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CORAL 65050; APRIL 1951



Ehh… what’s up, Doc?

It’s been awhile since we’ve seen you around these woods, hasn’t it? We thought you might’ve given up your day job trying to cut records and started down another road that you’ll soon be traveling, writing songs for hire.

Not yet though, I guess.

While your own output as a singer hasn’t resulted in any hits, or even any songs worthy of being hits, we’ve always been glad to see you pop up around here from time to time. It’s not often we get to see a white rock artist after all and though we hate to gawk at you because of your complexion, it IS something of a novelty you have to admit.

So even though your pursuit of a career in this field is bound to end up not amounting to much, we hope the title of this latest effort isn’t an announcement of your plans to cash in your chips and walk away from the tables just yet.


Try Me One More Time
The story doesn’t change just because we’re a few years removed from his first sighting on this shore… Doc Pomus is still white in a style that is otherwise all black (save for Johnny Otis, who’d rightly get mad at you for calling him white), and Doc is still short, hefty and on crutches in a field that usually requires more agility on stage than he was able to produce and until recently he was still featuring an enthusiastic, if under-powered, voice with little subtlety on record which hardly helps his cause.

His songwriting ability which will ultimately set him apart and give him a second career worthy of all the praise and acclaim he can get, has yet to really blossom… although it’s been improving the last few times we encountered him.

More frustrating than anything for him though is the fact that because of his physical appearance he’s still seen as an anomaly rather than as a legitimate artist judged on his own merits.

It shouldn’t matter, especially on record, a flat black plastic disc where nobody can be sure who he is or what demographic he represents, but we know that the record companies have always viewed him as a curiosity yet have been unable to really promote him as such… and so he’s languished in obscurity.

Even now he’s hardly giving his newest landing spot, Coral, a Decca subsidiary, something easy to promote as Blues For Sale pulls him out of the rock niche he’d been building in favor of a brassy, jazzy cocktail blues with an edge to it where he sounds more vocally assured than ever, yet which is out of date and out of style.

It’s worth checking out for sure, certainly one of his best efforts to date, but it’s too far away from rock to even get him the credit for it that we’d want to if our goal was merely to chronicle his career rather than covering the evolution of an entire musical style he’s becoming seemingly more ill at ease with as a performer, even if he’ll soon contribute to it in ways he hadn’t quite conceived of yet.

Even here on Give It Up, a more uptempo song suited for rocking, he’s not entirely on board with how this genre is evolving. There’s a bit too much brassy fanfare in the arrangement, but at least he’s focused lyrically on meeting our increasingly demanding requirements for a seat at the table.

We’d never turn him away from the door mind you, he’s far too interesting to give up on, but just to be sure he’ll still be welcome he’s brought with him somebody else with a diverse résumé who’ll be making the jump to rock ‘n’ roll in earnest over the next few years.

Got Every Thing That A Good Man Needs
By 1951 Bill Doggett was not yet a household name, even among astute music fans, but he was far from obscure if you paid attention to the popular black styles over the past dozen years or so when he first made his bones playing piano in Lucky Millinder’s band, then as the pianist and arranger for The Ink Spots, then serving in the same role for Ella Fitzgerald and finally behind Louis Jordan.

Along the way he’d had a single with vocalist Helen Humes – Be Bob A Leba – which did okay, but he was still almost exclusively a backing musician and a good one at that. He’d been turned on to the possibilities of the Hammond organ by Wild Bill Davis, whom he’d replaced in Jordan’s Tympani Five, yet he was still by and large playing piano, leaving Jordan in 1951 and reuniting with Fitzgerald, but he was also cutting sessions behind others as the opportunities presented themselves.

We may have heard him backing Willis Jackson on Gator’s Apollo sides but here on Give It Up he gets an actual label credit for his contributions behind Doc Pomus.

Considering the two names are vital in rock’s story it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s also pretty good, but since Pomus’s recorded output has been somewhat middling to date and since Doggett was as of yet far more comfortable in jazz and jump blues settings than rock, the fact that they were able to bring together all of those elements in a rock song and make it work to a degree is a welcome sight even if this is not the direction the genre as a whole needs to go.

Luckily what’s here stands up on its own in spite of that slight stylistic conflict in its construction as Pomus is in good voice here with his usual shouting technique – unlike the surprisingly effective mellow crooning he employs on the flip – but he’s learned to moderate it so he’s not merely raising his voice without having any clue about how to fit it in a useful delivery.

He’s boastful, yet at ease with himself for maybe the first time on record. It’s a relaxed brand of braggadocio in any case and it suits him well, giving him an attitude he can handle and when he drops down to close out lines rather than increase the volume as he’d done too often in the past, it’s really rather endearing.


Rock Me Baby Until I’m Dead
Unfortunately the backing arrangement, courtesy of Doggett, gives away many of those advances… not because it isn’t well crafted or played, but rather because it’s too tied to yesterday as well as to other musical motifs.

The horns are situated too high in the tonal range, brass rather than reeds, giving this a glossy sheen that runs counter to the grittier image Pomus is trying to project.

The rest of Give It Up fares a little better as we get a really prominent bass which sounds as if it’s embedded in your eardrum with its warm thwacking sound, while Doggett’s piano is lightly playing around the edges to offset it.

The band chips in with vocals of their own, answering Doc on the title refrain, and though we can’t help but envision them as squares based on the quality of their voices – older and more rigidly professional than most rock bands – they aren’t completely out of their element in their attempts at lusty replies.

It’s a compromised track based on personnel maybe, with an alto sax solo rather than a more bruising tenor to boot, but structurally it’s at least reasonably efficient if nothing else.

Surely it wasn’t anything that was going to be a hit, even if they did tighten up the musical side of the equation with better instrumental choices, but it’s hardly anything that would be rejected out of hand and gives some idea of how Pomus might’ve been able to navigate a successful career on record with more consistent ideas in this vein.

I’m Real Down With It
Because we know his life story so well and have the utmost respect for his musicality, not to mention his efforts as a performer in the face of so many obstacles, there may be a tendency to want to take it easy on him when it comes to handing out grades on his output as an artist.

I think the scores have shown that’s not the case here and if he’s gotten the benefit of the doubt when a record was stuck between numbers once or twice he’s also taken the lower grade just as often in those cases to make sure he wasn’t being given credit for his name alone.

On Give It Up that’s not an issue. This is one that is firmly in the better than average category… not a record that would ever be mistaken for being ahead of the curve, or even staying within hailing distance of the current leaders of the pack, but it’s a record where the strengths all belong to Doc himself and where we can finally say with some assurance that he appears comfortable in his role.

Maybe that’s a minor victory in the big scheme of things, but considering where he started out, it’s a victory all the same.


(Visit the Artist page of Doc Pomus for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)