I am going to let my satellite radio lead the way again. When I got in my sled this morning the first thing I heard was Bruce Springsteen singing Viva Las Vegas, written by the great Doc Pomus. I had been planning a post about him, so here it goes:
In the early 80's I was lucky to meet Pomus at the Knickerbocker Cafe in Westerly, RI. Big Joe Turner was playing that night with the Roomful of Blues and Pomus was there with Big Joe. By then, Turner was a little past his prime, but it was a memorable night of music anyway. I was honored to meet two legendary blues figures.
Jerome Felder was born in Brooklyn, NY on June 27, 1924. Born Jewish and with childhood polo, Pomus was an unlikely candidate to be a rhythm and blues singer. He did have a fairly successful career singing at blues clubs in the New York area. After 12 years, Pomus decided that song writing might be a better life for a newly married man. Hooking up with Mort Shuman, Pomus fell into the vibrant music scene at the Brill Building in New York.
Very quickly, Pomus and Shuman wrote some of the biggest hits of the day including: Love Roller Coaster, Save the Last Dance for Me, This Magic Moment, Suspicion, and Viva Las Vegas. Many of their songs were recorded by Atlantic Records artists who were produced by the great Jerry Wexler (see post on August 17). Wexler later said about Pomus: "If the music industry had a heart, it would be Doc Pomus."
The version of Save the Last Dance for Me by the Drifters has been one of my favorite songs since I heard it on AM radio as a child. Knowing now that it was written about Doc's own wedding where he watched from the sidelines as his new bride danced the night away only intensifies the emotion of the words. What seems to be a sweet love song actually has dark undercurrents of anxiety and jealousy in Ben E. King's soulful vocal:
You can dance, go and carry on
Till the night is gone
And it is time to go
If he asks if you're all alone
Can he walk you home, you must tell him no
'Cause don't forget who's taking you home
And in whose arms you're gonna be
Save the last dance for me
In addition to his song writing, Doc Pomus lived a very colorful life. There are too many stories for this short post. Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely life & Times of Doc Pomus is a wonderful biography. I recommend it highly.
Essential Pomus music on iTunes includes the following:
- Love Roller Coaster Big Joe Turner
- Boogie Woogie Country Girl Big Joe Turner
- Lonely Avenue Ray Charles
- Save the Last Dance for Me The Drifters
- This Magic Moment The Drifters
- Little Sister Elvis Presley
- Young Boy Blues Ben E. King
- Suspicion Elvis Presley
Till the Night is Gone: A Tribute To Doc Pomus is an album of his songs covered by modern artists. It is worth the money just to hear Bob Dylan's country-punk snarl on Boogie Woogie Country Girl. Priceless. Not on iTunes, but available from Amazon.