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Jackie Lomax: more than a footnote

Jackie LomaxJackie Lomax died on Monday, while visiting England from Southern California for the wedding of one of his daughters. He was 69, and my obituary for the Guardian is here. I suppose he’ll go down as a footnote in Beatle history, having made a handful of singles and an album for Apple; it’s a pity none of the solo records he made during a long career ever captured the public’s imagination.

I met him a few times at the end of the ’60s and the start of the ’70s, when the Apple relationship had just finished and he was involved with a band called Heavy Jelly, who had their origin in a hippie hoax.

It was in the autumn of 1968 that John Leaver, one of Tony Elliott’s early colleagues on the fledgling Time Out, published a favourable review of a wholly fictitious group, with the notion of seeing whether the freaks among the readership could be induced to flock to the record shops just on the basis of a magazine piece. He called the group Heavy Jelly — “originally an eight-piece soul band, now operating as an acid-rock quartet” — and accompanied his words with a specially taken Keith Morris photograph of the guitarist John Morsehead, formerly of the Pirates and Shotgun Express and then of Aynsley Dunbar’s Retaliation, accompanied by three anonymous long-haired mates (“a dope dealer, an antique dealer and a colour attacher,” according to Morris).

The spoof worked, to the extent that a buzz started and a group was hastily formed around Moreshead. They recorded a single, amusingly called “Time Out” and released in the spring of 1969 on Head Records, run by the promoter John Curd. Just to confuse matters, the Island label simultaneously took their group Skip Bifferty, rechristened them Heavy Jelly, and recorded a track that was promptly featured on one of their famous cheapo sampler albums. By this time, however, Curd owned the rights to the name and persuaded Island to desist. Meanwhile a couple of Island artists, Traffic’s Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi, briefly joined Moreshead in the “real” Heavy Jelly, only to make a swift withdrawal in favour of an offer to rejoin Steve Winwood. Next came Lomax, freed from his commitment to Apple, who joined the line-up and brought with him a bunch of new songs, eight of which were recorded for what was intended to be their debut album.

In the fashion of the day, various luminaries were called upon to assist in the studio, not least because Heavy Jelly had already begun to be afflicted by the personnel changes that would eventually kill them off. Mike Kellie of Spooky Tooth played drums on a couple of tracks, joined on one of them by Ric Grech on bass and Peter Bardens on keyboards; Jim Price and Bobby Keys added trumpet and tenor saxophone to one song; and harmonies were added to the final track by Pete Ham and Tommy Evans of Badfinger, Lomax’s erstwhile Apple labelmates.

It was while they were in the process of making the album that they played the Country Club in Belsize Park, and a couple of days later I interviewed Jackie for the Melody Maker. The gig had been good but he was a little downbeat, just as I had found him to be on our previous encounters; the consequent piece, published under the headline “Born Under a Bad Sign?”, pondered his seeming attraction to projects dogged by bad luck.

Heavy JellyA few months later Heavy Jelly completed their album. Curd pressed up some promotional copies with white labels and sent them to people in the media. I got one, played it, wasn’t greatly impressed, and filed it away. Such were the internal upheavals — musicians coming and going, including the Grease Band’s drummer Bruce Rowland and John Mayall’s bassist Steve Thompson — that the band simply fell apart, and the album never got beyond that white-label stage.

After that rather dispiriting experience Lomax spent a couple of weeks with Denny Laine, Trevor Burton and Alan White in a band called Balls before answering a call from John Simon, the Band’s producer, to make an album for Warner Brothers in the US.

It occurs to me now that the pattern of his career resembles that of Van Morrison: early days with a British-based R&B band before a solo career in America, first in Woodstock and then in California. Jackie made some pleasant records, and it will be interesting to see how the album he completed just before his death — his first in a dozen years — turned out, but he never had a “Brown Eyed Girl”, a “Madame George”, a “Moondance” or a “Domino”. In the end, that’s usually what makes the difference.

* The photograph of Jackie Lomax is from the insert to the 2010 reissue of his Apple album, Is This What You Want? It is uncredited.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Napper #

    I wonder if this is the same John Leaver now working as a recruitment consultant? Used to work at Oz in the late 60s. If so I will send him this piece.

