Jerome Solon Felder (June 27, 1925 – March 14, 1991), known as Doc Pomus, was an American blues singer and songwriter. He is best known as the lyricist of many rock and roll hits. Pomus was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer in 1992, the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), and the Blues Hall of Fame (2012).
Born Jerome Solon Felder in 1925 in Brooklyn, New York, he was a son of Jewish immigrants. Felder became a fan of the blues after hearing a Big Joe Turner record. Having had polio as a boy, he walked with the help of crutches. Later, due to post-polio syndrome, exacerbated by an accident, Felder eventually relied on a wheelchair.
His brother is New York attorney Raoul Felder.
Using the stage name "Doc Pomus", teenager Felder began performing as a blues singer. His stage name wasn't inspired by anyone in particular; he just thought it sounded better for a blues singer than the name Jerry Felder. Pomus stated that more often than not, he was the only Caucasian in the clubs, but that as a Jew and a polio victim, he felt a special "underdog" kinship with African Americans, while in turn the audiences both respected his courage and were impressed with his talent. Gigging at various clubs in and around New York City, Pomus often performed with the likes of Milt Jackson, Mickey Baker and King Curtis. Pomus recorded approximately 40 sides as a singer in the '40s and '50s for record companies such as Chess, Apollo, Gotham and others.
In the early 1950s, Pomus started writing magazine articles as well as songwriting for artists such as Lavern Baker, Ruth Brown, Ray Charles and Big Joe Turner to earn more money to support a family, after he had married Willi Burke, a Broadway actress. His first big songwriting break came when he chanced upon the Coasters' version of his "Young Blood" on a jukebox while on their honeymoon. Pomus wrote the song, then gave it to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who radically rewrote it. Still, Doc had co-credit as author, and he soon received a royalty check for $1500.00, which convinced him that songwriting was a career direction worth pursuing. By 1957, Pomus had given up performing for full-time songwriting. He collaborated with pianist Mort Shuman, whom he met when Shuman was dating Doc's younger cousin, to write for Hill & Range Music Co./Rumbalero Music at its offices in New York City's Brill Building. Pomus asked Shuman to write with him because Doc didn't then know much about rock and roll, whereas Mort was familiar with many popular artists of the day. Their songwriting efforts had Pomus write the lyrics and Shuman the melody, although often they worked on both. They wrote the hit songs "A Teenager in Love", "Save The Last Dance For Me", "Hushabye", "This Magic Moment", "Turn Me Loose", "Sweets For My Sweet" (a hit for the Drifters and then the Searchers), "Go Jimmy Go", "Little Sister", "Can't Get Used to Losing You", "Suspicion", "Surrender" and "(Marie's the Name) His Latest Flame".
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Pomus wrote several songs with Phil Spector ("Young Boy Blues"; "Ecstasy"; "What Am I To Do?"), Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber ("Young Blood" and "She's Not You"), and other Brill Building-era writers. Pomus also wrote "Lonely Avenue", a 1956 hit for Ray Charles.
In the 1970s and 1980s, in his eleventh-floor, two-room apartment at the Westover Hotel at 253 West 72nd Street, Pomus wrote songs with Dr. John, Ken Hirsch and Willy DeVille for what he said were "...those people stumbling around in the night out there, uncertain or not always so certain of exactly where they fit in and where they were headed." These later songs ("There Must Be A Better World", "There Is Always One More Time", "That World Outside", "You Just Keep Holding On", and "Something Beautiful Dying" in particular)—recorded by Willy DeVille, B.B. King, Irma Thomas, Marianne Faithfull, Charlie Rich, Ruth Brown, Dr. John, James Booker, and Johnny Adams—are considered by some, including writer Peter Guralnick, musician and songwriter Dr. John, and producer Joel Dorn, to be signatures of his best craft.
The documentary film A.K.A. Doc Pomus (2012), conceived by Pomus' daughter Sharyn Felder, directed by filmmaker Peter Miller, edited by Amy Linton and produced by Felder, Hechter and Miller, details Pomus' life.
Pomus died on March 14, 1991 from lung cancer, at the age of 65 at NYU medical center in Manhattan.
Legacy and influence
Together with Shuman and individually, Pomus was a key figure in the development of popular music. They co-wrote such hits as "Save the Last Dance for Me", "This Magic Moment", "Sweets for My Sweet", "Viva Las Vegas", "Little Sister", "Surrender", "Can't Get Used to Losing You", "Suspicion", "Turn Me Loose" and "A Mess of Blues".
- Pomus was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- In 1991 he was the first non-African-American recipient of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award. Ray Charles did the honors via a pre-recorded message.
- The funk band Cameo was heavily influenced by Doc Pomus' song-writing style and frequently acknowledges his impact before performing their hit song "Word Up."
- Longtime friend jazz singer Jimmy Scott performed at Pomus' funeral, which performance singularly resurrected his career. Other attendees included Seymour Stein, who subsequently signed Scott to Sire Records, and Lou Reed, who thereafter would regularly work with Scott until his death. Pomus had been imploring his friends to see Scott play for many years.
- The song "Doc's Blues" was written as a tribute to Pomus by his close friend, Andrew Vachss. The lyrics originally appeared in Vachss’ 1990 novel Blossom. "Doc's Blues" was recorded by bluesman Son Seals, on Seals' last album, Lettin’ Go.
- Responsible for Lou Reed's introduction to the music industry in the early 1960s, Pomus was one of two friends Reed memorialized on his 1992 album Magic and Loss (the other was Rotten Rita).
- In 1995, Rhino Records released a tribute album to Pomus entitled Till The Night Is Gone. Pomus songs are performed by Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Dion, Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Solomon Burke, John Hiatt, Shawn Colvin, Aaron Neville, Lou Reed, The Band, B.B. King, Los Lobos and Rosanne Cash.
- In 2010, Ben Folds and Nick Hornby named their collaborative album Lonely Avenue, on which the song "Doc Pomus" appeared. The lyrics referenced an excerpt from Doc Pomus's uncompleted memoir, February 21, 1984: "I was never one of those happy cripples who stumbled around smiling and shiny-eyed, trying to get the world to cluck its tongue and shake its head sadly in my direction. They’d never look at me and say, 'What a wonderful, courageous fellow.'" The album featured lyrics written by British author Hornby, set to music by American performer Folds. It was released on September 28, 2010.
- John Goodman's character in the Coen brothers' 2013 dramedy Inside Llewyn Davis was loosely inspired by Pomus.
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- Obituary Variety, March 18, 1991.
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