What was it like starting in the Shore music scene in the 1950s?
The same music that was being played in New York City clubs was being played in Asbury Park and Seaside Heights. Little Richard, Joey Dee and the Starliters, the Flamingos, Chubby Checker—they all played Wildwood to perfect their acts. Somers Point was more of a group scene; guys with hot instrumental groups played Somers Point. Atlantic City was more of the Dean Martins, the Sophie Tuckers.
How did you become part of all that?
I started to do record hops down in Atlantic City and Ocean City in 1958. We gradually spread to Wildwood. We did record hops where kids could go from eight o’clock to midnight.
Where did your love of music come from?
In 1954 I was a dancer on the original Bandstand in Philly. Bob Horn was the host then, long before Dick Clark. Way before I became a disc jockey, I was winning dance contests. When you’re a kid growing up in South Philly, music is always being played, especially during the summertime. I began buying records at Sun Ray Drugstore when I was thirteen. Later I ended up working for Bob in Texas, then I came back to Philly and he hooked me up with Danny and the Juniors, who had this big hit called “At the Hop.” So I became the road manager for these kids city to city, dancing to “At the Hop.” And all of a sudden I’m working with Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, with these artists whose records I had bought. That’s how I became a part of the teen scene.
How did you end up down the Shore?
Bob Horn took over the Starlight Ballroom in Wildwood for a few nights, and I would go down and spin records for him. I went on the radio in 1960, and I started my own dances in Atlantic City at the Lyric and at the Jefferson Hotel, which is the first place that kids ever got to see Stevie Wonder, in 1962.
What makes music at the Shore so special?
[The Shore has] a different type of climate from in your own city. You’re away for a weekend, you’re on vacation—in those days it really represented partying music. And the groups that played there—the Isley Brothers, Freddie Bell & the Bellboys, Billy Duke and the Dukes—they represented summer fun. They got you in the partying mood. Because [in] summertime, the mindset is different from in winter, spring, or fall. When you’re back in the city, you’re working, you’re rushing, you’re in school. But summertime is fun time, and the club owners were smart enough to book groups that fed that partying mood.
Is the Shore the same today?
Today at the Shore it’s restaurants, it’s casinos, it’s condos. Whatever entertainment exists now, it’s lounges and dance clubs. The whole ambience is different. Music is not what it used to be, where you would go and see an artist perform.
Do you still enjoy hearing a live band at the Shore?
Maybe if you’re in Avalon or at a jam session in Sea Isle City, where they have groups at La Costa and places like that, but there are very few of them left. And those groups appeal to the college crowd. The music I do—it’s for the “beyond teens.”
We have to ask: Your nickname is “the Geator with the Heator.” What the heck does that mean?
It happened as an accident. [In the early 1960s] a snowstorm closed down Philadelphia. I take my rock ’n’ roll records to a radio station called WCAN and I start to play my music. I am supposed to be on in an hour, but the snow closes the city, and I get no replacement. So I’m on from 10 to 2:30, 3 in the morning. Kids are surfing the dial, trying to find out if there’s going to be school, and they’re hearing this music. They’re oldies to me, but to these kids it’s new stuff. So my new career began—playing oldies on the radio.
Now, in those days there was “Georgie Woods, the Man With the Goods,” “Jocko, the Ace From Outer Space,” “Joe Niagara, the Rocking Bird.” So I can’t just be Jerry Blavat; I need a name. Then I thought, Wait a second. In Florida, gators stay in the mud, but if you get close to them, they snatch you up. I am at the other end of the dial, and these kids, I snatched them. So that was it. Not alligator, not gator—“the Geator.” Now, what rhymes with geator that makes sense? And I remembered, as a kid standing on the corner freezing, when your buddy would come by in the car and you’d all jump in and say, “Turn your heater up! It’s freezing!” Then a few minutes later, “Turn the heater down—it’s too hot!” When the kids would listen to my show and call in for dedications, I could hear their parents in the background, yelling, “Turn that guy down! He’s crazy!” So I became the Geator with the Heator.Click here to leave a comment