Jerry Blavat, who has the nickname “The Geator With The Heater,” (CQ) is a southern New Jersey music institution. Since the 1950s, Blavat has been coming to Wildwood to host dance parties, which he still does to this day until the start of fall. Blavat commemorated his 50th year on the radio two years ago and celebrates his 40th year owning the Memories in Margate club this year. He talked about his vast experience in southern New Jersey and how he sees the entertainment scene now and in the future.
Q: With all your years of experience in southern New Jersey, tell us your view of the current entertainment scene and how you see things going in the future. What’s the state of the local entertainment scene?
A: I really don’t know how many clubs feature live music any longer. What I do for Joe Spuhler and the folks here at Lighthouse Pointe, when I’m in Sea Isle City, or Memories in Margate, I entertain them almost as if it was a dance party.
But, back in the day, you had groups. Unfortunately, today, all of the big names are being used by the casinos because the casinos are the only ones that can afford all of these big names, Beyonce, Rihanna, Jay-Z, and all of these fine, wonderful, talented people. Madonna and people like that, they’ve got to work the big convention halls and things of that nature, Boardwalk Hall. So, it’s completely different today.
Q: What role do you see entertainment playing in the future as far as bringing visitors to southern New Jersey?
A: I think that has to be explored. We do, in Wildwood, a Fabulous ’50s weekend and a Fabulous ’60s weekend at the Convention Center here, and they bring in all of the artists from the ’50s and the ’60s. I think that there has to be clubs re-created again, other than in the casinos, that are able to bring entertainment back locally for people to see local talent.
Q: Do you think the entertainment customer is different today than they were from all of those years ago?
A: Well, certainly because of the fact there is no entertainment for a certain demographic. The younger kids today, the younger people today, are going to the casinos to see the artist of the day. There are no venues locally, which is sad, for entertainers to be seen. Years ago, you had the 500 Club. You had the Harlem Club. You had the Wonder Gardens. You had Rocky Castellani’s. You had, you know, in Wildwood, so many clubs, the Hurricane, the Beachcomber, the Rainbow. Back in the day, for an artist, it was very important to appear in Wildwood because he developed his act before he would go on to Las Vegas or work the circuit.
Q: What do you think today’s entertainment nightlife customer is looking for?
A: I don’t go out to see any entertainer today because it’s not like back in the day when you saw Sammy Davis or Frank Sinatra, or you would go to Steel Pier and see the Four Seasons, or you would go and see Jay and the Americans or Connie Francis.
When these artists appeared, if they were supposed to be on stage at 8, they had to be in their dressing room at 7:30, and they hit at 8 o’clock. Today, when you go to a concert, instead of the artist being on — they’re supposed to hit at 8, they don’t go on till 10 o’clock. To me, that’s very disrespectful to the audience that made them. I don’t particularly want to see an artist like that who has no respect for the audience and comes on an hour late when the audience is waiting for them.
Q: What’s the one thing that could be done right to draw more people to southern New Jersey or Atlantic City?
A: Wildwood’s got it. The Lighthouse has it. The motels have it here. There are wonderful family places to bring the family to in Wildwood or Ocean City and Sea Isle City.
Atlantic City, other than the casinos, really has nothing that people would like to come into with a family. Years ago, Atlantic City had the Million Dollar Pier. You had Steel Pier. You had the Boardwalk. You had all those wonderful places on the Boardwalk where you would bring the family, and you would spend a day on the beach, walk at night on the Boardwalk.
Atlantic City has gotta go back and forget about the fact that it’s all casinos. I mean, what kind of movie theater do we have in Atlantic City? I mean, other than the casinos, can you tell me any other clubs that are operating independently, like they did in the old days, the Harlem Club, the 500 Club, the LaBistro, the Black Orchid? Where are your nightclubs, where you sat, dressed up and saw great performers? You don’t have that in Atlantic City any longer.
Q: What’s the one piece of advice you would give to casino executives if you knew they would listen to you?
A: I would say start to think locally about people, start to give them activities that go towards a family environment. Certainly, they’re looking for the gambler.
I’m going to give an example. I do New Year’s Eve every year in Atlantic City. We did it at the Hilton. We did it at the Trump Taj Mahal, the Marina. I pack New Year’s Eve with the demographic that is a family demographic. I’m talking about parents, grandparents and those who are over 21 that want to experience what the older demographic is experiencing. If you go and see the way I work, you will see younger people as well as older people.
