Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A.K.A. Doc Pomus

A couple decades ago I wrote a review of Johnny Adams album, "Walking On a Tightrope" for Living Blues and out of the blue I received a call from Doc Pomus telling me he enjoyed my review, especially an observation I made about the recording and its overall sound, not simply the excellent singing from Johnny Adams. It was my only contact with this giant of American music. This 2012 film documentary, conceived by his daughter Sharyn Felder and directed by Peter Miller, along with the 2007 biography by Alex Halberstadt, "Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life And Times Of Doc Pomus," provides not simply the details of his life but a sense of the man who went from being a blues singer on crutches to a songwriter who crafted (often with others) some of the most memorable songs of the past 70 years.

The documentary, through interview clips from a variety of family, friends, artists, producers and music scholars traces his growing up in Brooklyn, contracting polio, hearing Joe Turner's recording, Piney Brown Blues, and becoming a blues shouter in Greenwich Village and Brooklyn, making a number of rhythm and blues recordings before chance has him starting to write songs for artists at Atlantic Records, including his hero, Big Joe Turner, including Chains of Love, which he states he sold the rights to. It would launch a career that had him spin out classics like Ray Charles' Lonely Avenue. Then there would be his Brill Building partnership with Mort Shuman where they penned so many songs like Why Do I Have To Be a Teenager In Love, This Magic Moment, Sweets For My Sweet, Suspicion, Save the Last Dance For Me, Viva Las Vegas, Little Sister, Go Jimmy Go, Can't Get Used to Losing You and so many more. 

This wonderfully crafted film interweaves his personal life along with his professional life including his marriage, the songwriting partnership with Shulman, moving to the suburbs as well as hanging in Manhattan. Some of the backstory for some of his songs is given as well. Save the Last Dance For Me has a moving story as it reflects his wedding night where he couldn't dance with his wife but insisted she dance, and later she mentioned enjoying the dancing but was saving her best for him. Ben E King, who sang lead on the Drifters classic recording, mentions how he was affected before he recorded it, knowing the story behind it. 

And we are taken to Elvis calling him at 2 in the morning with Doc thinking it was a prank at first and the fact he and Shuman produced a number of songs for Elvis movies. The movie takes us through the bad times as well such as after the partnership with Shuman broke up, and his marriage broke up, how he coped as well as how he became a center of late night hangs at his hotel lobby with all sorts of night folk. Later Doc would be mentoring young songwriters like Kenny Hirsch with whom he wrote There Is Always One More Time for Ray Charles. 

(In the clip immediately below, Doc talks about writing for Elvis in interview clip not in the film but from interviews used in the clip)

Doc was admired by many and he recounts going to a BMI dinner which he regarded as professional obligation and he was seated next to John and Yoko Ono with John Introducing himself which Doc found funny as if he did not know who Lennon was. His daughter Sharyn recalled how Doc and John would meet in the neighborhood wearing disguises and one day she saw John and Yoiko in a supermarket and introduced herself with Lennon responding "DOC POMUS" and then singing Save the Last Dance For Me. And Doc recounts how Dylan once asked him to supply lyrics for some music, which Doc found incredible.

There are so many stories about how Doc would go out of his way to help folks in different ways, his efforts to revive his friend Jimmy Scott's career (and it took Doc's f**kin g funeral to get Scott a recording contract), assist Big Joe Turner including an anecdote that he was pissed because he thought The Cookery was over-working Big Joe by having him play three shows that night, taht he left in a huff and ha his driver call in a bomb threat that emptied the club and made sure Turner did not do a third set that night

Doc was a larger than life person that it one wrote a novel about, no one would believe. This is a movie I have watched over a half dozen times and it moves me each time and I learn something new each time. Truly a remarkable film about a remarkable person.

I purchased this as a download. The trailer for the film is at the top of this somewhat inelegant blog post. Here is Mike Stoller's comments on A.K.A. Doc Pomus.

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