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THE RETURN OF LIVERPOOL SLIM

an interview with
JACKIE LOMAX


 

 

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The Return Of Liverpool Slim
an interview with JACKIE LOMAX



by Robert Silverstein

What a crazy, tragic year 2009 turned out to be. Hard to believe things were so peaceful just ten years ago during that culmination summer of 1999. That summer I remember writing an article in 20th Century Guitar on the musical magic that occured, then 30 years before, in 1969. Harder still to believe it's now over forty years ago since The Beatles ruled the charts in 1969, starting early with the late November 1968 release of the White Album and sadly ending with the Beatles break up in the aftermath of Abbey Road at the tale end of 1969. High on the list of Beatles-related activities during the 1968-’69 era was the March ‘69 Apple Records release of the debut Jackie Lomax Lp called Is This What You Want? Produced by Beatles guitar legend George Harrison, Is This What You Want? has remained a perennial favorite among Beatles fans since 1969. In early 2009, Jackie stepped into the music spotlight again with the official release of The Ballad Of Liverpool Slim...plus on England's Angel Air Records. Just in time to bring some really fantastic music history from 1969 into the new decade and beyond, MWE3.com proudly presents an interview with Jackie Lomax recorded on March 31st, 2009.



MWE3: Jackie, how you doing man?

JL: I’m good!

MWE3: It’s a nice beautiful sunny day in New York. How’s the weather out in California?

JL: Beautiful sunny day.

MWE3: You’re in Ojai?

JL: That’s right... Little town. It’s up in Ventura county.

MWE3: So you’re basically living out in California. Do you miss Liverpool?

JL: Yeah, I do...sometimes. I’ve got family there. We’ve got close ties so, I go back quite often. I’m going back this year too.

MWE3: I bought your album Is This What You Want? in 1969 when I was 15!

JL: (laughter) What did you think of it then?

MWE3: I loved it. I probably love it more now than I did back then.

JL: Well there’s a CD out you know. It’s got all the bonus tracks on it. 17 songs instead of 12. All the singles went on it as well.

MWE3: Also, I’m really happy that Angel Air in England have released The Ballad Of Liverpool Slim...Plus...

JL: Not happier than I am! I hadn’t expected it.

MWE3: Angel Air is a great record label. So how did The Ballad Of Liverpool Slim...Plus finally come to see release in England so to speak. It was recorded in 2001 so why did it take so long to come out?

JL: Well again, who’s promoting it for me? I’m just one guy. You know what I’m saying? It’s like pure luck.

MWE3: It’s the same album recorded in 2001?

JL: I think more like 2003. Because I remember making some to take to the Cavern in Liverpool. But that was a special edition anyway. I didn’t think anyone would pick up on it, but Angel Air did. So, I’m happy about that.

MWE3: Great label. I’ve been a big fan of music from England since the Beatles came with all the great talent that followed like yourself.

JL: Oh, we were all kind of rough at first but we learned as we went along, like anything else. That Apple album you’re talking about is really my first album that I wrote all the songs. It was a big deal to me. But then, I don’t put down any other albums that I made afterwards. I felt that they always got better and better. So far, I haven’t cringed at listening to the past.

MWE3: Will there be any other reissues of your stuff or unreleased stuff released?

JL: Not too much. Pretty much all of it’s come out. Even the small labels and things I’d forgotten about. I do have a live album that I’d like to get out. That’s from 1976. San Francisco. And you get a little teaser on this new version on Angel Air because it's one of the bonus tracks. George’s song “Sour Milk Sea” that’s live with horns. And it’s great. I really like it. That’s what I intend to do in Liverpool when I go back this August. The Beatlefest. It happens every year but the culmination is the concert at the end, which is what I’m doing in an arena there. It’ll be great fun.

MWE3: People don’t realize what a great guitar player you are. You basically play most of the lead guitar on the Liverpool Slim album right?

JL: Yeah, well I thought it was about time, you know? I think I could have played like that before but I was always like writing the songs, singing the songs, sometimes producing. And I was always thinking I’d have to hire another guitar player. But on this one I decided to step out and see what I could do. I think it's pretty good.

