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It was a couple of decades ago that I first heard the name Jerry Blavat. I moved here in 2001, but I’m not “from here.” And back then, I had not yet heard of this local icon.
“Wait, you don’t know about the Geator with the Heater?” one of my “from here” friends said. “The Boss with the Hot Sauce?”
“What?” I asked, obviously in the dark. “The what?”
They were aghast. “How could someone like YOU” — someone who works as an itinerant entertainer, as a regular quizmaster — “not know about the Geator?”
Needless to say, my interest was piqued. And the more I learned about Jerry, who died last week at the age of 82, the more I admired his legacy.
- Hung out with rock ‘n’ roll pioneers like Chuck Berry and Little Richard? Check.
- In the midst of 1960s racial tension, went out of his way to DJ dances for kids of all races, colors and backgrounds? Check.
- Hung out with the Rat Pack? Indeed.
- Was friends with legendary mafia boss Angelo Bruno? Oh, OK.
- Shameless self promoter? “It’s all in the book!”
- White guy in his 70s who wore a tracksuit and a white Kangol? That’s him.
- Snapped his fingers incessantly while he talked? Oh yeah.
- Was the last of the Doo-Wop disc jockeys? Zing.
There was one more ingredient that took him from “local eccentric with great stories” to “Philly legend,” something Jerry not only said repeatedly but fully lived:
“It comes from the heart, not from a pop chart.”
You could like Jerry or not — and he certainly had his detractors, with the constant salesmanship, the questionable mob connections, and his tendency for braggadocio. But there was no debating his passion. Jerry truly loved the music.
The rhythm guided his movements, his finger snaps, even the exact moment he came onto the air to talk over the end of a song. There was boundless energy, there was impeccable timing, but there was also a very deep connection to the sounds and the beat and the singing and the lyrics and the story and the history that made his whole act not just sound authentic, but feel that way too.
He had that old school radio magic, the kind that has all but disappeared since the corporate station owners introduced monotonous robo-voices saying stuff like, “It’s time for another Rock block!”
There was a feeling you got when you heard Jerry talk about The Dovells or The Flamingos. There was no mistaking that energy, the depth of appreciation. It was like hearing someone talk about her grandchildren; she doesn’t need to tell you that she loves them, you can hear it in her voice.
So it was with Jerry and music, a passion for the rhythm, a deep and abiding appreciation for what his favorite musicians had left the world. Were they famous? Jerry didn’t care (you didn’t want to get him started on the Beatles). How did the song do on the pop chart? Didn’t matter. Did they create something meaningful? Did they create a song that generated a feeling?
If they did, they had no greater cheerleader, no greater ambassador, and no greater historian than the Geator with the Heater, the Boss with the Hot Sauce. May he rest in peace.
Quizmaster Johnny Nottingham — aka Johnny Goodtimes — had the privilege of interviewing the Geator in 2019. You can listen to it here.