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Surviving member Molland recounts financial woes, bandmates' suicides

All the world's a stage, Shakespeare suggested, and in all likelihood it hosts a circus, populated by clowns, freaks, animals and high-wire artists. We're all the contortionists, the integrity of our bones and spirit tested by life's daily inequities. Those who can bend survive, while the brittle, fragile or inflexible litter the road behind us. Which brings us to Pete Ham, Tom Evans and Badfinger, whose story of early hope and promise was crushed like Sisyphus a moment before the hill's crest. Invoking such archetypes of literature would be a reach for your typical rags-to-riches-to-VH1's Behind The Music story, but the story of the British heirs to the Beatles is a closet tragedy made all the sadder because it lacks the marketing panache and career exclamation point of a Hendrix, Joplin, Bolan or Cobain.

The band's origins begin with singer/guitarist Pete Ham, who founded The Iveys when he was eighteen after a series of earlier bands. The Welsh quartet — named in partial homage to the Hollies — spent a couple of years building their strength and writing songs. In 1968, they attracted the attention of Apple Records, and after a successful audition, signed with the Beatles' newly formed imprint.

The Iveys' debut, Maybe Tomorrow, stiffed, and the band reorganized. They brought in Liverpool singer/guitarist Joey Molland, moved Evans to bass, and changed their name to Badfinger after the original title ("Bad Finger Boogie") for The Beatles' "A Little Help From My Friends, " passing on the suggested "Glass Onion." They also received a gift in the form of the single, "Come And Get It," written by Paul McCartney.

The single shot into the top 10 in Britain and America, and appeared in the 1969 movie, The Magic Christian, for which Badfinger wrote the score. Their debut, Magic Christian Music, combining songs from the movie and remixed versions of songs from The Iveys' album, unveiled a versatile powerhouse, capable of sweet Beatles melodies and rich harmonies or loud, R&B-driven rockers, synthesizing the divergent paths of rock as it entered the 70s. This would form the basis of the "power pop" sound for which Badfinger (along with The Raspberries and Big Star) are credited with creating.

Those first years with Apple were a time of intense work and great creativity. The best act on Apple aside from the Beatles, Badfinger soon became the label's de facto studio band, backing George Harrison and John Lennon on their solo albums, All Things Must Pass and Imagine, and on the former's Concert for Bangladesh. They also released their best album, No Dice, with their classic "No Matter What" (featuring George Harrison on slide guitar) and soon-to-be worldwide hit, "Without You." (Though it would be Harrison crony Harry Nillson that made it a hit in 1972, followed 18 years later by Mariah Carey.)

In 1973, with their contract to Apple ending, their American manager Stan Polley took the band to Warner Brothers who offered a multi-million dollar contract. Of course, the band's long-delayed last album for Apple, Ass, wasn't out yet, and Warner Brothers was demanding a new album, which became their self-titled Warners debut. The two albums for two different labels, released within several months of each other didn't help the band, and confused the audience. They went back to the studio, and in early 1974 recorded Wish You Were Here, which was a meticulously produced and wonderfully performed return to form.

But at this point simmering financial difficulties blew up in the band's face. First, it was discovered that money was missing from a joint account between the band and the label. Under advice of the label's legal advisors, the label pulled the album from the stores.

"I had flown out to California and was staying in John Lennon's house on the beach. While there I met a lawyer who told me it was common knowledge in the industry that Badfinger was being screwed. It broke my heart," Molland tells Creative Loafing. "I flew to England to tell the band, but Peter didn't believe it."

After a heated discussion, Ham left the band, only to return a couple weeks later.

"I told them if no one wanted to change our current management situation, I would leave the band after the tour we had booked," Molland recalls.

The band continued without Molland, recording a fourth album that fall, Heads Up, which the label refused to release. The next year, they were dropped. Badfinger was still stuck in lawsuits with Apple Records, whose financial mess would not have them see any song royalties for almost a dozen years, until 1985. Now there were lawsuits involving their management and label as well.

By that time, according to an interview with band biographer Dan Matovina, "[Ham] had no outlet for his music. His career was locked up in lawsuits that he had nothing to do with...He was prevented from playing, putting out music, doing anything. He was shut down, financially and creatively. He was suddenly penniless and had no recourse to do anything."

With a child on the way, and overwhelmed by his predicament, Ham hung himself in April 1975, after a night of drinking with Evans. In his suicide note, Ham, who finally realized Molland had been right, cited the music business and Polley by name.

It would be several years, but the band would reunite behind Molland and Evans. Yet friction between the original members (including drummer Billy Gibbons), who at times all fronted bands called Badfinger, would continue to haunt the band along with the omnipresent legal/financial situation. In 1983, Molland received an agitated call from Evans. Evans owed his bandmates back-money he'd been receiving from their songwriting royalties, which they'd promised to split, and apparently was hoping for the still-unaccessible Apple royalties to bail him out.

"I think that was causing a panic for him. He could see it coming to a head," Molland says. "He tells me he's going to kill himself. What was I going to do, I was in Ohio, he was in London. When I woke up and found he'd done it I was astonished."

But Molland has persisted in keeping the music alive through all the bittersweet circumstances. He only wishes his bandmates could enjoy the late approbation that's come to the band. Unfortunately they were young, naïve and easily exploited like many young bands.

"When success happens a lot of people jump on board to offer their own two cents," Molland says wistfully. "If the band would've believed in each other and remember we were a band. The only people you can trust in this business are yourselves. Everyone else is using you to make money, but it's the artists that create that money."

Looking back at the legal and financial difficulties that not only sidetracked the band, but were largely responsible for the suicides of two of its members, Molland offers only this glum description:

"It's an unbelievable business," he says.

Badfinger plays the Neighborhood Theatre Saturday at 8pm; Poprocket opens

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