MWE3: And Mark Andes from Spirit was playing bass with you on the album.

JL: I think he was doing Heart at the time. It was just luck I met him.

MWE3: You must have some cool guitars on that album.

JL: Guitar. That’s my 1959 Gibson ES 335. I like the sound of it so that’s what I used exclusively. I’ve got an old Fender amp. Just seemed to fit.

MWE3: The Liverpool Slim CD booklet has you playing a white Strat.

JL: Oh that was borrowed when I was in Liverpool. But now I’ve got another friend who lends me a guitar when I go and it’s the same shape as mine only it’s black that’s all. That’s what I’ll use this year.

MWE3: Being your famous Apple early 1969 Is This What You Want? album was one of the most influential albums of that year....(Jackie interrupts)

JL: No it wasn’t! It wasn’t. You’re talking like I made a hit. I didn’t make a hit. Nobody discovered it like for six months. So it was real slow to get up and around. And that was because of the Beatles and Mary Hopkins. That fever had to die down before I got any radio play.

MWE3: Apple had so many great artists back then. I guess even with George writing the song and Ringo on drums and Eric Clapton on lead on “Sour Milk Sea”, I was reading you were kind of disappointed that the first single didn’t take off like maybe “Hey Jude” or something like that back in '68...

JL: Well who could ask for a better band? And I wasn’t trying to do the Beatles, you know what I mean? I wasn’t trying to do that. I was trying to do more of a R&B thing, which George didn’t like by the way. He wanted to keep everything straight rock and roll. So it ended up to be a bit in between, you know, rock and roll and R&B. Do you agree?

MWE3: Well... “Sour Milk Sea”... back then anything George wrote... I guess when I heard “Sour Milk Sea” I was 15 and it had that Beatles sound, it’s almost pretty hard to not think of it as a Beatles song. It was like you singing with The Beatles.

JL: Yeah, I did sing with the Beatles on “Hey Jude” and “Dear Prudence.”

MWE3: I was reading you were pretty surprised that The Beatles wanted you to come down, you said you didn’t know what they wanted from you...

JL: They got three part harmony. What am I going to do, ad lib all over? (laughter) It wasn’t one of those songs. It meant I would be covering one of those parts they were already doing. So instead, I went on the bottom, sort of a bass voice that you don’t hear with The Beatles that much.

MWE3: Yeah, you were singing the bass part “Look Around, Round...” on “Dear Prudence.” I was always interested to know if there was a mono mix on Is This What You Want? as well as the stereo mix that came out?

JL: Yeah, in England it was mono mix and stereo for America.

MWE3: Did you have a preference?

JL: I guess I had a preference for stereo. At the time, it was still new that the people had really good systems, with great turntables and speakers and all that gear, you know what I mean? It seemed everyone had to have some kind of system during those days. Like when I moved to Woodstock I got a great system and people used to come to my house to play their tapes. I would prefer stereo, but the funny thing is, people from America were sending for the mono version to be sent over here. People from England were sending for the stereo one over there. (laughter) It seems bizarre but that’s what was happening.

MWE3: For Beatles fans, I guess mono was mandatory especially as you could hear things in the mono mixes that you couldn’t hear in stereo like certain guitar parts.

JL: People didn’t have pro-tools in them days. (laughter) ‘Cause now you can clean anything up, make anything stand out, with all that computer stuff. I had to use it myself on the album because it's the result of like three different sessions, one in a guy’s house. And it all has to sound like it’s being done at once. And it didn’t when I first got in the studio. And pro-tools takes care of that.

MWE3: You’re talking about the Liverpool Slim album.

JL: I was.

MWE3: Do you still keep in touch with Paul or Ringo?

JL: You try and reach ‘em. (laughter) Impossible, sorry. Unless they call you.

MWE3: Maybe there should be an Apple Records retrospective box set ‘cause you were a key Apple artist for a while there...

JL: Was I? I don’t know. I sold a bit but it was slowly. It wasn’t enough to crash into the charts, like I said. It only went up to 41 at one point. So it was a bit of a rumor more than a fact, you know? I’m surprised there’s still interest in it now with the CD release still selling.