    September 17, 2013
  2. Pete Leay #

    So sorry to read of Jackie’s death. I live in Wallasey,his hometown & Brian ‘Saxophone’ Jones ,original member with The Undertakers, lives not far from me.
    Jackie’s Apple album is an excellent record & still one of my favourites.
    I didn’t realise until I read your blog & obit just how much of a “nearly man” he was.
    Fitting,perhaps, that he died in his hometown.
    Thanks for the two articles.

    September 17, 2013
  3. Richard
    that is a litany of names from the past and it is sad to hear of Jackie Lomax’s passing. Sour Milk Sea was always a favourite obscure track but your reference to Balls also rang a bell and I have just looked in my 7 inch record cabinet which has its contents in alphabetically organised and includes (showing my age) records from 1958 onwards and there as I thought I recalled was Wizard single WIZ101 “Fight for my Country” by Balls! Produced by none other than Jimmy Miller with B side “Janie Slow down” written by Alan White and Denny Laine

    September 17, 2013
  4. I was hooked from when I first saw him doing ‘sour milk sea’ on a kids TV show. Sad news.

    September 17, 2013
  5. Phil Shaw #

    Usual excellent piece by Mr Williams. I played Jackie’s George Harrison-produced Apple single ‘How the Web Was Woven’ tonight in his honour – it had about 1200 plays on YouTube whereas Elvis Presley’s version had 70,000. I’m intrigued – it’s an American song, co-written by the late Clive Westlake, who wrote with Mort Shuman at one point, but Jackie’s version came out in Feb 1970 whereas Presley’s was not released until 11 months later. So did the Pelvis cover the Undertaker? I’d be interested to know. Now for a spot of air guitar on ‘Sour Milk Sea’.

    September 17, 2013
    • Clive Westlake’s co-writer on “How the Web Was Woven” was David Most, Mickie’s brother. It is published by Carlin Music, the UK subsidiary of Hill & Range, whose employee Freddy Bienstock was responsible for supplying Elvis with material, principally but not exclusively for movies, under a deal made between Col Tom Parker and the Aberbach brothers, Bienstock’s cousins, who founded H&R. And that, I imagine, is how the King came to record “How the Web”. Carlin, formerly Belinda Music, was renamed after Bienstock’s daughter. He died in 2009, aged 86, having become the company’s president and CEO, building it into the world’s largest before selling it to Time Warner in 1988.

      September 18, 2013
  6. Phil Shaw #

    Thanks for clarifying that, Richard, even if the explanation is less pleasing than the idea of Elvis and his people trawling Jackie’s debut LP for songs to cover. Skip Bifferty, for the record, were on RCA rather than Island, though the Heavy Jelly single I Keep Singing the Same Old Song (with Graham Bell on vocals and two future Blockheads in the line-up) WAS on Island.

    September 18, 2013
  7. Thanks for this – I’ve always been curious about Jackie Lomax and found his 2nd LP (Home Is In My Head) on Spotify after reading this. Highly under-rated funky soul. Several great tracks!

    September 18, 2013
  8. Tom McGuinness #

    I was really sad to hear about Jackie’s death. In the mid 60s he and I spent a couple of evenings together at my house – sharing a meal – and no doubt some drink – just playing our favourite records and generally putting the world to rights. He was good company.

    As is the way of the road, we lost touch with each other. I recall that in the early 90s I checked into the Hyatt on Sunset Strip and looked in the local press to see what was on musically. Jackie had played the night before at a club close by the hotel. So we never met again.(I did get to meet Little Richard in the hotel but that’s a whole other story).

    I first saw Jackie with The Undertakers at a ballroom in Reading in late Autumn 1963. I was – albeit very briefly – in a band called Casey Jones and The Engineers. We were the support act to The Undertakers and we got chatting to them through Casey who was a fellow Liverpudlian. They were a good live band – mining some of the same R’n’B records that I loved. Things like Roscoe Gordon’s “Just A Little Bit” and Solomon Burke’s “Stupidity”. But I was also impressed that they all travelled in an old hearse.

    Incidentally I handed in my notice to Casey that night and trudged down to Reading station with my guitar in one hand and my amp in the other – assuming that after 2 months that was the end of my “professional” music career. I left the amp in the left-luggage office at the station where it gathered dust for several months.

    Jackie never got the breaks he deserved. But the most people don’t. The older I get, the more I realise that natural talent without lucky breaks gets nowhere. As with so many human endeavours, Luck hold all the cards.

    September 25, 2013
  9. Jackie stayed at my home. A lovely man, sadly missed

    October 27, 2013

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