How the Web Was Woven

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(Pictured: Jackie Lomax in 1969.)

This is the story of a Liverpool musician who got a little help from his friends.

In early 60s Liverpool, band lineups shuffled frequently. Popular acts included Dee and the Dynamites and the Undertakers, both descended from Bob Evans and the Five Shillings, who are said to be the first rock ‘n’ roll band from Liverpool. When the Undertakers’ bass player left to join another 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 Undertakers soon became one of the top draws in town along with the Beatles, and they rode the same Liverpool-to-Hamburg talent pipeline that led to the Star Club. Because they had a saxophone player where other Liverpool bands did not, the Undertakers 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 his greatest influence, when he might have been able to help Lomax a great deal, Epstein died. After that, Lomax cut a single with producer Robert Stigwood (making him one of the first people to cover a song written by the Bee Gees), but it didn’t go anywhere.

Then came Apple. George Harrison remembered Lomax from their days in Liverpool, and produced a session with him in early 1968. He 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 in Los Angeles with members of the Wrecking Crew 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 songs for Lomax, but he left Apple before ’69 was out.

Lomax signed with Warner Brothers after that, and continued to associate with some of the biggest names in the music biz. His 1972 album Three was produced by John Simon and included appearances by Levon Helm and Rick Danko. After that, he joined the group Badger, thereby participating in one of the weirder transitions in rock history: the group, which had been a prog-rock outfit, morphed into an R&B act and recorded an album produced by Allen Toussaint. But after that album, Lomax went onto the next thing, which included two more solo albums, one of which wasn’t released in the States. By the end of the 70s, he was out of the music business entirely.

The CD reissue era served Lomax pretty well: the 1991 re-release of Is This What You Want? brought him new attention; his more obscure 70s albums eventually came out as well, along with a compilation of songs going back to Liverpool days and that 1974 Badger album (White Lady). In 2000 or 2001 (sources disagree on the precise date), he released his first new album in decades, The Ballad of Liverpool Slim. Lomax died in 2013; Against All Odds was released shortly afterward.

Allmusic is distinctly lukewarm on Lomax’s albums, although I listened to Is This What You Want? the other day for the first time in a while and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. “Sour Milk Sea,” famously demoed by the Beatles during the White Album sessions, is the most famous track but isn’t anything special. “The Eagle Laughs at You,” is tremendous, however, and it got more American airplay than “Sour Milk Sea,” although not enough to get above #125 on the Bubbling Under chart.

You can listen to the original CD issue of Is This What You Want? right here. It adds cuts not found on the 1969 release, including Lomax’s final Apple single, “How the Web Was Woven,” produced by Harrison, backed with the superior “Thumbin’ a Ride,” produced by McCartney with Harrison on guitar. Bonus random Wikipedia fact: “How the Web Was Woven” was also recorded by Elvis Presley.

(Rebooted from stuff originally posted in 2008, with some new material.)

2 thoughts on “How the Web Was Woven

  1. mackdaddyg

    The first time I heard Jackie Lomax was when George Taylor Morris played “Sour Milk Sea” on his Reelin’ in the Years radio show in the mid or late 80s. The next day I went to the local record store in my small town, and the dude actually had Jackie’s Apple album. It took a few listens, but I ended up really digging the album.

    His voice isn’t for everyone, but he’s made some great music.

    1. Andy

      There’s undeniable power and soul in his voice, but there’s also something missing…warmth, depth…I’m not sure how to describe it exactly, but the end result is a little off-putting. He almost reminds me of a male version of Florence Ballard…another singer with lots of soul and power, but also kind of shrill and lacking in something I can’t quite put my finger on. Unlike Flo’s attempt at a post-Supremes solo career, though, he had the cream of the crop of the music world writing and producing for him, yet it still didn’t happen for him.

      I attended one of the earliest Beatles conventions in Los Angeles in 1976, and Jackie spoke there, though he didn’t perform. The only thing I remember from his talk was the story of how he came to sing the uncredited “round round round round round” backing vocal part on “Dear Prudence” (on which he sounds great…maybe he should have gotten George Martin to produce him).

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