Tuesday, December 03, 2013

AKA Doc Pomus review

A couple of months ago I heard that this documentary about legendary songwriter Doc Pomus was going to get a theatrical release. I missed it when it was on the festival circuit a couple of years ago. So when it opened this week at the Yonge Dundas Cineplex in downtown Toronto, I wanted to check it out. Most music fans won't know anything about Doc Pomus. I know about him because I'm one of those nuts that actually reads credits and liner notes. Pomus wrote some of the greatest songs of the early 60s. His career stalled when the British Invasion took over in the mid-60s. But he continued to write great songs even as his health failed him in the 80s. He was born Jerome Felder in New York City. His brother is the famous lawyer Raoul Felder. Jerome Felder suffered from polio as a child and he couldn't walk. He became a big black music fan and he idolized the great blues singer Big Joe Turner. So Felder decided he was going to be a blues singer too. He performed in New York clubs as Doc Pomus as he thought the Jerry Felder name was too Jewish for a blues singer. He recorded unsuccessfully. And then he started writing songs and sold a few including the Ray Charles hit Lonely Avenue to Atlantic Records. He wrote the song Young Blood and producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller rewrote the song and The Coasters had a hit with it. But they gave Pomus a songwriting credit. When he got his first royalty check in the mail, he figured he could make a living as a songwriter as long as he held on to ownership of the song. Usually Pomus wrote lyrics. He asked his cousin's friend Mort Shuman to help him and they set up an office in the Brill Building. Among the songs that came out of this partnership were A Teenager In Love, Save The Last Dance For Me and This Magic Moment. When one looks at Pomus, he's this big burly Jewish guy and yet he wrote these romantic songs. Obviously looks are deceiving and this film looks at that contradiction. He wrote most of these songs in the early 60s. And though that was his prime, he continued to write later on with Dr. John and Mink Deville leader Willy Deville among others. Doc Pomus is not someone who the average music fan would know. But songwriters and musicians knew him and they would try and pick his brain. You might be surprised who would seek him out. Doc Pomus was a life long smoker. And though he quit later in life, the damage was done and he died of cancer in 1991. This film was produced by his daughter Sharyn Felder and it lovingly tells the story of this forgotten legend of music. Check out the trailer.

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