In the words of Jerry Wexler, Atlantic Records’ producer and co-owner, “If the music industry had a heart, it would be Doc Pomus.”
Born Jerome Solon Felder in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn on June 27, 1925, he is the author (or co-author) of some of the greatest songs in rock and roll history, including “This Magic Moment” (the Drifters) “Young Blood” (the Coasters, cowritten with Leiber and Stoller), “A Teenager in Love” (Dion and the Belmonts), “Lonely Avenue” (Ray Charles) and “Save the Last Dance for Me” (Ben E. King). Elvis Presley recorded at least 20 Pomus originals, including “Little Sister” and “Viva Las Vegas.” A range of artists whose varied ranks include blues giant B.B. King ("There Must Be a Better World Somewhere") and teen idol Fabian ("Turn Me Loose") also cut Pomus’ songs.
Pomus got into the blues at the age of 15 through the message embedded in Big Joe Turner’s “Piney Brown Blues.” As Pomus said, “It was the transformation of my life.” He began hanging out in Greenwich Village and, eventually, at a club called George’s Tavern, he began singing. He became what he called a “college student by day, professional blues singer by night.” To hide his singing from his parents, he changed his name to Doc Pomus. He began making records when he was 19, and he liked to say that he was the only white blues singer on crutches on either coast. As a child, Pomus had been stricken by polio at the age of six and was confined to crutches and a wheelchair.
He then started writing songs, and in 1946, Gatemouth Moore recorded one of his compositions for National Records. When Herb Abramson and Ahmet Ertegun formed Atlantic Records in 1947, they hired Pomus as a songwriter. His style was earthy, full of street-corner soul and bluesy desire. He is credited with writing more than 1,000 songs, many with partner Mort Shuman.
In the last 10 years of his life, he wrote some of his greatest songs, including “From the Heart,” “Blinded by Love,” “There Must Be a Better World Somewhere,” “Prisoner of Life” and “The Real Me.” He continued writing almost to the end of his life, working on a portable keyboard with Dr. John in his hospital room. As he said: “I’m doing the same stuff I always did. I’m acting the same way I always acted. The only difference is that now I talk about it. At one time I wouldn’t express my opinions except to maybe my closest friends, because it wasn’t cool to be that animated. Now I don’t hold anything back. I really don’t want to live to see a day where the space that I take up in the world is like some musty closet, some little broom closet somewhere. I want to be able to talk out – even if I’m wrong.”
Doc Pomus died of lung cancer on March 14, 1991. That same year, he became the first non–African American recipient of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Award. And in 1992, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2012, the biopic A.K.A. Doc Pomus was released. The film's cast illustrated Pomus' sphere of influence, with appearences by Dion, Gerry Goffin, Dr. John, B.B. King, Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Lou Reed and more. Doc Pomus is remembered not only as a peerless songwriter but also as a formidable personality and cheerful raconteur - one of the real characters from rock and roll’s golden era.
Jerome Solon Felder AKA Doc Pomus (songwriter; June 27, 1925 – March 14, 1991)