The ballad of Jackie Lomax

In 1995, I had just turned 21. I had just gotten into the Beatles. Late? Yeah. I had seen a documentary on PBS called The History of Rock and Roll, a really great program in ten parts. This program spun me into many different musical directions: Punk, Patti Smith, the Clash, and the Orb. The episode of the program that dealt with the West Coast scene in the 60s is what did it, what flipped my Beatles switch. Phil Lesh—of all people—was onscreen speaking about a certain Beatles track, a track that signaled to the Dead that the Beatles got it: “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

I had never heard the song; it was beyond my sphere of reference. Up to that point my Beatles knowledge didn’t extend too far past the “Twist and Shout” revival of 1987 and the four Beatles LPs with my mother’s maiden name written on the backs of the jackets. “Tomorrow Never Knows” was NOTHING like those LPs. It flipped a switch. I bought Revolver the next day at Wherehouse Records #9. One week later the much-discussed Beatles Anthology premiered on AB(eatle)C. Now I was really hooked.

One of my favorite moments is the chapter of the story that is concerned with the music written by the band when they were in India. The Beatles, in case you were unaware, spent time with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India and surrounded by spartan conditions they wrote and wrote and wrote. Once back in England the band demoed the songs at George Harrison’s Esher Bungalow. These tunes, bare and beautiful, would take shape over the next year as the White Album. Everyone knows the songs: “Back in the USSR,” “Revolution,” “Yer Blues.” Many of the songs recorded at this time were recorded and released on the White Album, but so too were many songs not released. George Harrison, coming into his own as a songwriter, would leave many songs behind from this process. There are three notable songs from the demos: “Not Guilty,” “Circles,” and “Sour Milk Sea.” “Not Guilty” was recorded by the Beatles in studio, and it saw official released on the third volume of the Anthology. George’s solo version of “Not Guilty” surfaced on his 1979 self-titled LP (a great record that features songs about psychedelic Hawaiian mushrooms and race cars). “Circles” found a home on his unacclaimed 1982 LP, Gone Troppo (which I like in the face of universal disdain). “Sour Milk Sea” hit the airwaves much, much sooner.

The launch of Apple Records saw the Beatles take a turn as producers. Paul McCartney gave the song “Goodbye” to the Welsh singer, Mary Hopkin. To the doomed power pop group Badfinger, McCartney gave the song “Come And Get It.” In both cases he also produced their LPs. George Harrison produced an LP by the London Radha Krishna Temple (their Hare Krishna mantra on the LP is gorgeous) and he produced Jackie Lomax’s debut LP Is This What You Want and its debut single, “Sour Milk Sea.”

So once I learned about the “lost” Harrisongs I was hooked. Again. I watched and rewatched my VHS copy of the Anthology with the teeny snippets of those songs playing. It was the only way you could hear them at the time—the internet wasn’t around to provide an instantaneous surge of gratification. As time wore on I counted the days between Anthology releases, I bought the bootlegs, and absorbed the music. And then one day I found the CD I was looking for. Better, I found a used copy of what I wanted on our shelves!

Jackie Lomax 1996. I was 22. I was now working at WHR #9. One wall of the store consisted of used CDs. As I was putting out the shipment I looked in the L section and right in the front rack there it was: Is This What You Want by Jackie Lomax. $6.99. It was a poetic title given the circumstance. Guess what I did? If you chose NOT BUY IT then you are correct. I figured it would sit there so I put it off. Next day I came to work, headed to the section. What did I find? Nothing. Checked once. Checked twice. Rather than check a third time I went straight to the customer hold shelf behind the register. A customer beat me to it. Not just any customer, but a local vagrant customer who had 30 things on hold in various states of dust. I stewed and watched him come into the store for the next few weeks. He never bought it. On the third week I brought it to his attention, to see if he still was interested in it. He bought it, right in front of me, with a check. I will never forget his name, I will never forget the price of the CD with tax, and I will never forget that I let something slide like that. I never treated him the same, I’m sorry to say, but how could I?

Years later I bought the LP. Still have it. Late last month a mass re-release of the Apple Records catalog saw many LPs make their CD debut in the States. One year after the massive Beatles remastered resissues hit the market so too were the artists on Apple. Discs by Mary Hopkin, Billy Preston, John Tavener, James Taylor and, yes, Jackie Lomax. As with any reissue campaign there are always things left out (Ravi Shankar? Zapple records? Hello???) But those are really just nitpicks. I’m happy to finally own Jackie Lomax on CD, even if it took me 14 years to do so.

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