From a colorful childhood as a little pisher on the tough streets of Philadelphia to his heyday as one of the most influential rock ‘n’ roll deejays of the 1960s and beyond, Jerry Blavat has lived the kind of non-stop, celebrity-filled life that befits a living legend. He’s known them all—from Sinatra to Madonna to Mafioso—and in his candid memoir, YOU ONLY ROCK ONCE (Running Press; August 2011; $23.00), this icon from the world of entertainment tells all.
The Geator was inspired to share his life stories after an epiphany at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “What the hell am I doing here?” he wondered. “How did a little cockroach kid from South Philadelphia, with no formal education, overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to earn a place at this table?” The answers, as Blavat recounts in YOU ONLY ROCK ONCE, is a combination of pluck and luck—and a remarkable ear for a hit song.
Blavat’s mismatched parents were a Jewish bookie right out of a Damon Runyon story and a long suffering Italian Catholic girl who went along with her husband’s schemes despite her better judgment. From an early age, young Jerry knew he loved pop music, and at thirteen he began appearing as a dancer on Bob Horn’s Bandstand, the local precursor of American Bandstand. Horn was impressed by Jerry’s intelligence and drive, and the teenager was able to convince his boss to play the grittier original versions of rock ‘n’ roll tunes rather than the bland cover versions by middle of the road white singers.
When Horn ran into problems with alcohol, and management replaced him with an up-and-comer named Dick Clark, Blavat rallied to his boss’s defense, turned down an offer of twice the pay, and left the show.
But for Blavat there was no looking back. Not yet out of high school, he became the tour manager for Danny and the Juniors (“At the Hop”), then became a promotions man for a number of record labels. He began spinning records at popular local dances, and next moved into radio on WCAM, a small station across the river from Philly in Camden, New Jersey. The rest is rock ‘n’ roll history. Blavat moved into television, and in the 1960s he pioneered a new radio format that took the industry by storm: Oldies.
Behind the scenes, the Geator’s life was no less exciting. He writes frankly of his early sexual escapades and his sometimes volatile marriage. Through the years, Blavat has counted many show biz greats among his friends, including Don Rickles, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dick Clark, Frankie Avalon, and Connie Francis, and he helped launch the careers of such performers as Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker. Given his streetwise past, he has also hobnobbed with some notorious characters—his association with Philadelphia mob boss Angelo Bruno provided tabloid fodder in the ‘80s and ’90s.
Through it all, the Geator has always been about the music first and foremost. “I grew up in a world of show business with class and style,” he writes. “The audience meant everything, and when they spent money to see you, you had to entertain them. My philosophy has never changed. I never made money from radio and TV; these vehicles have given me the exposure I needed. My success comes from my audience. They’re the ones who have supported me and my family all these years, and I consider them my second family.”
For the Geator it’s been a great ride that is still underway. Straight-talking and passionate—just like the man himself—YOU ONLY ROCK ONCE is an indispensible rock ‘n’ roll memoir, as enduring as the classic music Jerry Blavat has shared with us for half a century.
About the Author:
Jerry Blavat, aka “The Geator with the Heater,” is a Philadelphia icon and major influence in the national music scene as creator of the “oldies” format and discoverer of many top acts in the ’60s. Blavat gained national fame hosting The Discophonic Scene in the ’60s, then returned to Philly to enjoy a 50-year career as a deejay that’s still going strong. He continues to host regular radio show, popular oldies dances at large venues, and owns Memories nightclub in Margate, N.J. The Geator lives in center city Philadelphia.
About the Book:
Title: YOU ONLY ROCK ONCE
Author: Jerry Blavat
Publisher: Running Press
Publication Month: August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7624-4215-7; Price: $23.00 US