Jackie Lomax obituary

Singer, songwriter and friend of the Beatles who never quite hit the musical big time

The career of the Liverpool-born singer and songwriter Jackie Lomax, who has died aged 69, seemed set on a golden path when he became one of the first artists signed to the Beatles' Apple label in 1968. But if an appealingly soulful voice, high cheekbones and influential friends were sometimes all that seemed necessary for stardom in those days, they were never quite enough to do the trick for Lomax, who has died suddenly at the age of 69, while on a visit to Britain from his adoptive home in California.

Lomax had known the Beatles since their early days at the Cavern club and in Hamburg, when he was the singer and bass guitarist with the Undertakers, a popular Mersey Beat band noted for their energetic stage show, in which the musicians wore the frock coats, and sometimes top hats, appropriate to funeral directors in the wild west.

In those days he looked exactly like a Beatle – and in a sense he was, one night in 1960 when, still the Silver Beetles and a man short for a Liverpool gig, they used him as a stand-in drummer. Almost a decade later he joined them in the studio to sing on the chorus of Hey Jude and to add a low harmony on Dear Prudence.

It was John Lennon who advised him to embark on a solo career, and Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr played on his first Apple single, Sour Milk Sea, which Harrison also wrote and produced. But when the single and the ensuing album – also produced by Harrison and titled Is This What You Want? – failed to make an impact, he left the label and eventually settled in the US, where he recorded a number of further solo albums for major labels without ever quite fulfilling the potential so many in the industry believed they had glimpsed.

Born in Wallasey, the son of a millworker, the teenaged Lomax and his friend the drummer Warren "Bugs" Pemberton left their first band, Dee and the Dynamites, to join the Undertakers in January 1962. Like the Beatles, their stage act was developed during residencies at the clubs in and around Hamburg's Reeperbahn, and in 1963, with the Liverpool sound starting to dominate the British pop scene, they were voted the city's fifth most popular group by the readers of Mersey Beat magazine. Two years later, after a contract with Pye Records had produced four singles – all covers of American R&B songs — but no hits, they tried to capitalise on the British invasion of the US charts by moving across the Atlantic.

Left stranded and penniless in a motel in Canada, they disbanded and in 1967 Lomax and Pemberton formed their own group, the Lomax Alliance. Tipped off by Cilla Black that Brian Epstein was interested in him, Lomax returned to London with the band, who were showcased in one of the concerts presented by the Beatles' manager at the Saville theatre. Epstein signed them to CBS records, but after his death in 1968 and the release of a handful of unsuccessful singles the arrangement petered out.

It was then that the Beatles themselves took a hand, and on 30 August 1968 the initial batch of Apple singles included Sour Milk Sea alongside the Beatles' Hey Jude, Mary Hopkin's Those Were the Days and the Black Dyke Mills Band's Thingumybob. Lomax's single was one of the two that did not become worldwide No 1 hits. His Apple album also featured Eric Clapton, with other tracks recorded in Los Angeles; a lovely ballad titled Fall Inside Your Eyes was later covered by the soul singer Percy Sledge.

When the lack of success of two subsequent singles, New Day and How the Web Was Woven, and the arrival at Apple's Savile Row HQ of the hard-nosed American business manager Allen Klein prompted the end of the Beatles' patronage, Lomax spent several months as a member of the not-quite-supergroup Heavy Jelly, whose sole album remained unreleased. When I met him in London in the spring of 1970, a day or two after an excellent gig at the old Country Club on Haverstock Hill, north London, he was despondent over a series of personnel changes that threatened the band's stability and would soon destroy it.

A move to Woodstock in 1971 led to two more solo albums for Warner Brothers, Home Is in My Head and Three, featuring such musicians as the Band's Rick Danko and Levon Helm and the English slide guitarist Bryn Haworth. In 1973 he went back to England to join the former Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye in a band called Badger, whose approach he helped change from progressive rock to the kind of soul-tinged approach he had always favoured. Badger's one album, White Lady, was recorded in New Orleans under the supervision of the great producer Allen Toussaint but again failed to attract significant attention.

