organized crime. He was eating dinner with alleged mobster Chelsea Boras at a South Philly restaurant when Boras was shot and killed in 1981. His relationship with Nicodemou Scarfo and Angelo Bruno was being investigated by the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation, and he took the Fifth Amendment when called to testify.
He was open about getting engaged to Bruno. “They were family to me,” Mr. Blavat told The Inquirer in 2011. “Angie’s wife was from the same Italian town as my mother’s family. Angelo had a grocery store where we grew up.” But he denied ever being part of a Philly mob.
Along with filling the dance floor at Memories, Mr. Blavat has maintained his Geator Gold Radio Network for decades and can often be seen looking slick, riding his bike to his office and studio on East Market Street.
But by the mid-2000s, he had become a no-gig legend on a commercial radio station. He was brought in by Bruce Warren from WXPN-FM (88.5) to do a one-hour Saturday night show that has run for 17 years. (The station will play five hours of Blavat’s shows starting at 2 p.m. on Saturdays, and plans to continue doing his 6 p.m. show on Saturdays for the foreseeable future.)
“You think of all the great DJs who were unique to Philly like George Michael, Ed Schiacki, Butterfly and Joko,” said WXPN program director Warren, referring to the late legends Joe Tamburro and Joko Henderson. “Geator is the link to it all.”
In 1998, Mr. Blavat was inducted into the Museum of Broadcasting and Recording’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and into the Pioneers of Broadcasting at the Philadelphia Hall of Fame in 2002.
He is survived by his companion Stahl, daughters Kathy Furia, Geraldine Blavat, Stacy Braglia, and Desiree Downey, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
A funeral mass will be held in the SS Cathedral Basilica. Peter and Paul on January 28th. Watching will begin at 9 a.m. and Mass at 11:30. In lieu of flowers, donations are being accepted by the Jerry Blafft Fund for the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, kimmelculturalcampus.org.