Blues in the Red
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
Excellent value and a very enjoyable look at the roots of rock’n’roll.
Legendary songwriter Doc Pomus died at the age of 65 in 1991 from lung cancer having been a heavy smoker for most of his life. Pomus co-wrote dozens of classics in the early days of pop and rock’n'roll including “Teenager In Love”, “Can’t Get Used To Losing You”, “His Latest Flame”, “Sweets For My Sweet”, “Save The Last Dance For Me”, “Viva Las Vegas”, “A Mess Of Blues” and many more. His main collaborator was the pianist/composer Mort Shuman with whom he worked for over ten years.
Before he worked as a Tin Pan Alley songsmith the remarkable Pomus had another less well-known career as a singer and it is this aspect of his work that is showcased here for the first time on CD.
Pomus was born Jerome Solon Felder into a white middle-class Jewish family in New York City in 1925. He suffered infantile paralysis and for the rest of his life could only walk with the aid of crutches. He started his musical career playing the alto-saxophone but the unfortunate Felder damaged his hand in an accident and had to give up the instrument. It was then that he began to concentrate on a career as a singer and to increasingly write his own material.
Playing in a mixed race band in New York’s clubs wasn’t what a nice middle class Jewish boy was supposed to do, so Felder adopted the pseudonym “Doc Pomus” to keep his family off his trail.
Doc’s singing heroes were Wynonie Harris and Big Joe Turner and there is much of Turner’s style about the material here. Most of the 24 tracks are written by Pomus himself under various names-Jerome Felder, Jerry Pomus or Doc Pomus. He covers a song by Wynonie Harris “Here Comes The Blues” and tackles a medley of Joe Turner tunes including “Shake Rattle & Roll”- an early rock’n'roll hit when the song was purloined by Bill Haley.
The title track and also “Blues Without Booze” were written by Leonard Feather a pianist and composer but better known as a jazz writer and critic. He contributed liner notes to many albums on the legendary Blue Note record label in the 1950s and 60s.
The Doc’s own tunes are a mix of earthy blues interspersed with jazzy jump jive tunes featuring horn arrangements. The lyrics are decidedly risqué` especially on tunes like “Alley Alley Blues” and “Fruity Woman Blues”. The Doc may have been crippled but if his lyrics are anything to go by it didn’t affect his sexual prowess!
The image of Pomus up there on stage with his crutches belting out his bawdy material reminds one of the late Ian Dury. Different time, different style of music, very different accent but the same spirit of defiance, verbal dexterity and triumph over physical disability.
Pomus has a great voice for his material. He is a classic blues shouter in the Big Joe Turner mould and if you hadn’t seen the pictures in the accompanying booklet you would swear it was a black guy singing.
The album packaging is good with archive photographs and excellent liner notes by Dave Penny. Unfortunately full recording details are not given but these have probably been lost in the mists of time. Most of this material was recorded in the late 40s and early 50s for a variety of labels and would have been released in a singles format which is how they were meant to be heard. Good as they are they can get to sound a little “samey” when gathered together.
Nevertheless Rev-ola Records are to be congratulated for getting this material out on CD. With over an hours worth of songs it is excellent value and a very enjoyable look at the roots of rock’n'roll and at the career of a remarkable man and musician.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The sun shines on the final day of an excellent festival.
Ian Mann soaks up the vibes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival.