The Geator Rocks On
The Boss with the Sauce.
The Man with the Plan.
The Rebel Jock who rocks the Big Tick Tock from his Tower of Power Clock.
You live in Philly three months or 30 years, you know the name Jerry Blavat.
The man is everywhere at once.
Now, with the publication of You Only Rock Once, his new autobiography, you get the chance to know him a lot better.
It’s all there, from the way he grew up in South Philadelphia with a mother he adored and a father he didn’t to how he started building his brand in high school as a dancer on Bandstand. The important storyline here is how he stayed religiously loyal to a brand of street harmony and soul sounds that connected intimately with neighborhood kids too tough to ever go Mod.
The Beatles? Never happened.
And he doesn’t spare the unflattering rough stuff that came his way either—from his scrapes with the law to his alliances with guys you wouldn’t want to be on a first-name basis with. The ride was not always smooth.
Back in the early post-Discophonic Age, I did a story on the Geator for this magazine. I tailed him from gig to gig for a week for that story, nearly breaking down physically several times along the way trying to keep up with his schedule, a schedule that defied human endurance.
He maintains that same schedule to this day. He is 71.
We became friends shortly after that story and have stayed close since.
“Anything I can ever do for you, Timmy,” he’s said to me innumerable times over the years, “you’ve got my number.”
You meet people in life who say that kind of crap all the time. Difference is, the Geator means it. He would be there. I keep his number on speed dial.
You hang with the Geator, you learn things—about American Indian tribes, for example (he’s a near scholar), and about old movies (he has encyclopedic knowledge) and about the early days of the record industry—lots of colorful and fun things, but sad and unsavory things too. (Lots of artists got screwed. The Geator knows exactly who did the screwing.)
Hang with the Geator and you learn the value of freedom and autonomy.
Instead of getting paid by radio stations, the Geator pays the radio stations. He’s done this his whole career. He buys time on small AM radio stations so that he can do what he wants, which means he can play the records he wants, and he can sing and yelp through them all if the spirit moves him. Nobody’s going to tell him what to play or what to say. He sells commercial time to sponsors for his radio shows himself and airs spots for his many club appearances, which is where he earns his money.
He’s always gambled that his followers will remain loyal to him, that they’ll find him on the dial no matter how obscure the station, no matter how weak the signal. As he likes to say, he plays music “from the heart and not a research chart”—and where else are you going to find that on the radio dial today?
But being the master of your own destiny comes with a cost. There’s no safety net when you buy your own time on radio, no 401K, no health plan. You find a way to make a buck on your own or you go bust trying.
The Geator’s thrived, and he’s done it the old school way—by outworking everybody; by showing up at clubs and concerts and class reunions six nights a week; by driving from Philly to the Shore and back again, as many times as necessary; by giving people their money’s worth, whatever the venue.
After all the years he’s put in, he could retire, move to the Keys, never spin another record, and who would blame him if he did?
But the way the Geator sees it, you only rock once, so why the hell would he want to stop now?
Jerry Blavat will be interviewed about You Only Rock Once at the Central Library by Tom Moon, former music critic for the Inquirer, this Monday at 7:30pm.