Gary James' Interview With
Jackie Lomax

The careers of Jackie Lomax and The Beatles seemed to have crossed at the most important junctures. For example: Jackie Lomax performed in some of the same Hamburg, Germany clubs The Beatles performed in. He was managed by Beatles' manager Brian Epstein. He was the first recording artist to sign with The Beatles' record label, Apple Records. George Harrison produced some of his records as well as playing on them, alongside Ringo and Paul. What a life Jackie Lomax has had in Pop music!

Q - Jackie, let's start with today and work our way back. You are still performing, aren't you?

A - Yup. I was most recently in Liverpool (England) performing with my old mates The Undertakers. We did a big festival there. It happens every year in August.

Q - Do you have a band you perform with in the States?

A - Yeah. I have a vocal band here. We usually play as a three piece. Done some solo gigs too. I'm doing one now every Sunday, just to keep my hand in and try out new stuff.

Q - Where do you perform? Clubs?

A - Yeah, clubs, bars.

Q - So, you're not doing any national touring?

A - No one's asked me. (laughs)

Q - Well, maybe after this interview runs. You never know.

A - You never know. It might click somebody's memory and get in touch. You never know. I have a record coming out in the New Year (2009).

Q - On what label?

A - Angel Air.

Q - Who else is on the label besides yourself?

A - You wouldn't believe it! Everybody from the '60s (laughs) Everybody! We're talking about solo artists from bands. 'Live' albums. They seem to really like '60s people. They treat 'em real fair. See, I've had a record around, but not really out for three years. I've sold some at The Cavern when I performed there. But it's only like limited printing. I need a company to print them up in the thousands and promote and distribute and maybe sell a few.

Q - And now you've got one!

A - They do UK, Europe and Japan. So that's another big market for me.

Q - What's the title of your new CD?

A - "Liverpool Slim".

Q - I consulted Rolling Stone Encyclopedia Of Rock 'n' Roll about your career. Let's see how much of what they say is true. Did you start your career in a Blues group at the age of 16.

A - No. I started in The Undertakers really and that was about 17. Then they gave me a bass. I didn't play bass. I had to play that night, so I learned. (laughs)

Q - You learned on the job, so to speak.

A - Exactly. But you know what? I knew basic guitar. I knew chord changes. And then I found it's easy to play one root note for each chord, but then that is very unsatisfying after a while. You want to fill in a bit more. You get better.

Q - I remember seeing something about The Undertakers in either Life or Look magazine.

A - It was Life, yeah.

Q - It was a profile of several Liverpool groups. That group was really ahead of its time, don't you think?

A - Yeah, but I hate hearing that. Another hard luck loser story. No, it isn't bad at all. We had some damn good years. We did some damn good gigs. We met some great people you'd never think of including...Ray Charles for instance. It was a great time to be from Liverpool.

Q - It certainly was. But I'm speaking of the theatrical look of The Undertakers. You had the black top hats, the black coats.

A - That was more other people insisting we do that. Like on television they'd want us to look that way because its more dramatic. But in our everyday gigs, we didn't do that.

Q - Was Brian Jones in this group?

A - Yeah. He's the sax player. Don't get him mixed up with the other blonde guy.

Q - I'm glad you cleared that up!

A - Brian "Saxophone" Jones.

Q - The Undertakers played at The Star Club and The Top Ten Club in Germany?

A - Just the Star Club. The Beatles went in '61. They played The Top Ten I think, and the Kaiserskeller, but we went straight to The Star Club in '62, a year later.

Q - What was it like to be in a British band in Germany at that time?

A - Fantastic! We were real cocky lads, a wonder nobody killed us. They have guns there, for instance. We were a real cheeky band.

Q - Did you have to work eight hours a night, seven days a week like The Beatles did?

A - No. That's a bit of a misunderstanding. You'd do an hour set, but you're on rotation. Say there's four bands there. Every three hours you'd be on.

Q - And this would go on for how long?

A - 'Til six in the morning. That was the last set. And you could be unlucky enough to start at six the previous evening; 9, 12, 3 and 6. You understand what I'm saying? You have to stay up all that time. You can't go to bed and come back.

Q - What do you do in between your time on stage?

A - Get into mischief.

Q - Give me an idea of what that means.

A - Oh, the usual drinking in clubs and throwing shit around at people in other bands. It was just generally a crazy atmosphere there 'cause anything goes in Hamburg in the district we were in. It was called The Reeperbohn. It's like the Red Light district. It's probably the most well-known in Europe.

Q - Did the Beatles watch your group?

A - I'm not sure about that. I don't know. There are a lot of strip clubs and the same manager owned The Star Club. We could go to any strip club. Mischief.

Q - You were at one time, a wages clerk. What's that?

A - A time and wages clerk, yeah. The people who work dock gate in Liverpool. It's the Mersey Docks And Harbor Board I worked for. It's basically paying dock gateman's wages for three days a week. Then for two and half days a week, I was out on the docks, doing inventories and tonnage from ships and destinations. All kinds of shit. But I gave up that job to go to Hamburg. As a consequence, my father didn't speak to me for three years.

