A Bass for the Blues

By BILL LOCEY, Special to The Times

Copyright Los Angeles Times

Ojai guitarist lends Liverpool legacy to Bowlful festival at Libbey Park.

He began in Liverpool, and had subsequent layovers in Hamburg, New York and Los Angeles before settling into the smaller, kinder, gentler Ojai. So blues guitarist Jackie Lomax will be one of the few with a quick drive home when he joins the lineup for this year's Bowlful of Blues on Saturday at Libbey Park in Ojai.

For the 15th annual event, it's the same menu at the same venue: National touring acts as well as local blues artists will provide the soundtrack. There are plenty of benches under the oaks trees and festival seating on the lawn, with room to dance in front of the stage. Bring your own food or eat there. Gates open at 1:30 p.m. and the tunes begin at 2.

Lomax will take the stage around 4 p.m. surrounded by a trio of stalwart local players. Jimmy Calire plays keyboards and sax; his son, Mario, will take a break from his real job as drummer with the Wallflowers; guitarist Jerry Pugh will play with his resurrected band, Studebaker.

But Lomax's story begins half a world away in his native Wallasey, across the river from Liverpool with a band called the Undertakers, when the original Studebakers were still alive.

"I was a bass player at first for the Undertakers," said Lomax. "They told me, 'Here's a bass--we have two gigs tonight.' We practiced that afternoon and played that night, then all through the early '60s. The Undertakers were a great band, more like a family, really."

The Undertakers, who dressed the part, were like most British bands, totally taken by American music and not the Pat Boone variety, either. "The norm then was for the singer to stand in front of the band, sort of like Cliff Richard & the Shadows. But the Undertakers had a sax player, so we thought we were a big band," said Lomax. "We'd do songs by the Miracles and James Brown--stuff that no one else would even attempt."

In those days, the happening venues were the Cavern Club in Liverpool and the Star Club in Hamburg. The Undertakers played at both places plenty of times, often with some of their soon-to-be-famous contemporaries, the Beatles.

"Hamburg was a wonderful place; we played every night," Lomax said. "The Undertakers were a popular band--we rivaled the Beatles. We used to run into them in those days, in Liverpool and in Hamburg.

"Back in those days, rock 'n' roll was almost illegal. The parents hated you because their daughters would go to the shows and get in trouble." An Undertakers' tour of Canada in 1965 turned into a nightmare when the promoters abandoned the band. But things worked out for Lomax. He got reacquainted with Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, who invited him back to England to record an album for Apple.

"Then I was doing this album with Brian Epstein when he died," said Lomax. "That sort of left me in limbo until George Harrison said, 'Do you want to make an album?' What could I say? But I tell you, that was a bit intimidating. During the recording, I was standing there and John, Paul and George were in the booth staring at me."

That album turned out to be "Is This What You Want?" recently reissued by Capitol. After Apple went away, Lomax relocated to America in about 1970. He played his way from coast to coast while recording five more albums, before ending up in laid-back Ojai in the late '80s.

"For a while I played bass for the Drifters, the Diamonds, the Coasters and the Shirelles as recently as 1993--four sets a night," he said. "I just really started getting comfortable playing guitar since I moved up here about 10 years ago. I didn't have the confidence to play before and I always hired guitar players for my albums. You take solos on guitars; no one wants to hear a bass solo."

Apparently, a lot of people want to hear Lomax. He's been playing steadily all over Ventura County with a variety of bands and musicians for several years. And he knows what all local musicians and music fans know: Ventura County rocks.

"There's lots of bar bands, and lots of people doing good stuff. There's some good people. Randy Rich is good. John Marx is good. Those guys that play at Hi Cees, Blue Stew are good. But there's not a big pool of musicians. I'm looking for a drummer with a little finesse, not a hard bashing drummer," he said.

"My roots were in R&B, then I learned the blues idiom. Blues is an idiom that everyone can feel. You can have all sorts of guitar solos, but if you don't have a groove, you don't have a thing."

The 15th annual Bowlful of Blues, featuring Tommy Ridgely, Smokey Wilson, Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents, Lady Bianca, Jackie Lomax with Jimmy and Mario Calire and Jerry Pugh, Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan, and the Bowlful All-Stars featuring the Bombers and Teresa James. Saturday, 2 p.m.-10 p.m., (1997), Libbey Park, Signal Street at Ojai Avenue, Ojai. $25 at the gate or $22.50 advance. 646-7230.

- via Yarden Uriel (yarden_o@netvision.net.il)
Thursday, October 2, 1997
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