Best Bets: Blavat brings back memories at Dover Downs

Talking to Jerry Blavat is like taking a master class in show business.

The legendary Philadelphia disc jockey was best man at Sammy Davis Jr.’s wedding to his wife Altovise, served as a valet for Don Rickles and road manager for the doo wop group Danny and The Juniors.

And that doesn’t even begin to mention the legions of musical stars he has worked with and became friends, such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Frankie Valli.

Famed Philadelphia-based disc jockey Jerry Blavat will host “Doowop, Disco and Rock n Roll,” featuring The Tokens, The Intruders, Gary U.S. Bonds and The Trammps, Nov. 30 at Dover Downs’ Rollns Center. (Submitted photos)

When asked if there’s anyone he hasn’t met over his 60-plus year career, he says “No, I don’t think so. I even met Elvis and Sinatra.”

The self-proclaimed “Geator with the Heater” and “The Big Boss with the Hot Sauce” is headed to Dover Downs’ Rollins Center Nov. 30 with the show “Doowop, Disco and Rock n Roll” featuring The Tokens, The Intruders, Gary U.S. Bonds and The Trammps. The Coda Band will serve as the backup group for the night.

“We have four acts that are so diversified, representing music that has been a part of our lives. That’s what I do — bring back memories,” said Mr. Blavat.

“The Trampps have that disco sound from the 70s to today. The Intruders started way back in the latter part of the 50s and reach all the way into the 60s and 70s. The Tokens can claim Neil Sedaka as a part of their group and have had hits such as ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ and ‘Tonight I Fell in Love.’ Gary U.S. Bonds is synonymous with the dance sound of the 60s with ‘School is Out,’ ‘Dear Lady Twist’ and ‘Quarter to Three.’”

On top of being a radio pioneer, Mr. Blavat has been spinning records at area venues and producing “oldies” shows, such as this one, for years. He loves that he can bring back those memories for so many music fans.

“It brings back their youth. It brings them back to the days of the record hops that they can enjoy once again. It’s the music the The Geator has played for 60 years,” said the 79-year-old Mr. Blavat, who next year will not only turn 80 but mark his 60th continuous year on radio.

“I used to call my audience ‘The yon teenagers.’ Now I call them ‘The yon beyond teenagers.’”

Not only does this music, mostly popularized in the 1950s, attract an audience of people who remember when it first hit the charts, Mr. Blavat says he now sees a number of younger people coming to shows who weren’t even born when most of the songs became popular.

“When young people hear this music, the love our music. They sing along with it. It’s happy music, easy to understand. Songs like ‘Runaround Sue,’ ‘Can’t Help Myself,’ ‘My Girl,’ when you hear these songs for the first time, you love them,” Mr. Blavat said.

“When I first played ‘My Girl’ on the radio, it was brand new to my audience. And it has the same effect today with the younger generation.

Gary U.S. Bonds is known for hits such as “New Orleans,” “Quarter to Three” and “School is Out.”

“If the music is good, it doesn’t matter. If it’s got a beat and a rhythm and a good lyric that you can understand and relate to, that’s what Jerry Blavat is all about.”

From Mr. Blavat’s early days growing up as a dancer on “American Bandstand,” lying about his age (he was 13 when the official age to dance on the show was 14), music has always been a part of his life and ignited the passion for what he would do for the rest of his life.

“My father ran around a lot. He was Jewish and married an Italian girl. In those days, that didn’t happen. She was disowned for marrying a Jewish fellow and my father was in and out of my life,” he recalled.

“My mother had to get a job as a riveter in the Navy Yard. I would get picked up by different people and eat dinner in different houses. The thing that kept me going the whole time was music. In Italian families, there was always music and laughter and dancing. That got me through the loneliness and kept me whole and happy. I found that passion at an early age.”

He is credited with popularizing the “oldies” radio format. It happened quite by accident.

“When I started my radio career, it was an interview show at a nightclub. I had just gotten off the road with Danny and The Juniors and had met all sorts of people on these bus tours — Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Connie Francis. I bought the time from WCAM Radio and broadcast from the Venus Lounge,” he said.

“In 1960, a snowstorm hit Philadelphia and closed the club. But I owned the radio time and wanted to do a show. I couldn’t do the talk show, so I got my old records of Fats Domino, Frankie Lymon, people like that, got some kids to help shovel me out and got to the radio station.

“The kids were surfing the dials to hear if they didn’t have school the next day and they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. They had never heard these oldies and it was brand new to them. The phones lit up, the station manager called and said he never had a reaction like that.

“So then I started playing those songs along with the newer stuff, like Little Richard and The Chiffons and that’s how the genre got started.”

These days, Mr. Blavat has a radio show Saturday nights on Philadelphia’s WXPN-FM. He says he wouldn’t be as successful as he is now if he was just starting out today.

Singing group The Tokens will appear as part of the Nov. 30 show at Dover Downs. They are known for hits such as “Tonight I Fell in Love” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

“What Jerry Blavat represents is how show business used to be, how radio and TV used to be. It was freedom. No one ever told me what to play for my audience. Program directors would come and go but they never knew the music of Philadelphia. I’ve known my audience for 60 years and my audience has known me,” he said.