Q - He didn't like musicians.

A - He thought I was in a gang. He didn't make the connection with a band. He just thought I was out getting up to no good instead of playing music, which is what I was doing every night. But he saw me on television three years later and all was forgiven.

Q - When you were in Hamburg, were you playing cover songs or doing originals?

A - No one was writing then. Not even The Beatles. They might have been writing on the side, but they didn't perform it. Everyone was doing R&B covers. That may surprise you, but Liverpool is a port and somehow that music seeped into the consciousness of Liverpool and we're doing Ray Charles, James Brown. Who else?

Q - I'd say Motown, but they weren't around yet.

A - They weren't around yet. I love Motown and Stax. That is my bag and that is what I like. I try to write in those veins of music if you like. Still.

Q - Was the money any good for a band in Hamburg?

A - It was twice as much as my father earned. (laughs) That was another thing that pissed him off I think.

Q - When you first got back from Hamburg, did you play The Cavern Club?

A - Yup. All the time.

Q - Did The Undertakers get a record deal?

A - They did with a band record company called Pye. We did four singles, none of which hit the big time. The best one was called "Just A Little Bit". Elvis Presley did that later on.

Q - Did he ever hear your version?

A - I don't know. He definitely heard one song of mine, "How The Web Was Woven". I didn't write it, but I did it at Apple. That was the only version of it, so he must've heard that. He did that too.

Q - Was Brian Epstein your manager?

A - Yes and no. He wasn't my manager in Liverpool. We turned him down.

Q - You turned Brian Epstein down? What year was that?

A - Oh, about '62.

Q - Why did you turn him down?

A - Well, all he had was a record store where we used to order records from America. We didn't think he had much pull in the music business, which he didn't at that time. We had a manager who controlled three ballrooms where we could work all the time. We ended up to be wrong, but it seemed right at the time. He came back in my life when I was in New York. He was taking The Beatles over to Shea Stadium. Somehow I got a message that he was looking for me and to call him at the Waldorf Astoria, which I did. We got together. He said he wanted to be my manager, take me back to England. I said "Great, but I just got a band here. Do you want to hear 'em before I go? If you like 'em, take 'em all," and he did.

Q - What did you think of Brian Epstein as a manager?

A - Well, you gotta understand the time we're talking about, '65 he was the biggest known manager in the world, no matter what his personal life was like, OK? This was like a big opportunity for me. I thought: a chance to make it, be Brian Epstein's new boy on the block. But he died in the middle of the album, so it changed nothing.

Q - You were the first artist to be signed to Apple Records?

A - Well now, before there was Apple Records, there was two Beatles in an office called NEMS and I went to see them about would they back a band I was in. John Lennon pulled me aside and said "Look, I hear you're writing songs. Is that right?" I said "Yeah, I got a few. I'm working on some more." He said "Well, go and see this guy at Apple Publishing, Terry Doran." I went to see him and he signed me as a writer and put me to work upstairs on a tape recorder. That's how it started. There was no Apple Building yet. It came later. Then Apple Records. George had tapes I'd been making upstairs at Apple Publishing and said "Hey, I want to do an album," which flabbergasted me, but still it happened that way.

Q - George produced that single "Sour Milk Sea" for you?

A - That's right. He wrote it.

Q - How did that song do for you on Apple Records?

A - Not as good as it should have done.

Q - Why would that have been?

A - It's easy. "Hey Jude". The first seven minute single. Tell me how much it was played. Tell me how much it was saturating the airwaves. It was unbelievable. I couldn't get a lock on for six months. I couldn't even get it played. Mary Hopkin was another one that was taking up all the airwaves. They couldn't play more than two songs from the same label without Warner Brothers and Capitol all raising a fuss. So, I got put back on the shelf, if you like. Then they started playing me after all that excitement died down and it was too late.

Q - You had another song, "Is This What You Want?"

A - Well, that's the title of the album, and there is a song called "Is This What You Want?" Eric (Clapton) is on that too, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George.

Q - Now how did that album do for you?

A - Not as good as it should, on the vinyl anyway. I never got much out of it actually. When they re-released it, I got money out of it on CD. But that was only '93. How many years have gone by?

Q - After it didn't work out Apple...

A - It didn't work out with Apple because Allen Klein came in and shut everything down. So, I went on the road with a band called Heavy Jelly Blues Band. I wrote a whole bunch of material especially for that. It was more like a jam band more than anything else. Long jams in the middle. And we went out and had fun every night. I just forgot about it for a minute. Something to occupy my mind with. Then I got an offer from Warner Brothers Records and they asked me "What do you want to do?" I said "I want to go to America. I want to move to Woodstock, New York" 'cause I had a letter from my friend there. Consequently I ended up in Woodstock in 1970.

Q - How long were you there?

A - Four years.

Q - Did you like the winters there?