You know what it is? It’s about the music. The music of our day had a rhythm. It had a lyric. It told a story. It was about happiness. Dick Clark, God bless him, with “American Bandstand,” and the things that I did, created dance shows, the twist, the boogaloo, the stomp, the 81, the mashed potato. There were dances that people participated in back then, and they participate in today.
I can play “Runaround Sue” by Dion, and I don’t care what you’re doing, you’re going to get off your seat, and you’re going to dance. I can do my rap to “Heatwave,” and no matter what you’re doing, people are going to get up, and they’re going to acknowledge and be a part of that.
Music is what brings people together. So much of the music today, I just don’t like because it doesn’t bring people together.
Q: What do you think Atlantic City is missing compared to other entertainment resorts that it could reasonably do or get?
A: Let’s talk about Atlantic City as opposed to New York. As you know now, New York is getting gaming. Now, let’s talk about Philadelphia. Philadelphia has gambling. I work Sugar House.
What do Philadelphia and New York have that Atlantic City doesn’t have? They’ve got the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, where you see great shows. You have the Mann Center, where you see great shows. New York City, you have Broadway.
The only place you see entertainment is in Atlantic City’s casinos. You have to build restaurants and clubs that are not only in the casino, that cater to a different crowd than the casino crowd.
Q: The new image of the Jersey shore as portrayed to the world on MTV on the “Jersey Shore” show, what do you think it means for the long-term success of entertainment and tourism here?
A: I don’t think it’s helping. I think a lot of what you see with that is almost a reality-type show, and it doesn’t really depict what the true story of the Jersey Shore is about.
The Jersey Shore is right here. People having fun, all ages, coming and enjoying for the summer, leaving, going back home and looking forward to coming back again.
Q: In Atlantic City, you do some things in the casinos. Is that because Memories is only open a certain time of the year?
A: Yeah. You know, we’re very successful. Because of what I do, I have the ability to bring the people that live locally that do not visit the casinos, but will come to see the Geator. When they come to see the Geator and they feel comfortable, they do gamble.
Q: After 40 years, what do you think is the future for Memories in Margate?
A: Well, Memories has been doing business for 40 years. The secret of Memories is the people. People come in every year from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and they make the happiness and the joy. They feel comfortable. When they come into Memories, they meet people from all over the country. The reason I called it Memories is because when you come today, you’ll relive those great memories the next time or the next season that you come back.
You will note that here, at the Lighthouse Pointe, there are families. They bring their kids. They dine, and then, they dance.
The secret of my life, and I am blessed, is that I have the freedom to perform as an entertainer and make people happy. So, Memories is a part of that for 40 years and will continue.
Q: When do you think you will stop doing Memories in Margate?
A: When the Good Lord says, ‘Geat, you don’t have the strength to be up there till 4 o’clock in the morning, and my body says, ‘It’s time to move on. That’s It.’
Q: What did you learn about yourself after going through the process of writing your book, “You Only Rock Once,” which was released in August 2011? Did you realize anything at the end of the process that you weren’t conscious of at the beginning?
A: I would not have changed a thing in my life, my friendships, the people that have been important to me.
I grew up in America, when you lived in a neighborhood. If you stepped out of line, it wasn’t only your parents, it was the neighbor, who gave you a kick in the ass. I never asked what a person’s business was. If they were a good neighbor, if they shared food with you during the holidays, that’s the way it was in America back in the day.
Q: As someone with 40 years of experience in this area, what’s been the one thing that has held you back the most, in your opinion?
A: I have been very blessed in my life that I have had the freedom, on radio, on television and to do what I do.
When I bought Memories in Margate, it was the Elbo Room. I actually played there with a band. When the owners of the Elbo Room ... wanted to sell it, that’s when I bought Memories in 1972. I knew what I was doing when I was working there at the Elbo Room.
So, my life has been a wonderful life because I have had the freedom in show business to create a persona, to create a reputation where people know, when they come, they’re going to be entertained with my music, with my patter, and that’s what I’ve done all of my life. I know of no other way to live.
Q: What about the organized crime allegations? That couldn’t have been good for you. (A New Jersey State Commission of Investigation report identified Blavat’s Memories in Margate as having had organized-crime ties in the 1980s).
A: I knew I never did anything wrong. I never had to explain myself to my audience. My audience has been with me for 52 years, and they know about my integrity, my loyalty, my dignity. We grew up, my audience and I, at the same time when there was respect for law enforcement, when there was respect for your neighbors, and you knew you couldn’t overstep the lines. I never had that period of time hold me back because I knew I never did anything wrong.
Contact Vincent Jackson: