Obituary: Jackie Lomax, singer

Born: 10 May, 1944, in Wallasey, Cheshire. Died: 16 September, 2013, in the Wirral, Merseyside, aged 69

Jackie Lomax, second from front, with one of his bands The Undertakers. Picture: Fox Photos/Getty
Jackie Lomax, second from front, with one of his bands The Undertakers. Picture: Fox Photos/Getty

A lot of people thought Jackie Lomax should have been a big star. He had moody good looks, a great bluesy voice and a decent backing band that had considerable success in their own right under the name The Beatles.

And it was after The Beatles became a global phenomenon that Lomax recorded with Paul, George and Ringo (though not the moody John), not when they were the Quarrymen or the Silver Beetles or anything like that.

Like the Beatles, Jackie Lomax came out of the Cavern Club in Liverpool. And he was part of that elite, though diverse, little group of artists signed to their Apple record label. George Harrison in particular took Lomax under his wing and spent months working with him.

Harrison felt that Lennon and McCartney never showed him enough respect as a songwriter and at one point it looked like Lomax might record Something, but in the end it became the first of Harrison’s songs recorded as a Beatles A-side.

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Instead Lomax recorded another song which Harrison had written for the Beatles, but which the group did not record in anything other than demo form. Sour Milk Sea had Lomax on vocals, Harrison and Eric Clapton on guitars, McCartney on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano and Ringo on drums.

In September 1968 Sour Milk Sea was one of the first releases on Apple – catalogue number Apple 3, along with the Beatles’ Hey Jude and Mary Hopkin’s Those Were the Days, both of which reached Number One. But Sour Milk Sea failed to make any impression on the UK charts.

Lomax settled in the United States, where he played with Tom Petty, toured as bassist for The Drifters, and continued to write, record and perform songs, though he also took casual jobs in restaurants in between.

He seemed philosophical about his lot, saying: “You just have to accept, as I learned a long time ago, that you won’t be busy and hyper-successful all the time. There are cycles when things are up and cycles when things are down, just as in life.”

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He was born John Richard Lomax into a working-class family in Wallasey in Merseyside in 1944 and was playing with local bands in his mid-teens.

He played rhythm guitar with a group called Dee and the Dynamites. Their drummer Bugs Pemberton left to join The Undertakers, who were also looking for a new bass guitarist, as the previous one could not afford to keep up payments on the instrument. Pemberton suggested Lomax, even though he had never played bass. Lomax ended up taking over as lead vocalist too.

This was at the start of the Merseybeat boom. The Undertakers wore suits and ties and top hats, but had a slightly harder sound than some of their contemporaries. One of the most popular acts at the Cavern, they signed to Pye Records.

It was while he was frontman for The Undertakers that Lomax had his only UK Top 50 hit, with Just a Little Bit, in 1964, round about the same time The Beatles were riding on the wave of Can’t Buy Me Love.

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The Undertakers relocated to the US in an unsuccessful attempt to emulate The Beatles and others in cracking the American market.

Back in the UK Lomax’s new group The Lomax Alliance linked up with Beatles manager Brian Epstein and signed with CBS, but again commercial success eluded him.

As one of the artists who helped launch Apple it was expected that Lomax would finally make his mark on the charts.

His voice had a slightly rough edge and emotional, but seductive, quality that bore some similarity to Joe Cocker, who did record Something and had a No 1 with Lennon and McCartney’s With a Little Help from My Friends.

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Lomax provided backing vocals and tambourine on Dear Prudence on The Beatles’ White Album and quite possibly contributed to other tracks too.

George Harrison produced Lomax’s album Is This What You Want? in Los Angeles.

His final Apple single was How The Web Was Woven, which compares favourably with Elvis Presley’s version from the same era.

Bill Harry, author of The Ultimate Beatles Encyclopedia, said his lack of chart success baffled The Beatles.

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“Jackie had one of the rare and distinctive voices which have the potential of turning its owner into a superstar.”

Lomax returned to the US, signed with Warner Bros Records and recorded the albums Home is in My Head and Three, which attracted more critical acclaim than sales.

Back in the UK once more he formed the group Badger and recorded the album White Lady, produced by the legendary Allen Toussaint. There was never any shortage of big names who wanted to work with Lomax, but convincing the public seemed a tougher nut to crack.

Back in the US once more he recorded a couple of albums for Capitol and played with various bands, including The Drifters. In 2001 he recorded The Ballad of Liverpool Slim, his first solo album for almost 25 years, and in 2003 he returned to the Cavern. He had recently finished recording a new album.

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He was married to Norma Kessler, the mother of the controversial photographer Terry Richardson. She died last year. He is survived by three daughters from an earlier marriage. He had been back in England for a family wedding when he fell ill.