A - No. That's the reason I'm not there anymore. I'm done with that snow business and in Woodstock it was five months out of the year. That's half a year to me. It's way too long. The winters were too long. I decided to suddenly drive across the States and I did. I kept getting these phone calls from London. This is after I made two albums for Warner Brothers by the way, during those four years. Do you know about that?

Q - I do not.

A - Well, one was called "Home Is In My Head". It's the one when I left England and the next one was called "Three", 'cause it was my third. "Three" has Aretha Franklin's drummer on it, and Willie Weeks. "Home Is In My Head" is like a real group effort. We worked on it together in a farm house and got some tracks down. Did it in New York City. So eventually I left from San Francisco, I'd driven across country and they called me in San Francisco and I said "OK, I'm ready to come. Send me a ticket to San Francisco Airport," and they did. I ended up in London again. But, this may be mean of me, but I had a particular agenda. I wanted to work with Allan Toussaint. He's Mr. New Orleans. They said "What do you want to do?" I said "I want to do these songs." I had like thirty songs. "I want to do this bunch, and I want to have Allen Toussaint produce it, put the horn parts in, the background parts in and everything." They said OK, surprisingly enough. We were supposed to meet Allen Toussaint at the Chateau in France. But he wouldn't come 'cause he had his own studio. He made us go to New Orleans so he wasn't out of the country that long. I was in New Orleans for Christmas. We did an album there. I mixed it in London and it's pretty good too. It came out on CD.

Q - I ask this question of everyone who was a musician in England in the early 60s: What accounts for all these guys putting bands together at that particular time?

A - I don't really totally agree with you. In the beginning, this is going to sound Biblical, there was only a handful of bands. Nobody ever realized or possibly hoped you could make a living actually playing music. It was like a fantasy. We saw these Rock 'n' Roll bands from America. It was like, we'll never achieve that. But somehow we did. It was on the cheap too. I gotta tell you. There wasn't much money around for equipment. If you're broke and you're in a poor family and you don't have any money, how are you supposed to buy a Gibson electric guitar? You're not going to. You're going to end up with a Harmony, a cheap Hofner or something from Germany until you can earn enough to get something good. So that thought of hundreds of bands all over Liverpool did not happen for another two years, I think.

Q - What year are you talking about?

A - Oh, '64, '63...'64 in that time when everybody thought they could do it with a band on every street all of a sudden. Everyone was rehearsing in mom's living room. That was because it had become a fad and a trend. Not much came out of it.

Q - In other words, only the strongest survived.

A - And the most experienced I think too. When you're young, you don't have much taste or culture. I mean, what kind of music are you gonna play? You have a very narrow idea of what music is. But we were lucky. We chose some good covers to do.

Q - Did you co-found The Undertakers or were you asked to join?

A - I was asked to join about a year after they were going. They kicked the bass player out and they gave me a bass.

Q - How were you dressed in that band?

A - Well, we were very scruffy. We were probably one of the first bands to grow our hair real long.

Q - How long was that?

A - Over the collar, onto your shoulders. I remember us being in the newspaper, all sweating at this one ballroom, with all our hair plastered to our face, in an enclosed club. The headline was; Is This Necessary? (laughs) So we were like punks at that time. So, having a name like The Undertakers was punk too. Nobody called themselves "The" anything, except The Beatles before us. That was about it.

Q - There was no The Rolling Stones?

A - No, not yet.

Q - Or The Kinks?

A - No. There was no The Merseybeats either. So, that's what happened.

Q - What's Liverpool like today?

A - Oh, it's great. It's got revival going for it, at least when I see it. I go every August, if I can, for this Beatlefest. People from all over the world go there. It's really quite amazing. I've met people from Norway this time for instance and Japan and Russia. I can't believe it. It's just unbelievable. (laughs)

Q - Are there still local bands trying to make it?

A - Yeah.

Q - Are there record companies, publishing companies and management companies in Liverpool?

A - I don't think so.

Q - They have to go to London?

A - They had to before, but I don't think there's much of any of that going on now. There's no record companies to speak of. Everything's online and streaming. But, if you do get a chance, like I got to get, it's all printed up and sold to a shop, sold online, you take it.

Q - You don't harbor any bitterness, do you, about things no working out for you?

A - No. I'm singing the blues, but I don't feel like the blues. (laughs) My new album is all blues, so you figure it out. I don't feel deprived of anything. I've had a great life. I've lived all over the damn place. Seen a lot of shit. Met a lot of good people. I'm plus in the bank when it comes to that. Not so much in the bank account, but there you go. It's the way it is. Maybe it'll change next year. I'm quite happy. I've survived beyond a lot of people I knew. I have a wonderful family in England...grandchildren. Everything's great.

Q - Jackie, when you come right down to it, showbiz success is based on luck, isn't it?

A - Serendipity...being in the right place at the right time, how can you figure that out? You can't. Anything good that's happened to me in my life has been that way, just come back of the head...Boom! What was that? That's the way I reckon it is. You can't plan it. It doesn't matter how many business cards you print, or resumes you send out. That doesn't play into anything at all. It just happens.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.