MWE3: I don’t know who’s running Apple these days. I guess being that George and John aren’t on this planet anymore...

JL: It’s probably a board of directors and a bunch of secretaries. And they don’t do anything. (laughter) Just receive phone calls or something. (laughter)

MWE3: Speaking of your early history, I know there was an Undertakers reunion or something...

JL: When I go back to Liverpool, I always go play with my old mates in The Undertakers and I will be playing with the sax player in the summer. He’s helping me put a band together there. So it should be good, should be fun.

MWE3: That’s Brian Jones right?

JL: Yeah. But last year I was there and we recorded two new tracks for their CD that’s just come out. I actually haven’t heard it myself yet because none of those buggers have sent me a copy. (laughter)

MWE3: Oh man... I didn’t even know Chris Huston was in that band. I didn’t know he turned out to be a big influential engineer.

JL: Oh yeah!

MWE3: ‘Cause I interviewed Buzzy Linhart...do you know Buzzy Linhart?

JL: Yeah, I met him a couple of times.

MWE3: He’s a really cool guy, he lives out near San Francisco and Buzzy was telling me about Chris Huston. I kind of put two and two together and I realized he was in The Undertakers... Do you still keep in touch with Chris?

JL: Not too much over the years, but... they’re going to do a documentary on him. A film documentary. And he called me up and said, ‘Would you be interviewed for it?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’ What ever I know...

MWE3: Do you still work with that band, The Tea Bags? A lot of English guys love it out in California...

JL: (laughter) No... Really? That was the silliest band, but we had fun. No, the bass player died not long ago. And we didn’t last very long, as The Tea Bags. Crazy bunch of Englishmen. I’ve got a band here that’s on the album. Jack Joshua (bass), Dave Stewart (drums) and occasionally I get Jim Calire on keyboards. So that’s what I play over here. It’s the same band that’s on the album.

MWE3: So are you going to do some more recording? You sounded like the Liverpool Slim '09 release was unexpected to come out...

JL: No, look as an artist you always want to get your stuff out. I didn’t just stop writing songs because the record company’s not calling me anymore. I’m still a musician. I’m still gonna create something. So every opportunity I can get in to record, I was using. Like I said, it was three different sessions but...I strung ‘em all together to make an album. And I’d do another one tomorrow if I had enough interest. I do plan to do some recording in April but that’s sort of an unrelated thing. See how it goes.

MWE3: It would be great to hear another album with you. Be great if Paul McCartney and you could do something like that again. Paul produced your Is This What You Want? song....

JL: “Thumbin’ A Ride”...

MWE3: “Thumbin’ A Ride” right? That was another great song...

JL: That’s the old Drifters days. Everybody kind of knew that song. Not every one played it, but kind of knew of it. And it surprised me that he’d come along and said, ‘I’m going to produce you on this song.’ And we just got together and come up with, like an arrangement for it. In fact, at one point, on one of the albums, there’s a picture of me playing bass and him playing drums, which is how we worked out the feel. (laughter)

MWE3: Do you remember when George played “Sour Milk Sea” to you? I guess you’d remember that...

JL: There’s a bootleg out. It’s called The Esher Tapes and they’re all done in George’s house. And the first version, that he’s playing acoustic and singin’ it himself, I’m playing bass. Quite interesting. And I remember, on the same album, there’s a version of “Bungalow Bill”, John Lennon does in the living room, and I’m singing the chorus with him. (laughter) Great, isn’t it? “Bungalow Bill.”

MWE3: On The Esher Tapes? {released on the double CDr set From Kinfauns To Chaos from the amazing bootleg kings, the Vigotone label, also home to the original final mix of Sweet Insanity from Brian Wilson - ed.}

JL: Somebody just gave me a copy recently, actually. It’s interesting to listen to.

MWE3: I read that somewhere that George said he wrote “Sour Milk Sea” with your voice in mind.

JL: I’m not sure you know? I must profess, I didn’t understand it at first. If you think about it, it’s kind of strange language. Words like illumination and cult. Things like that...

