Fans from far and wide celebrated a double Memories milestone — Jerry Blavat’s 70th birthday and 50th year in show business — over July 4 weekend
It isn’t uncommon to see a line forming well before doors open at Memories in Margate — the Amherst Avenue nightclub Jerry “The Geator with the Heater” Blavat has owned since 1972 — during weekend nights in the summer. This past weekend, though, had special significance, and the early Friday night flock certainly knew it.
All were there to celebrate not just the nation’s birthday, but that of a national treasure in their eyes — a guy who sort of swashbucked his way onto the radio airwaves five decades earlier and introduced young white listeners to the sounds of talented black artists who otherwise might have gone unnoticed outside of limited circles.
Blavat, the South Philly product and Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame DJ, became 70 years old July 3. At age 20, after a stint as one of the original dancers on TV’s Bandstand, he began radio broadcasting on a Camden station and caught a fortuitous break due to a blizzard. The storm sort of quarantined him into the building and he played his personal collection of records through the night, introducing the Philly scene to artists heretofore unheard of. The all-nighter caused such a sensation it catapulted the career of what would become a nationally syndicated radio and TV personality, and a person whose work ethic and penchant for making people happy sometimes seems like it may never end.
“Jerry’s just a great guy, and charisma? He just has it,” says Ed Losco, a longtime Philly policeman who was in attendance Friday with his wife, Cookie. “He has an unbelievable amount of energy — I don’t know how he does it. I call him the Energizer Bunny. When we go to [the EHT] Chickie & Pete’s [where Blavat broadcasts live on WVLT Cruisin’ 92.1 from 5-7pm Fridays before starting his Memories live show on KOOL 98.3 at 9pm] and then come here, we need Saturday to recuperate, but he has to come right back down from Philly the next day.”
The Loscos have followed Blavat’s career for about 40 years, and every weekend at Memories scores of others show up with that same brand of longstanding admiration. Many seem to see Blavat as a person who takes great pride in his ability to make others feel good.
Ida McCabe was at the Friday night party with her daughter, Kristi.
“I used to come here all the time with my husband [Shamus], who was very close to Jerry,” says Ida McCabe. “We’d been coming to Memories for about 15 or 20 years, and when Jerry learned my husband had cancer he did a big benefit for him.
“Before we were married I used to go to all the clubs — Chez Vous, Wagner’s, Starlight, Riviera — where he used to host his dance parties. I can’t dance now because I just had knee surgery, but my daughter’s here to dance, and my husband made sure all three of our children learned to do the line dance [or the Geator-designed ‘Discophonic Walk’] growing up.”
Mary Rose and Pat Spagnullo make the hour-and-a-half trek down from Monmouth County every weekend just to hang with the Geator, staying overnight in a casino after Friday’s gig then returning to Memories on Saturday night.
“We’ve been doing that for about 25 years and have made it nearly every weekend,” says Mary Rose. “One time Jerry even took us up on stage to announce to the people the distance we came each weekend, just because he appreciated our loyalty.”
Despite recently reaching septuagenarian status, Blavat’s summer schedule, excluding any special public appearances, includes a Wednesday gig (5-7pm) at Parx Casino in suburban Philly, Thursday (starting 8pm) at the Lighthouse Pointe in Wildwood Crest, Friday at Chickie’s & Pete’s (5-7pm) in EHT and Memories (9pm-2am) in Margate, Saturday at Memories (9pm-2am), and Sunday (4pm) at La Costa Lounge in Sea Isle City.
“He just loves doing what he does, and he puts a lot of care and detail into what he does,” says Ed Losco. “If you’ve ever seen any of his [biannual] shows at the Kimmel Center [in Philadelphia], during every act, and there’s usually about 10, he changes into a different colored suit — all Armanis he buys when he’s in New York City. He just does it to keep things lively and keep the crowd entertained.”
And, of course, to practice his adage of “Keep on rocking, ‘cause you only rock once.”
[Editor’s Note: Jerry Blavat writes a weekly column for AC Weekly.]
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