The box was about two feet high and made out of wood, a rudimentary but useful tool to allow Jerry Blavat to get an unencumbered view of his dancers at bars and clubs that didn’t have a proper stage. In his later years, Blavat, a diminutive but supremely influential DJ, placed the box in the middle of the dance floor, hopped upon it like a king on his throne, and began what to some might be considered a shtick, but to those in Philadelphia was the soundtrack of their lives: Blavat’s patois of raps, tributes, and shout-outs that he’d deliver over the music he played, a mix of doo-wop, R&B, and easy listening.
“My man, pots and pans!” he’d point and shout when he recognized a regular dancer. “Mighty Quinn is here! What’s up, Bonnie? I see you, Elaine!” To attend a Jerry Blavat performance, whether it was in a highbrow symphony center, in a glossy casino lounge, or in one of the many sandy clubs he commanded up and down the Jersey Shore every summer, was to be part of a community and experience a legitimate, undiluted “Philly Thing” long before the phrase became the city’s Super Bowl LVII motto.
Blavat, a pioneering DJ known as “The Geator With the Heater,” “The Boss With the Hot Sauce,” and, to Low Cut Connie’s Adam Weiner, simply as “my friend, Jerry,” died last month at 82.
“It’s a certain thing that Jerry created that no one else can do,” Weiner tells Rolling Stone. “His skill, his talent, was like a hidden talent. You’re not there necessarily to see a show or a singer or a dance show. He’s literally just making people feel great and love the music even more. He thought of himself as an entertainer.”
The death of Blavat — who rose to prominence as a teenage dancer on American Bandstand, hosted numerous radio programs and TV shows like The Discophonic Scene, befriended icons like Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra, and is celebrated in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Museum of Radio and Records — signaled the impending end of the classic DJ era, a time when tastemakers like Alan Freed, Murray the K, and Wolfman Jack ruled the airwaves.
Blavat was different from most disc jockeys though. He refused to stick to playlists and insisted on spinning the original songs by Black artists, some of them obscure, instead of the white remakes. In Philadelphia, listeners were exposed to Frankie Lymon, Lloyd Price, and the city’s own the Delfonics, as well as Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, and Dionne Warwick, who traveled to Philly to speak at Blavat’s service. (“The closest thing to a state funeral that Philadelphia would ever have,” Weiner says.)
And then there was Blavat’s “hidden talent” of narrating over the music.
“Jerry would not change his format. He knew what his listeners loved and he stuck to it,” Weiner says. “He had his act, his show, his patter.”
Weiner shines a light on Blavat’s idiosyncratic patter with a Low Cut Connie tribute song, arriving on streaming services this week for the first time. Weiner wrote and recorded “Low Cut Strut,” subtitled “Strut That Ass Right Back to Class,” as a blank canvas for the Geator to do his thing. He came up with the subtitle as an homage to one of Blavat’s own hits, “One More Time Back to School,” in which Blavat mourned the end of summer and the return to books and “teacher’s dirty looks.” (The bawdy subtitle would hardly rub Blavat wrong — onstage in Jersey bars, he’d shoot a big smile and implore his dancers to “give ‘er the wood.”)
“I came up with the phrase ‘strut that ass right back to class’ as an update of ‘Back to School,’” Weiner says. “We got together and he just freestyled over the song. In one shot, he did it.”
“Yon teenagers gather around, we’ve got Low Cut Connie with the new sound in town!” Blavat raps over Low Cut Connie’s piano groove. “Low Cut Strut” is a brief blast of what endeared Blavat to Philadelphia and fascinated those outside the city. To Weiner, it’s also the best way for him to tribute his mentor, an entertainer who, as Blavat himself would say on the air, never stopped rocking, “because you only do rock once.”