MWE3: Yeah, it seemed like at that point, George was trying to find like, the inner light or something. (laughter). He was searching...

JL: Well you have to understand that I wasn’t involved in anything like that. Not the meditations, not the booze, not the banging the drum people, Hare Krishnas. I just wasn’t into any of that...

MWE3: I heard that there was interest and they wanted you cut record “Across The Universe.”

JL: Yeah, there was. And I said ‘Yeah, we’ll get to it.’ (laughter) I don’t know if it’s ego or whatever but I didn’t run out of songs. You know what I’m saying? If George had a ‘Have you got another song?’ I’d say, 'Yeah how about this one today?' And we never got back to the idea of doing “Across The Universe,” although again, that song has Indian in it, Jai Guru Deva. I wouldn’t have known what it meant at the time. I do now but I’m saying I was just a young guy. (laughter) Wasn’t into philosophy. George played me the first verse to “Something” and I said, ‘That’s a great song. That’s fantastic.’ And he said, ‘Well should we put it on the album?’ I said, ‘Yeah! Soon as you finish it.’ But I guess when he finished it, he’d held it back for the Beatles’ album. You know. ‘Cause it was a great song. Great song.

MWE3: Yeah absolutely. It was probably the best song on Abbey Road, in retrospect.

JL: Well...much to my shame, I didn’t bring it up again. I should’ve.

MWE3: Well Beatles fans should take a listen to your Liverpool Slim album. Not only for the live version of George’s song “Sour Milk Sea” but also for your great studio tribute to George you’ve got on there called “Friend Of Mine.”

JL: Did you like that?

MWE3: Yeah, it sounded like George was almost playing on it metaphysically! So to speak.

JL: Well he was really because those were chords he might have used or used a lot. That’s what made him different as a songwriter. I had somebody say to me, ‘That slide guitar in the middle sounds like George Harrison.’ And I’m like ‘duh! (laughter whataya think?’

MWE3: You said that was recorded in...

JL: The time of his death, same year but it wasn’t recorded till the next year. And I did an acoustic version of it at a ceremony for George in Griffith Park. And they opened a trail in his name and stuff like that but I did a live version of it and a guy said, ‘Look, I’ve got this state of the art studio. Do you want to record that?’ I said, ‘Yep.’ And it happened. That’s what’s on the album.

MWE3: It has a great sound too. I’m glad you were able to do that.

JL: It’s not just about George. I lost three friends, two bass players and a guitar player all in the same period. So that’s why it's not called ode to George. It’s called “Friend-A-Mine”... 'cause they were all friends of mine, y'know?

MWE3: Yeah...George and John... we won’t see people like that again at least in this world.

JL: That’s what it says in the song, won’t see one like him again. (laughter)

MWE3: One last Is This What You Want? question. Ringo, George and Paul played with you on the album. Why didn’t John appear?

JL: It’s pretty obvious he was running around with Yoko Ono at that time, remember? So like he was doing a lot of stuff with her. So he wasn’t there on his time off. He was off visiting some happening or something. (laughter) I’m sorry, I’m sounding cynical!

MWE3: I was kinda ticked that John wasn’t on that record, if you don’t mind me looking back at that...

JL: Well, I’m the opposite. I’m proud that the other three were. I have no reason to expect The Beatles to back me up on an album. Or would make a Beatles album with me singing? That really wasn’t the deal. It was George. George made it clear too that, like 'If you go out and play, I’m not going to be there. I’m the producer.' Not like, I suppose, my sidekick. You see what I mean? It was like that. I’m really lucky to have Paul and Ringo and George all playing on at least that one track. Ringo played on, a couple of others. So did Eric.

MWE3: The final song on the CD, “How The Web Was Woven”, that’s George playing slide guitar?

JL: No, it’s not. Leon Russell. He played everything on that.

MWE3: That track?

JL: Including the drums. He's a monster.

MWE3: An icon of 20th century music...

