Nearly 50 years ago, Liverpool was full of aspiring rock and roll bands. The first was said to be Bob Evans and the Five Shillings, but they split up in 1961, the members joining two competing bands, Dee and the Dynamites and the Undertakers. In that place and time, it wasn’t uncommon for musicians to shuffle from band to band, so neither the Dynamites nor the Undertakers had a stable lineup at first. When the Undertakers’ bass player left to join another Liverpool band, they recruited Jackie Lomax from the Dynamites to replace him, even though Lomax had never played the bass guitar before. Within months, Lomax became the Undertakers’ lead singer. The band soon became one of the top draws in Liverpool along with the Beatles, and they rode the same Liverpool-to-Hamburg talent pipeline that led to the Star Club. Unlike other Liverpool bands, the Undertakers had a saxophone player, so they were better able to play R&B, which gave them the chance to back Ray Charles and Little Richard in Germany. And Jackie Lomax turned into a pretty good blue-eyed soul singer. The Undertakers gigged in Britain throughout the mid 60s and even took a chance on a trip to New York City to find recording work, but Lomax ended up back home by 1967. He formed a band called the Lomax Alliance, which caught the attention of Beatles manager Brian Epstein. But at the precise moment of Epstein’s greatest influence, when he might have been able to help Lomax a great deal, Epstein died.
Then came Apple. George Harrison remembered Lomax from their days in Liverpool and added him to Apple Records’ roster of artists. He produced a session with Lomax in early 1968, and was so happy with the results that he soon scheduled another one. This time, he brought some friends along to play: Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, and Nicky Hopkins. The superstar band cut a single, with “Sour Milk Sea,” written by Harrison, on the A side and “The Eagle Laughs at You,” a Lomax original, on the B side. Further sessions with other backing musicians resulted in enough songs for an album, Is This What You Want?, which came out in 1969. That same year, McCartney produced a couple of singles for Lomax, but nothing Lomax recorded could be called a hit. He left Apple before ’69 was out, recorded on and off throughout the 70s, and eventually landed in obscurity. He lives in California now, and he’s still playing.
“Sour Milk Sea” is just OK, notable mostly for being the first recording of Harrison and Clapton together, done months before “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” (The Beatles did a version of it during the White Album sessions, but it was never officially released.) “The Eagle Laughs at You,” however, is insanely great. The guitars burn, a horn section cooks, and it’s a shame that it lasts only 2:27. This week in 1968, it appeared in the “Bubbling Under” section of the Billboard singles chart at Number 125. In a three-week chart run, that’s as high as it ever got. “Sour Milk Sea” had done a little better on the American chart the month before, doing two weeks at #117.