|August 29, 2001|
The Geat still rocks from his tower of power.
BY TIM WHITAKER (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For many Philadelphians, dropping by to see the Geat with the Heat at Memories in Margate is a requisite summer ritual. And so last weekend, with summer just days from beginning its slow fade, the pilgrimage was made.
But before getting to that, a short history lesson for the uninitiated is in order.
Before there was a Grandmaster Flash, before there was a Jazzy Jeff, before there was Moby or Fatboy Slim, there was Jerry Blavat, aka the Geator with the Heator. In fact, before most of the city's current three-bazillion club DJs were even born, Blavat's turntables were already ablaze. He is the city's original maestro of the decks, his spinning skills once in such demand it took a helicopter to get him from event to event on time.
Back then, in clubs and old ballrooms around the city, he'd stand behind his turntables and watch over the dancefloor, shuffling his vinyl with blinding speed, looking for just the right song to amp up the proceedings yet another notch.
If you dared take to the dancefloor when the Geator was manning the controls, you were best advised to know what you were doing. Blavat would sample a song for a minute or two, then quickly segue to another, and another, and another, each new song requiring hair-trigger dancefloor adjustments.
Throughout the proceedings, Blavat would woof and bark into the microphone--Good Gawd!--his shoutouts adding yet another dimension of madness to the manic mayhem.
Only the city's premier dancers could survive Blavat's feverish turntable mutations.
Last Saturday night, along with several compatriots from the South Philadelphia Review, the Geat's native neighborhood journal, the trek to Memories was made.
Early in the evening, before the big crowd arrived, the temperature in the club, which is located along the bay on Amherst Avenue, was a fraction colder than your average meat locker.
"Don't worry--it'll be plenty hot in here later," the bartender said, sliding a Heineken across the bar.
By 11 p.m., the bartender's words had proved prophetic.
Up in the command center, facing the dance floor, the Geat shuffled through his vinyl, like he's been doing for the past 40 years, searching for just the right mood transformer. As the dance floor grew more and more frenzied, the Geat woofed:
"I see you out there, Sherry. My life, my love, my dream come true!"
"Councilman DiCicco! In the house!"
Out on the dancefloor, the daring were working it hard, trying to keep up with the Geat's frenetic beat. It could have been 1965--except that now, instead of facing a dancefloor filled with teens as he did all those years ago, the Geat's loyal assembly spans in age from 25 to 70--literally.
The scene at Memories is reminiscent of a parish picnic, except it seems that someone has gone and spiked the punch with some seriously jacked-up brew.
"Here we goooooooo," the Geat says from his perch, transitioning from a Barry White soul groove to an uptempo Isley Brothers favorite.
On the floor, the dancers quickly reassemble. Some, frightened by the challenge, quickly walk off.
There are many sides to the legend the city has come to know as the Geator with the Heator, and club spinner is just one. It's the one that's always kept his portfolio flush.
But over time, Blavat has also become a historian of early rock and soul, perhaps the nation's top historian, and that's the part of him that houses his greatest passion. On the radio--he still broadcasts on a number of small AM stations, best heard on the Web (geatorgold.net)--he often spins deep and obscure songs that go way back. You can tell by the way he talks he's never lost his love for the music.
Sometimes, when he's in the right mood, he'll tell his audience what he knows about the song, about the artist who sang the song, about the producer, the record company--he may even tell you who got screwed in the deal (it's always the artist) and who's to blame. The Geator knows stuff. A lot of stuff.
Ironically, because he's stayed so true to the music that launched his career, he's more famous today than he was in his so-called heyday. Over the past year, he's been featured in Vanity Fair and The New York Times. Ben Vaughn, the eclectic music producer/performer and Philadelphia native, is working on a documentary about Blavat. There's even talk of an HBO show based on his life.
All these years later, the Geator is still Philadelphia's main man.
It's late in the evening at Memories, and the Geat's got the tunes seriously going on. He's been mixing in some retro disco essentials, and the dancefloor has filled, knee to knee, elbow to elbow. Up in the control booth, Blavat is rocking back and forth to the music.
He has spotted the pilgrimage boys, whom he met previously at different intersections along his long and winding road.
"Only one newspaper worth reading," he woofs, somehow saying it in a way that keeps to the music's beat. "That would be the Phiiiiillllllllllllllaaaaaadelphia Weekly!" Pause. "And let's not forget the greatest of the great, the South Philadelphia Review, ladies and gentleman."
The pilgrimage boys wave up to the Geat, who points back, salutes, then quickly returns to the music.
With the hour getting late and a trip back to Philly to go, the pilgrimage boys very reluctantly survey the dancefloor one last time, then head for the door.
Outside, a soft summer breeze wafts off the bay. There is an eerie quiet. But if you listen closely, you can still hear the call of the Geator with the Heator, the man with the plan, the yon teen sensation of this here fabulous nation, rallying his troops to shake their moneymakers one last time, because in this life, as he has been reminding Philadelphians for 40 years, you only rock once.