Lomax returned to the US for good in 1975, settling in California and recording two more albums for Capitol Records, Livin' for Lovin' and Did You Ever Have That Feeling? Throughout the 80s and 90s he performed regularly in and around Los Angeles in bands with various friends, and also toured as the bassist with the Drifters and the Coasters, whose music had helped inspire the original Mersey Beat bands. For a while he was the maitre d' at the Cat & Fiddle, a Sunset Boulevard bar popular with expatriate British rockers.

In 1990 he contributed his version of the Tim Buckley song Devil Eyes to an album titled True Voices, which also featured Lucinda Williams, PF Sloan and Gene Clark, and in 2001 he recorded another solo album, The Ballad of Liverpool Slim. There were several visits to his home city and last year he returned to Hamburg to help celebrate the golden jubilee of the Star Club, performing with the Undertakers and members of the Big Three and the Dominoes. He had finished another album shortly before his death, which occurred while he was staying on the Wirral for the wedding of one of his daughters.

He is survived by his first wife, Dionne Lomax, their three daughters, and five grandchildren. His second wife, the former Annie Richardson, an ex-dancer whom he met in Woodstock in 1971, died last year. His stepson is the fashion photographer Terry Richardson.

• Jackie (John Richard) Lomax, singer, songwriter, born 10 May 1944; died 16 September 2013

Contributor

Richard Williams

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Billy Hatton obituary
Founding member of the 1960s Liverpool pop group the Fourmost who shared similar origins to the Beatles but testy relations with the young John Lennon

Spencer Leigh

27, Sep, 2017 @3:55 PM

Article image
Beatles' Cavern club debut marked by 50th anniversary celebrations
Rebuilt Liverpool basement venue marks half century since first sparsely-attended gig in 1961

Alexandra Topping

08, Feb, 2011 @7:52 PM

Article image
'I was shattered' – Paul Weller, Booker T and more on the day the Beatles split
Fifty years ago today, the counter-cultural whirlwind that was the Beatles ended. Musicians, fans and insiders relive the devastating day their era-defining story came to an abrupt close

Interviews by Jude Rogers

09, Apr, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
Alan Johnson's Sgt Pepper pilgrimage: ‘The album put me on a musical high from which I’ve yet to descend’
In May 1967, Johnson was 17, playing in a band and waiting for the Beatles’ new album. Fifty years after Sgt Pepper’s release, the retiring MP heads to Liverpool to join the city’s celebration of the LP

Alan Johnson

01, Jun, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Good Ol' Freda: the Beatles' secretary tells her story

As the Beatles' secretary, Freda Kelly was the envy of a million teenage girls in the 60s. Now she has finally decided to open up, she tells Elizabeth Day

Elizabeth Day

17, Nov, 2013 @12:05 AM

Article image
Beatles’ unused Abbey Road photographs to be auctioned
Full set of six pictures of John, Paul, Ringo and George to be sold along with image of street sign used on back cover of album

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

15, Oct, 2014 @3:35 PM

Article image
Guaranteed to raise a smile! Our pop critic's verdict on Liverpool's Sgt Pepper celebrations
Lucy in the Sky fireworks, A Day in the Life of the living dead, Lovely Rita’s parking meter parade … Beatlemania is gripping Liverpool. Our writer dives in

Alexis Petridis

05, Jun, 2017 @4:30 AM

Article image
The Beatles announce Get Back, first official book in 20 years
Hanif Kureishi writes introduction to book edited from 120 hours of conversations from the Let It Be sessions, in tandem with Peter Jackson documentary

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

16, Sep, 2020 @1:00 PM

Article image
George Harrison and his women – Martin Scorsese's new documentary reveals the candid truth

Recollections by surviving Beatles and second wife Olivia cast new light on the emotional intensity that drove his music

Vanessa Thorpe and Ben Dowell

03, Sep, 2011 @11:07 PM

Article image
The Beatles’ White Album captured the spirit of ’68, but it’s right for 2018 too | John Harris
The Beatles’ epic creation reflected the political darkness and disquiet of the time, giving it surprising resonance today, says Guardian columnist John Harris

John Harris

06, Nov, 2018 @6:00 AM