“Music speaks to our heart. I play music from the heart. No research charts will ever be able to beat that.”

Tickets for the 8 p.m. show on Nov. 30 are $30 to $50 and available at DoverDowns.com.

Killer Queen back in Smyrna

33 1/3 LIVE’s Killer Queen Experience returns to the Smyrna Opera House Saturday night.

The show that packed the place in front of an enthusiastic crowd in March faithfully re-creates Queen’s studio recordings live on stage including all of the vocal harmonies that made Queen so successful.

The 33 1/3 LIVE music collective performs the Killer Queen Experience Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Smyrna Opera House. The group will play the album “A Night at the Opera” in its entirety along with other Queen hits. (Submitted photo)

They not only play all the hits, but Killer Queen Experience also plays Queen’s quintessential album, “A Night At The Opera” in its entirety, featuring tracks like “You’re My Best Friend,” “Love of My Life,” “The Prophet’s Song,” and, of course, the operatic masterpiece “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

That means using more musicians and singers than were on the albums, allowing 33 1/3 LIVE to perform the songs live as they were recorded, overdubs and all.

“We don’t imitate, we re-create,” says lead vocalist Justin Gonzalez. “For the Killer Queen Experience, we have nine musicians, playing multiple instruments, and seven vocalists, so we can reproduce live the parts that even Queen could not manage on stage,”

For tickets to the 7:30 p.m. show, visit SmyrnaOpera House.org, call 653-4236 or visit the box office at 7 W. South St.

Dover Symphony Sunday

The Dover Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Donald Buxton, will perform the second concert of its 2019-2020 season on Sunday, at 3 p.m. at the Rollins Center at Dover Downs.

The family concert will feature popular medleys of movie themes and show tunes. Sweet treats will be available at the bake sale.

Valet parking will be available.

Admission prices are adults $20, seniors (62-plus) students/military/first responders $15. Young people 18 and younger are always free with a paying adult.

For ticket sales log on to www.doversymphony.org or call 302-492-0353. Tickets will also be sold at the door.

For further information check out the DSO website at www.doversymphony.org.

Field salutes Broadway

Tony award-winning performer Grace Field is coming to the historic Milton Theatre with the “Best Of Broadway” Friday night at 8.

She has performed at theaters including Broadway’s New Victory Theatre, Jazz at The Lincoln Center with Audra McDonald, Apollo Theatre with Tony winner Cynthia Erivo, Off Broadway’s June Havoc Theatre, North Shore Music Theatre, The Fulton Theatre and more.

A portion of the event proceeds will benefit “Pathways To Success” mentoring and education program.

Tickets are $19-24. Purchase them at www.MiltonTheatre.com, via phone by calling 302-684-3038 or at the box office at 110 Union St.

KCTG upcoming season

The Kent County Theatre Guild recently announced its upcoming slate of plays for 2020 when it returns to a three-weekend, seven show format.

The season will kick off Feb. 21 with “Steel Magnolias” directed by Becky Craft.

The comedy-drama is set in Truvy’s beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, where all the ladies who are “anybody” come to have their hair done. Helped by her eager new assistant, Annelle, the outspoken, wise-cracking Truvy dispenses shampoos and free advice to a cast of female characters.

The drama “Cliffhanger,” directed by Steve Caporiccio, takes the stage starting April 24.

In the show, Henry Lowenthal, after a long tenure as professor of philosophy at a small western college, is looking forward to being appointed to an endowed chair so he and his wife can enjoy their golden years with honor and dignity. But their plans are given a rude jolt when his successor, a vindictive and ruthlessly ambitious young woman, informs him that she is not recommending him for the chair — an act of such calculated cruelty that the usually gentle professor seizes a bust of Socrates and strikes his tormentor a fatal blow.

Thereafter, as Henry and his wife plot a foolproof way to dispose of the body, complications arise in the form of a rather sinister young student who is about to flunk out of school and who happened to witness the professor’s violent action.

The rollicking musical comedy “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” directed by John Moller, begins performances on July 17.

Stephen Sondheim’s classic Tony Award-winning Best Musical features Pseudolus, a crafty slave, struggles to win the hand of a beautiful, but slow-witted, courtesan named Philia for his young master, Hero, in exchange for freedom.

Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” directed by Patti Gatto, plays for laughs starting Sept. 25.

Inspired by the playwright’s youthful experience as a staff writer on Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows,” with all the attendant comic drama as the harried writing staff frantically scrambles to top each other with gags while competing for the attention of star madman Max Prince.

The Southern-fried comedy “The Red Velvet Cake War,” directed by Bruce Leister, finishes out the year Dec. 4.

The three Verdeen cousins — Gaynelle, Peaches, and Jimmie Wyvette — could not have picked a worse time to throw their family reunion. Their outrageous antics have delighted local gossips in the small town of Sweetgum (just down the road from Fayro) and the eyes of Texas are upon them

For a season pass and individual tickets, visit kctg.org.

Now showing

New this weekend in theaters is the long-awaited animated sequel “Frozen II,” Tom Hanks in the Fred Rogers biopic “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and the suspense thriller “21 Bridges.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the action thriller “Angel Has Fallen.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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