Doc Pomus, Determined Soul
It’s 1956, and finally, Doc Pomus sees some real money coming in. Ray Charles’ recording of Doc’s song, “Lonely Avenue” climbs to number six on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues chart. “Lonely Avenue” doesn’t put Doc on Easy Street, but it brought him recognition, especially from those who’d record the songs he’d write in the days ahead.
Down another avenue, this one just east of Downtown Atlanta, was Ray Charles performing at the Royal Peacock. That famous club on Auburn Avenue, Black America’s Wall Street, was an oasis for Black Atlantans in a state run by vile segregationists. Getting to see Ray Charles, James Brown, Sam Cooke or Duke Ellington perform there could ease the pain, if even momentarily, of life on the harsh side of the color line. Breaking through that color line was difficult, as Martin Luther King, Jr. was learning during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, with still two months to go when “Lonely Avenue” was peaking.
King was born in 1929, less than a mile from where America’s great Jazz and Rhythm and Blues artists played; change was on the way. But the change wouldn’t come without determination, courage and a strident belief that things would get better. Making things better required grand efforts.
Doc Pomus knew all about that. An intuitive and perceptive child, Doc (born Jerome Felder), faced the first of many life-altering challenges at the age of 7. He was struck with polio while at a New Jersey summer camp in 1932. Seeking a cure or some physical uplift, the Felders sent Doc south to Warm Springs, 75 miles southwest of downtown Atlanta. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who would take office as the 32nd President of the United States the next year, founded a hydrotherapy center in that resort town for those like him and the young Felder, then among those called “the polios.” Relaxing in the pools of Warm Springs’ mineral waters eased the pain and brought hope to those struck by the mysterious disease. The hope manifested didn’t lead to the healing sought, but it did lead to some dreams being realized. Neither Roosevelt or Doc would walk again but from wherever they were seated, they held court. Inspiration would surface. In that fall of ’32, when young Doc met FDR, much adventure awaited them both. Much adventure awaited society as well. The determination of Doc and FDR in taking on the road ahead brought victory and inspiration to millions.
The new film, AKA Doc Pomus tells the story of the determined soul who wrote or co-wrote songs that climbed the popular music charts over a period of three decades. In theyears that Doc’s words and melodies filled the airwaves, vast change not only came about in society at large but also in the world of music. Process changed. The way songs were produced, delivered and absorbed were far different than when a 17 year-old Doc Pomus first sang at a Greenwich Village club in 1943. That wasn’t necessarily a problem for Doc. He was always ready for a challenge. The Pomus response to whatever got in his way is joyfully conveyed in AKA Doc Pomus, co-directed by Peter Miller and Will Hechter. The film serves as a fluid story of the struggles and achievements of one man’s life, featuring the interviews of family members, friends, associates and the greats of modern American music. There are also photos of Doc with his neighbors in suburban Long Island, Doc at the clubs, and in the mid-80s, Doc with Bob Dylan, who visited one day for help with – of all things – writing songs. The film’s co-producer and editor, Amy Linton, gathered the souvenirs and remembrances of Doc’s life, creating an exceptional scrapbook.
“Lonely Avenue,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” “A Teenager in Love,” and “Boogie Woogie Country Girl” are among the best known of Doc’s many great songs, sung by many, including Ray Charles, The Drifters, Elvis Presley, Andy Williams, Nilsson, Dion and the Belmonts, Bob Dylan, Dr. John and Lou Reed. The songs of Doc Pomus are great works that have attracted the great talents. As John Lennon proclaimed when first laying eyes on Doc, “It’s such a pleasure to finally meet the legendary Doc Pomus.”
Those who see AKA Doc Pomus get to meet and know Doc Pomus very well. Like Lennon said, “It’s such a pleasure.”
Doc Pomus weathered and rose to the challenges and the changes. In one of his last songs, “There Must Be A Better World Somewhere,” sung by B.B. King in a Grammy-winning performance, Doc shares a vision of how right life should be. Those living that life could gather at the Royal Peacock on Auburn Avenue, joined by Andy Williams, Lou Reed and friends from all walks of life – because Doc made friends of everyone – from Glitter Gulch to Greenwich Village. Brother Ray would belt out “Lonely Avenue.” Doc would be there, treating one and all to boxes of Popeye’s Chicken as they celebrated healing powers, like those of the mineral waters in Warm Springs, Georgia. Such is the spirit that lifts AKA Doc Pomus.
Watch the trailer: