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Is This What You Want?

Jackie Lomax is a singer of energy and passion. His roots are in R&B and in the best tradition of blue-eyed soul (even if his eyes are green). There’s a toughness to his vocal style and a sensitive side too; his songs speak of loss and longing, love and life. Is this what you want? What more can there be?

Released by Apple Records in March 1969, Is This What You Want? is Jackie’s debut album. Previously, he’d been the frontman in bands, playing rhythm guitar or bass, as he does here. He eventually went solo on the advice of John Lennon, and for this record he was supported by a gathering of world-class guest musicians.

Everyone was brought together by George Harrison, who played guitar and produced the album. The line-up included Paul McCartney (bass), Ringo Starr (drums), Nicky Hopkins (keyboards) and Eric Clapton (lead guitar), for ‘Sour Milk Sea’; and Klaus Voormann (bass), James Taylor’s drummer Bishop O’Brien, and Eric for some of the other sessions in London. And for those in the States, Larry Knechtel (keyboards), Joe Osborn (bass) and Hal Blaine (drums).

When Jackie Lomax signed to Apple Records in early 1968, he was no new kid on The Beatles’ block. He’d been managed by Brian Epstein before Apple was founded, and before that he had been the distinctive face and voice of The Undertakers, an exuberant live act from Merseyside that scored a Top 40 UK hit in April 1964 with ‘Just A Little Bit’.

Back before any of that, the 16 year old Jackie had known The Beatles when Stuart Sutcliffe was in the band, and when they were booked as The Silver Beetles. They were Jackie’s contemporaries, if a few years older and more experienced. “I even played drums for them one night, when they didn’t have a drummer,” Jackie says today. “Just one song, that was enough. I was terrible. It was at the Grosvenor Ballroom, Wallasey, which is where I come from. It was 1960. They were great. They sounded like a record, even then.”

A few years later, The Undertakers were courted unsuccessfully by Brian Epstein. Following the band’s demise, however, Brian did become Jackie’s manager. The deal was struck in New York, where Jackie was living at the time. He remembers: “I went with The Beatles to Shea Stadium in 1966, and it was then that Brian asked me to become a solo singer. I said, ‘Well, I’ve just got a new band together, do you want to hear us?’ So he came to a rehearsal and was impressed, and he brought us back to England. We were called the Lomax Alliance — two American guys, two English. We started an album, but Brian died in the middle of it, so it all ended in confusion.”

It was now late 1967. Jackie continues: “The rest of the band went back to New York, but I stayed in London. I met up with Chris Curtis, the drummer from The Searchers, and we went to NEMS to see if The Beatles would help us out.” John Lennon reiterated Brian Epstein’s earlier advice, and helped push Jackie’s career in another direction too.

Jackie recalls: “John took me aside and said, ‘Hey Jackie, Brian told me you write songs?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m just starting out, but yeah’. He said, ‘We want songwriters, so go and see Terry Doran at Apple Publishing’. So I did, and I got signed as a writer. This was before they’d launched the Apple record label.”

“At the time I was living in a bedsit in Hampstead, north London,” recalls Jackie. “Sitting around playing guitar all the time, like a madman.” The Apple Publishing deal was a good one, and he got paid for every song he submitted. “I’d tape my demos on a two-track in the attic in Baker Street, above the Apple Boutique,” he says. “I thought I was writing songs for other artists, but then George Harrison heard them, and he said, ‘I’m going to India, but when I come back do you want to do an album, and I’ll produce it?’.”

Says Jackie: “I was screaming in my head ‘YEAH!!’, but being a typical Liverpool lad, I played it down and went, ‘Oh yeah, sounds like a good idea’. And then I got a bit freaked out because George was the last of The Beatles to come back from India and I thought that he may be thinking about staying.”

Sessions for Is This What You Want? began in June 1968, at EMI’s Abbey Road studios. George booked dates around Beatles sessions for the ‘White Album’. The recordings continued until the end of the year, moving to Trident Studios, off Wardour Street in central London, before George and Jackie jetted off to the USA to complete the album at Sound Recorders Studio in Los Angeles.

Jackie’s newly written Apple Publishing songs comprise all but one of the tracks on the album. It opens with ‘Speak To Me’, in which Jackie sets out his stall with impassioned vocals and straight-talking lyrics. “That song was inspired by Motown,” says Jackie. “There’s a very Motown style bass line to it.” In support of which George commissioned orchestral backing from arranger John Barham, whose work can be heard on several tracks on the album.

“I really like that song,” Jackie says of the title track. “People have said that’s Jackie Lomax doing ‘I Am The Walrus’. Some of the chords are similar,” he admits, “but not exactly. The chorus is all R&B.” As to the lyrical inspiration: “I was just starting to work with George,” reveals Jackie. “I was examining what was valuable in all of that. Was it the money? Are you sure this is what you want?’.”

Of ‘How Can You Say Goodbye’, Jackie says: “I had a girlfriend leave me at the time. But the funny thing is that I wrote it before it happened. I can’t explain that! This reminds me of American girl group songs, like the Shirelles. That’s what I intended.”

“I have a fondness for ‘Sunset’, says Jackie of Track 4. “There’s an unusual jazz bit in the middle. My lyrics are about lost love: “The shade of our love / That I’m thinking of / Like the sun above / Is now fading.”

‘Sour Milk Sea’ is the one non-Lomax original, written by George Harrison. “I first heard that at George’s house,” recalls Jackie. “He sang it very gently on acoustic guitar, and I played along on bass. The record ended up very different.“ George wrote in I Me Mine that the lyrics are about meditation, written in India while studying with the Maharishi.

Jackie adds: “George told me that according to these Sanskrit texts, the Earth goes through a transition every 26,000 years, and then goes through a fallow period called Sour Milk Sea. What good is a sour milk sea to anybody, right? And then the Earth starts regenerating again and goes on for another 26,000 years. That’s my understanding.”

“There was nothing else like that song at the time,” says Jackie. “It came on like gangbusters on anybody’s radio. With Eric Clapton playing on it, it was on fire. When the backing tape was played back, I thought it worked as an instrumental. ‘You want me to sing on top of that?!’ There I am in the studio and there are three Beatles in the control room watching me. That choked up my throat a bit. Then George said, ‘Are you sure you can sing it that high, Jackie?’ I guess I was nervous at first, but after a couple of takes I was into it.”

“ ‘Fall Inside Your Eyes’ is about a psychic connection between two people that doesn’t need words,” says Jackie. “ ‘I fall inside your eyes like a spirit and float across the room’. Percy Sledge covered it recently. He did a great soul version.”

“There’s nothing complicated about ‘Little Yellow Pills’,” claims Jackie. “It shows the anxiety and chaos that happens when you lose someone. Even the doctor can’t help you with his prescriptions, you know what I mean?” It’s followed by ‘Take My Word’. “That’s a nice uptempo ballad,” adds Jackie. “Every songwriter will tell you that he wants to mix it up, to show that he can do more than one thing.”

‘The Eagle Laughs At You’ is another uptempo barnstormer. It was recorded by the ad hoc power trio of Jackie on bass and rhythm guitar, George on lead “and a couple of overdubs” and drummer Tony Newman from Sounds Incorporated — “he really filled out the sound,” says Jackie. “In the middle of it, there was some guy who was sweeping up the studio who played the cornet, so we got him on it, and overloaded it so that it sounds like a bloody elephant screaming through the place.”

“ ‘Baby You’re A Lover’ was another attempt at a girl group song,” says Jackie. “That was one of the ones done in LA. The use of the Moog synthesiser was cutting edge stuff too. It looked like an old telephone switchboard. A guy called Bernie Krause set it all up in the studio and then we pushed him off it and started playing with it ourselves. Cheeky boys from Liverpool.”

“ ‘You’ve Got Me Thinking’ has got a good arrangement to it that was built in by the writer,” says Jackie. “That pleased me. I proved myself, right? Eric Clapton’s lead guitar sells it for me. This gets back to R&B, with the girl singers and the horns.”

The album closes with ‘I Just Don’t Know’, a song of reflection and doubt with a neat rhyme scheme and what Jackie describes as his “whimsical” guitar playing. “That’s too slow for some people, but I like that track,” he says.

Jackie Lomax’s time at Apple was relatively brief, but he has fond memories. “George was a champion,” he says. “He made time for me and was protective even, inviting me to his home. I felt really privileged. It was incredible. To have my name associated with The Beatles – what better thing could happen to a budding artist?”

BONUS TRACKS
Of the six Bonus Tracks, three are from Jackie’s post-album Apple singles and three are previously unreleased.

‘New Day’ was Jackie’s only self-penned Apple single, issued in May 1969. It was co-produced by Mal Evans and is presented here as the original UK mono mix.

‘How The Web Was Woven’ and ‘Thumbin’ A Ride’ were both covers and made up both sides of Jackie’s last Apple single, issued in February 1970. The coupling is unique in that the A-side was produced by one Beatle, George Harrison, and the B-side by another, Paul McCartney.

‘You’ve Got To Be Strong’, ‘You Make It With Me’, ‘Can You Hear Me’ are all Lomax originals and previously unreleased mono recordings dating from after the release of Is This What You Want? Doris Troy covered the first tune on her self-titled Apple LP. “This is the sound I love best,” says Jackie today. “Soul meets R&B with horns.”