Philadelphia entertainment king Jerry Blavat always aimed his appeal solely at his audience of enthusiastic lovers of oldies music. His book, “You Only Rock Once,” now out in paperback, is written in that spirit.
Local fans will like the book. Because of its many references to local landmarks, streets, towns, and radio and TV stations, the book will be most appreciated by fans from Philadelphia, the Delaware Valley and South Jersey. Readers outside the area might be put off by the many references to places and stations they’ve never heard of.
Constantly in need of a lawyer. Blavat had close family and friendship ties to reputed South Philadelphia mob boss Angelo Bruno. When Bruno was assassinated in 1980, Blavat’s name was mentioned in several subsequent investigations into Philadelphia organized crime activities. Blavat’s unapologetic loyalty to Bruno and Bruno’s wife, Sue, often hindered his ability to be hired for radio and TV shows for over a decade, as the investigations worked their way through the legal system. After endless subpoenas and court appearances, Blavat was ultimately exonerated of any links to organized crime. But there were many other times Blavat needed to hire lawyers. This included the time he was sued for sexual harassment by Sharon Powell-Ross, known on-air as “Lady Love.” Blavat himself had hired the woman to work at his oldies station and was devastated that the charges had been brought by someone he had directly helped. Again, he was vindicated, as the lawsuit was thrown out. There was also a legal hassle over his being double-crossed by investors and shareholders on the proposed sale of a radio station. Throughout the book he seemed to be involved as much in legal matters as music ones. Among the lawyers he hired or consulted was F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, a defense attorney who at one time served as Philadelphia DA.
Sammy Davis Jr. Although he was known for spinning early rock and roll records, Blavat was very close friends with non-rockers Sammy Davis and Frank Sinatra. Davis endearingly called him his “Best Man,” and Sinatra nicknamed him “Matchstick.” Blavat describes how he was the first one to notice that Sammy, on his death bed with cancer, had passed, and he went out to inform Sammy’s wife Altovise, who had been sleeping nearby. Blavat had many friends in the entertainment business, and he doesn’t hesitate to name-drop in his book.
Origins of “The Geator with the Heator.” Blavat was heavily influenced by the disc jockeys on black radio stations, such as WDAS. On-air personalities like Jocko Henderson always seemed quick with a rhyme, a rap, and many had memorable monikers such as “Ace From Space.” Blavat decided he needed a nickname and tells how his famous “The Geator with the Heator” came about. He tried many combinations. He had “Heator” from how in the winter people often turned their car heaters up too high until it became too hot inside the vehicle. A passenger would then say, “Yo, it’s too hot! Turn it down!” Blavat writes on page 131 of the hardcover edition of the book. He equated that to when kids would blast his music and their parents would holler, “Turn it down!” To rhyme with “Heator,” “Alligator” got shortened to “Gator” and then became “Geator.” And that was the birth of his radio persona, “The Geator with the Heator, the Boss with the Hot Sauce.” He credits black disc jockeys for inspiring the catch phrase and the cadence that would set him apart.
Heart defect and skin cancer. Blavat, who was born in 1940, had a heart condition since he was a kid and lived with it until having the hole in his heart repaired in 2006. He also had a melanoma scare in 1989 when three cancerous moles were removed from his wrist and back.
Numerous affairs. Blavat and his wife, Pattie Scotese, raised four children together. They separated as the children neared adulthood, but they never divorced due to family and religious considerations. Blavat describes his numerous love affairs, both before meeting Pattie and over the three decades following their separation. One of the most intriguing ones was the on-again, off-again affair with Olga, who came across as a gold-digger.
On the original “Bandstand.” As a kid growing up in South Philadelphia, Blavat journeyed over to West Philly as a teen to dance on the “Bandstand” show. He led protests outside the “Bandstand” studio over the firing of host Bob Horn, who was dismissed due to violations of the morals clause in his contract. Blavat later became friends with the man who succeeded Horn as “Bandstand” host, Dick Clark.
DJ rivalries. Blavat discusses the often fierce rivalries and competition among disc jockeys, especially his tense relationship with fellow oldies-spinner Hy Lit. He describes how insecure DJs are because of the constant changing of radio station formats.
Shrewd businessman. Like Clark, who also gained fame in the Philadelphia music scene, Blavat was quite enterprising and entrepreneurial. In addition to hosting record hops and being a radio and television personality, he invested in record-store chains such as the Record Museum and nightclubs like Memories in Margate that he has operated for over 40 years. His most successful TV gig was “The Discophonic Scene” that was local and then syndicated nationally in the 1960s. He also used his radio air-time to promote his upcoming hosting appearances at clubs and concerts. He created Geator Gold Radio and the Geator Gold Network. His business acumen brought him great wealth and fame. But he emphasizes that everything else grew from his genuine love of the music he played.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the prologue to “You Only Rock Once,” Blavat describes how in 1996 he is sitting at a table at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Blavat asks himself, “What the hell am I doing here? How did a little cockroach kid from South Philadelphia, with no formal education, overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to earn a place at this table?’ His book explains how. A couple years later, in 1998, Blavat even saw himself inducted into the RRHOF broadcaster’s wing.
“You Only Rock Once,” Jerry Blavat, Running Press, 2011