Doc Pomus was the name with which Jerome Felder of Brooklyn, Jewish and crippled, baptized himself in the blues. Beginning as a teen singer in the 1950s, he distinguished himself in a milieu dominated by black performers. He was tough. He struggled throughout his life despite many stellar successes as a songwriter, never quite getting the fame he deserved, never able to enjoy the material success that generally accompanies that fame.
by polio, post-polio syndrome and an auto accident, Doc spent most of his life on crutches and, toward the end, was wheelchair bound. This didn’t prevent him from attracting glamorous women, marrying, having kids, or from always attempting to support his family. When blues singing wasn’t paying the bills, Doc began fiddling with songwriting and discovered he had a talent for it. His greatest successes arose in collaboration with Mort Shuman, with whom he produced “Teenager in Love,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” and “Viva Las Vegas” among other hits. Their creations were performed by the greats of the day: Elvis, The Beach Boys, Ike and Tina Turner, Fabian, Dion, The Coasters, The Drifters, and the list goes on. Always generous, Doc shared his take of profits, whether from gambling or artistic endeavors, with the friends and family who stood by him and rarely had much to show for his hits.
Doc never lived far from his birthplace. He gravitated to hotel room life in the city that never sleeps, taking meals out so that he could rap with his friends, who included entertainers and mobsters alike. On the skids at one point in his colorful existence, Doc and his lady ran a poker game in his hotel room. The host of the game always got a cut of the pot, so dangerous as it often was, it kept Doc in sandwiches for a long time. But when he quit the game, he quit forever, discovering that he could write songs again with the likes of Phil Spector and others who had not forgotten him.
In an unpublished segment of memoir Doc stated that he didn’t want to be “like the rest of the gimps who got around on braces and crutches.” He aspired always to look “angry, cool and sharp.” He passed away of cancer revered by the music world and was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
Alex Halberstadt’s Lonely Avenue opens the door into the life of this remarkable, gruff, super-charged talent, with no sugar coating. Doc would have liked that.