The Geator goes for the gold
There is much for Jerry Blavat to consider at this, the start of his 60th year in radio.
Of course, there is the local legend of rock n’ roll and soul’s upcoming showcase of live doo wop, disco and R&B — with every hit’s original arrangements highlighted by full 40-piece orchestration — on Saturday, January 25, at the Kimmel. Of course, The Geator with the Heater is thinking of his many weekly live appearances, and even gearing up for another Jersey shore’s summer at his Memories nightclub in Margate, NJ. Those parquet floors won’t polish themselves.
But other things are on The Boss with the Hot Sauce’s mind. After 26 years of being at 6th and Market and having his own offices and studios for “Geator Gold Radio,” the syndicated Blavat left his digs late last year, and moved his recording operation to an off-the-record location. “We were paying $300 a month rent to a friend who was the executor of the estate of Sam Rappaport,” said The Geator of the Philly real estate mogul. “Sam was a dear friend.” After Rappaport’s estate manager passed last year, the rent went up, and Blavat – who is “not selling product, I’m doing a radio show” – moved his production facilities. “The show never stops. Geator Gold is always on.”
Then there is that day’s passing of Gene London, legendary Philadelphia children’s show host of Cartoon Corners (aka The Gene London Show) on WCAU-TV, Channel 10, from 1959 to 1977. Blavat knew and respected London for his talent, his gentility and his sensitivity. “Gene represented the best of us,” said Blavat. “When I was at ‘CAU, there were two kids’ shows there, Pixanne with Jane Norman, and Gene London’s show. They were the Sally Starr and Chief Halftown of our station.” (Starr and Halftown being on WPVI, Channel 6). “He was an educated guy, very intellectual, and with a real sense of show business and love of Hollywood. That impressed me.”
Blavat went on to say, regarding old show business tropes, that there is no one around as custodians of the classic art forms. “There [are] no more wholesome entertainers, programming and kids’ shows left,” said Blavat. “When I did The Discophonic Scene, that was for teenagers, and was wholesome.” The yon teens that is, who, grown up, will pack the Kimmel on the Saturday night in order to see the likes of Peaches & Herb, Bobby Wilson (the booming vocalist son of Jackie Wilson), Gary U.S. Bonds (“I played ‘Quarter to 3’ in 1960″), the “epitome of soul” that is The Chi-Lites, The Trammps, The Happenings (“the wonderful harmonies that fill ‘Go Away Little Girl’”), and Tommy Mara’s tribute to the legend of doo-wop, Johnny Maestro and The Crests.
“When you talk about epic doo-wop, you have to talk about Maestro. And there’s a kid, Tommy Mara – whose voice is so heavenly – Maestro gave him the rights to use the name, The Crests. He does the classics in the same key.“ Every year and every show that goes by, there are fewer and fewer original members to participate. However, Jerry finds the originators, gets them in peak vocal shape like a boxing trainer, then bathes them in lush orchestration and charts so close to the way oldies fans first heard them, it’s as if they’re back in 1959 or 1963 or 1975. “Sometimes we have to drop the key to suit their voices now, but the arrangements are authentic and true to their original charts,” said Blavat. “The musicians and singers appreciate and respect this as much as the audience.
There are lots of old rock n’ roll bills of three and four bands, notes Blavat, but none where they offer and provide the respect of dynamic charts and instrumentation.
As always, Blavat, orchestra conductor Hal Keshner and director / arranger Mike McCourt are the men behind the backing sounds. “I go back with McCourt years ago when I opened Memories in 1972, a drummer in the band there,” The Geator says. “He takes all of these acts’ exact records, listens, lowers the key and makes an arrangement for 40 pieces. I couldn’t do this without him. Hal’s been with me for 20 shows, and he’s marvelous.”
On top of all this, McCourt and Keshner create segues for Blavat to sing through – like the “House Party” opening number – as well his surprise ad libs with the artist. “These artists are so good that if I want to sing with them, do something uncharted, they’ll do it. And he crowd goes crazy.”
Combine all that with a dozen Blavat suit changes (“all Armani and Versace. If we have six acts, I’ll do 12 changes”) and the magic of a Geator live showcase comes down to “showbiz. Classic showbiz, the likes of what you used to be able to see with a Sammy Davis Jr. or a Frank Sinatra. Something wonderful that you can’t find any more, and anywhere else.”
Jerry Blavat’s Disco, Rock n’ Roll and Soul revue comes to the Kimmel Center on Saturday, January 25th. Tickets and more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.