No tags :(

Share it




After taking a long sabbatical… maybe going back to med school to brush up on his surgical skills, or more cynically perhaps he had his license to practice medicine suspended… Doc Pomus, the first white artist on the books in rock history, returns with a new practice as it were… at least on a “new” record label, Chess.

While both the record company and Pomus himself would go on to accomplish great things in rock’s story, neither was entirely on their game at this point. The label’s blues roster was already solid but they still had a lack of viable rock artists, something Pomus’s addition would do nothing to help as he was far more suited to write songs than sing them.

But his presence on the scene in some capacity is always welcome and so with that in mind we’re happy to say once again…

The Doctor Is In.


You’ll Hear The Crack
The “first” anything in a cultural movement is sometimes more circumstantial than calculated. A matter of good timing rather than good instincts.

Such was the case when it came to the first rock release by a white artist, an “honor” that befell Jerome Felder, a/k/a Doc Pomus, who had the distinction of also being the first Jewish rock act as well.

Though his effort and enthusiasm were unquestioned, his skill-set made him nothing more than an historical curiosity and if he hadn’t later become one of the genre’s top songwriters, a position that required him not to have to actually sing the songs he composed, he likely would be nothing more than a minor footnote, first or not.

Still it was his presence that showed this music had a bigger reach than many suspected, something which would prove vital in its continued expansion.

By this point however, Doc had to realize that his chance for a sustained career as a performer was dwindling rapidly. Aside from his rather obvious physical drawbacks that made him an unlikely candidate for widespread stardom, there was his limited vocal abilities that tended to interfere with his one – albeit still somewhat dormant – talent as a songwriter.

I’m sure you’ve noticed it with most of his material so far… how he was writing songs that had decent ideas at their core, such as the clever play on his name in Send For The Doctor, but which he wasn’t fleshing out nearly enough lyrically, while affixing them to simple structures because… anything more would’ve overtaxed his ability to deliver them.

In other words he was keeping everything as basic as possible because he couldn’t sing more complex ideas.

Until that was rectified one way or another, Doc Pomus was always going to be what he feared – the crippled kid peering through the window on the culture he dreamed of being a part of.

More Than Any Man In This Neighborhood
Right away you know this is going to be facing an uphill battle for relevancy in the 1950’s rock scene as the tepid horns lead this off and promptly send it hurtling backwards in time at least three or four years.

Knowing the type of song this was, cocky and boisterous, the decision to temper that aggressiveness with something so diffident was about as counterproductive as you could get. Maybe they were afraid a more raucous horn section would overshadow Pomus, but better that than to allow the song’s most admirable qualities to be undercut with such a weak arrangement.

The second problem the production of the track which has Doc’s vocals mixed too low – or him standing too far from the mic, or too close to the band which drowns him out. Whichever the case, the result is he’s competing with the under-powered horns and clearly losing.

In order for this to work his voice – as compromised as it was with weak projection and a dry thin tone – has to hit you in the gut, loud and in your face. Then you bolster that with more vibrant horns, even if to maintain the proper balance you need to station them further back in the room.

The overall sound is what matters in other words, getting a full barreling rhythm going while he rides roughshod over it, but instead everything is out of whack, you hear too much marginal playing and not enough gleeful shouting to satisfy.

That’s too bad because the concept of Send For The Doctor itself is really good, certainly one of his best compositions to date because of that thinly veiled double meaning contained in the title.

Now obviously it’s not setting new standards in innovation to suggest that this doctor provides a much different kind of “medicine” for women than something that can be purchased over the counter at a local drugstore. This is a well-worn trope that still remains fairly potent even after so many variations of it appeared over the last century.

But while does come up with some clever lines to bolster his cause, what is really selling it is the fact he’s got the proper wink and nudge attitude to let you know it’s meant humorously while he’s infusing it with as much power as his limited lung capacity with allow.

Granted that’s not enough to really put this over the top, but he’s doing all he can do short of stepping aside altogether and handing the song over to someone like Wynonie Harris, Crown Prince Waterford or Doc’s idol Big Joe Turner to do it justice.

Run Your Fever To A Hundred And Nine
But rather than critique it for what it doesn’t do, let’s turn our attention to praising it for what it does accomplish.

For starters we have a fairly good rolling groove established courtesy of pianist Reggie Ashby who may not receive much help from the rhythm section but makes up for it with a strong – or at least a consistent – left hand.

Next on the agenda is the tenor solo by Ray Abrams in the first break which provides a quality amount of grit for its time in the spotlight, especially with Pomus encouraging shouts from the sidelines to draw attention to him. It doesn’t go on nearly long enough and the subsequent solo – Rex Stewart’s trumpet – doesn’t help matters, as if they couldn’t hear that he was intruding on the bulk of the song with his squawking interjections, but throughout it all sits Doc himself, yelling, shouting and even (in a first for rock) name-dropping himself into the story to brag about his abilities… albeit as a lover not a singer.

He’s so engaging in spite of (and perhaps because of) his shortcomings that you don’t want to penalize Send For The Doctor for the failings of those surrounding him. Surely Pomus himself, a guy without any hits to his name whose mere presence in rock ‘n’ roll was at this point still a novelty more than anything, had no power to tell Leonard Chess and whoever was overseeing the rare New York session for the Chicago label that it could be improved mightily with a few simple changes.

Who knows, maybe Doc was on board with it himself, he was someone who’d fallen in love with the mid-40’s sounds after all and so the fact that much of this was in line with those older records might have convinced him he was finally living out his fantasies without having the awareness to see much of it was out of date.

But in the final analysis what works here works largely because of Pomus and what doesn’t fit falls under producers, sidemen and arrangers. Had those elements been different it’d have been a better record for sure but it also would’ve exposed Pomus’s weaknesses more by comparison, so maybe he should be grateful he gets the bulk of the praise for a solidly average record rather than more of the criticism for one deemed just a little bit better overall.


Ease Every Pain
Though the results are still somewhat compromised and his own “talents” as a performer remain more or less confined to his enthusiasm, what we’re finally starting to see glimmers of is Pomus’s writing ability which would turn his life around down the road.

It’d be a stretch to call it Send For The Doctor a breakthrough, but from its boastful title to its relentless drive, this could rightly be pointed to where he at least began taking his compositions more seriously.

Rather than tossing off half-assed songs that seemed intentionally unpolished – probably to mitigate his own expectations and the disappointment he’d have when they failed to connect – this song conceivably had a chance to be a minor hit with a little bit of luck, if not a better a singer.

Still, all things considered, it’s interesting to note that while just the second record we’ve reviewed on the newly minted Chess Records, we’re not talking about them at all, as instead Pomus gives us something good enough to keep our focus entirely on him… a hard-earned victory of sorts for someone who you can’t help rooting for in the end.


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