JL: He’s like a mad genius but like great, you know? Great musician. And that slide, he just asked to borrow my lighter, sat down and played it lap steel and my lighter as a slide. Pretty good, huh? Real casual but pretty good. I remember we tried a couple of versions of that, had to do it with some other musicians. Friends in Spooky Tooth. But it ended up not being right and we just redid the whole thing with Leon. Do you know that Elvis recorded that song?

MWE3: It’s on disc?

JL: Yeah it is. I got a copy. It’s like a big, huge sound. Voices, horns, everything. (laughter) It’s great. I think myself lucky that my record went to Elvis’ house, some way or form.

MWE3: That track or Is This What You Want?

JL: That track especially. If he had the whole album, I don’t know... It was made as a single but it probably would be single copies flying around. It’s not one of my favorites though. I gotta tell you.

MWE3: I didn’t even know it existed till the Apple reissue CD with the bonus cuts came out in 1991 unfortunately.

JL: Well, it didn’t get much play or anything. And I liked my song called “New Day.” Are you aware of that one?

MWE3: That was another CD bonus track that wasn’t on the original Is This What You Want? album right?

JL: Right. It was after the album was finished and out they were trying desperately to find a single for old, little Jackie Lomax. So that’s why we did “Thumbin’ A Ride”, “How The Web Was Woven.” I did “New Day” on my own. Kind of slunk off and did it with Mal Evans. And I still like it. I noticed the horns are kind of like R&B horns. (laughter)

MWE3: You talked about the R&B element. With the Beatles, everything was so in place, set in rock. Were you ever at odds about the musical styles in the studio?

JL: Well yeah. I was more into sort of a jamming atmosphere. Where you put a bunch of good players together and something better happens in all of them, individually. It’s kind of like a magic trick. You get four guys together and it sounds like five! (laughter) Who that fifth guy is, we don’t know? (laughter) It’s just the spirit of the track you’re doing. Sometimes you hit it great and sometimes you just miss it. But George worked everything out like you said. Sort of pieces of the puzzle. And he was really good at it.

MWE3: It was just an awesome presence George had at that point. So looking ahead you’re planning to record again?

JL: Yeah. A friend in town here, he said he wants to do one of my songs. A new song. And I’ve got a new song I wanna do too, that is definitely R&B. (laughter) It’s a ballad. So we’ll see. You’re never sure of anything. Maybe it won’t happen, maybe it will. I’m up for it.

MWE3: Well I always consider 1969, the year your first album came out here, to be apex of pop music history and you were very much part of that year for me.

JL: Well, I’d still go back to ‘68 because I couldn’t see having anything to do with The Beatles, at one point, and then it all just happened. So that was the big peak for me. I thought I was writing songs for Apple publishing so that somebody else would sing them. Do you understand what I mean? They would try to get them placed with other people. I was really shocked when George said, ‘Let’s do an album.’

MWE3: There’s a never ending fascination with the music that you made. Especially as that was the only time where three Beatles ever backed a singer not in the band, that I can remember. I don’t remember it ever happening before.

JL: No, me neither. That’s why I said before, I consider myself really lucky that that happened. ‘Cause I didn’t see any planning for that or mention of that before it happened. And without George it wouldn’t have happened.

MWE3: Without George I don’t think anything would have happened. I don’t think the Beatles would have happened. That guitar sound. He was like the unknown factor keeping it all together. It’s hard to not remember the things that made life worth living back then.

JL: Oh yeah, they were the biggest thing in the world, let’s face it. Everybody was hanging on their every word, waiting for the next album to be released, to see how to live. (laughter) A little bit like that. We’re then talking about gurus...it’s like they became the gurus. (laughter) Kinda funny, and it’s like bizarre.

MWE3: I guess you gotta look back at the great stuff, not the bad.

JL: Oh, I do! My glass is always half full. John Lennon himself he was saying it to a fan, a fanatic fan; 'I did not mean that for you, I write it for everybody. I can’t explain why people interpret songs in a different way then I meant them.' And what does it matter? It’s just a song. It’s not written in stone...

Thanks to Jackie Lomax and Alistair @ www.JackieLomax.com
And to Peter Purnell @ www.AngelAir.co.uk

 





 
 
 
 
 

 

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