Oasis, The Knack, Smashing Pumpkins, Cheap Trick - finely crafted songs, intricate harmonies, adventurous arrangements and irresistible hooks. Sure, it can all be traced back to The Beatles (and, before that, The Beach Boys, The Everly Brothers, et al). My vote for the band which best distills its pop influences into 100 proof rock and roll is Badfinger. Back in the Stones age, in Wales during 1968, they were called The Iveys. Signed to The Beatles new record label, Apple, their first single "Maybe Tomorrow" peaked at US #67 in March 1969. The follow-up single "Dear Angie" was only released in Europe. They werent exactly taking the world by storm.
In a newspaper interview, original bassist Ron Griffiths mentioned that being on The Beatles label hadnt helped the band achieve any real success. Paul McCartney read this and went to 7 Park Avenue, where Badfinger lived and worked together. Giving them a demo of a new song, he said "Record this and youll have a hit record." The song was "Come And Get It," which hed written for Magic Christian, an upcoming Ringo Starr/Peter Sellers film. The group recorded it with Paul playing tambourine and producing.
Soon, Griffiths was out and guitarist Joey Molland, from Liverpool, was in. Guitarist Tom Evans (also from Liverpool) switched to bass, and the lineup was rounded out by Mike Gibbins on drums and guitarist Pete Ham. Changing their name to Badfinger (to avoid confusion with a group called The Ivey League), the "Come And Get It" single (from the Magic Christian Music LP) was a huge top ten hit in both England and America. Beatles comparisons were inevitable and some accused them of shamelessly copping the Beatles sound. This constant matching against the Fab Four would be their greatest boost - and their greatest hindrance.
The single "No Matter What" (from No Dice) hit US #8 and Badfinger was suddenly very hot. Their business manager Bill Collins (whod represented Al Kooper and others) told the band that, with his help, they were all on the verge of becoming millionaires. Ironically, only Collins himself would ever approach that kind of income.
The group recorded in the big studio at Abbey Road, where The Beatles worked. "They had a cupboard in the corner and the Beatles stuff was in there," remembers Joey Molland today (interviewed at a recent BeatleFair). "When there was nobody in the studio, wed open up the cupboard with their stuff. Rub their anvil for luck." Besides their obvious musicianship, Badfingers vocal harmonies were sublime. They recorded their voices together instead of piecing together tracks. "Wed all be around the mike singing...we learned each others phrasing. Petes phrasing was a bit stiffer than, say, mine was. And Tommy had this kind of nice lilt. We knew where to step back and where to move forward. George Harrison taught us a lot about that when he produced the Straight Up record. He actually forced us to do that stuff, to stay in the studio for hours on end doing oooohs and ahhhs. Hes a remarkable man I was such a complete Beatles fan. He talked to you very natural, you know...he was really regular and I was, like, well it was like talking to Jesus! Im losing me mind and hes being all cool."
Among Straight Ups highlights is Mollands tender slice of perfection , the love ballad "Sweet Tuesday Morning." "In those days, for a guy to sing that kind of song, I dont know. I never saw Humphrey Bogart do that, you know what I mean? Or John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, none of them ever sang a love song. So it was kind of embarrassing."
Pete Ham was also crafting indelible pop gems, like "Baby Blue." "Pete was funny guy, very attracted to women. He never wore underwear on stage! Brilliant writer, so many great tunes. He was a worker as well. Hed be in that studio day in and day out. Thats really what he focused on, writing songs. Hed pull practical jokes. Hed eat blood capsules and run down the stairs making noise and then lay down at the bottom and hed have blood on him."
At the time, Harrison was planning the Concert For Bangladesh benefit and had to drop out of the Badfinger project. Todd Rundgren came in to finish the album. "Oh, the heebie jeebies. It was really weird, this fellow with red and yellow hair. He did make a big hit record, though, Ill give him that." Their association with Harrison continued, as Badfinger played rhythm guitars for Georges All Things Must Pass album, as well as being invited to play at the Bangladesh show in August 1971. "When you stand up in front of 20,000 people doing Here Comes The Sun with George Harrison, I dont know what Pete was thinking but I bet he wished he had underpants on that day!"
"One day," says Molland, "we get a call at the house on Park Avenue. It was Joe, John Lennons driver. He said Johns recording tonight and he was wondering if youd do him a favor and come down and play some guitar on a couple of songs. Of course we said yes...we went in [Lennons house] and there was the ladder in the vestibule, the one you climb up with the magnifying glass. So we go into the foyer and theres a big staircase going up and the carpet was all black, the walls were all white. On the walls going up the stairway were these empty picture frames. Big beautiful gilt portrait frames. I remember a hammer hanging in this frame. Im going, yeah, this is definitely Johnnys house, isnt it! So we go down the hallway and into this billiard room...the door closes behind us and theres no door there! It all library books, like one of those secret doors, so we were in there walking around for a half an hour. Finally one of the panels with the books swings open and we go into another room and thats full of Dr. Pepper. Crates and crates of it."
They finally got to Lennons home studio. "We sit down and tune up and in comes Mr. Lennon and Yoko. He sits down on his stool, says hello to everyone and says The first song were going to do is Jealous Guy. He told everyone to keep it together, nice and simple. I put the headphones on and theres John Lennon sitting five feet away from me playing Jealous Guy, and it was unbelievable. We did the session, he said These Badfinger guys arent bad now, are they? He said we could f-off for awhile if we wanted to but we said no thats okay, well stay! So he did I Dont Want To Be A Soldier, and we banged around on that for awhile."
"Day After Day" was a million selling single (US #4). At the same time, Harry Nilssonss version of Badfingers "Without You" went to US #1. But in 1973, their record deal with Apple ran out and they signed with Warner Brothers. Apple, as a business, was falling apart anyway and would soon collapse. When the label went into receivership and the Beatles started suing each other, publishing rights and royalties to Badfingers songs were held up in the same court proceedings.
In 1974, WB released the groups new LP, Badfinger, just as Apple released Ass, a compilation of material left off Straight up and tracks rejected by Apple. With two records out at same time, sales on both were poor. Then in March 1974, WB removed all Badfinger LPs from stores, filing a lawsuit against Badfinger Enterprises. Their business manager was accused of mishandling their affairs and the band would sue him (hed sue them back). The last album with all four pivotal members, Wish You Were Here, never even cracked the US top 100 (mores the pity, since its merely fabulous).
Personal problems also plagued the group, and theyd seen almost no income from their hard work. At one point, Ham quit the band (and then rejoined). Molland also quit and Gibbins announced that he wanted to spend more time at home with his son Owen. On April 24 1975, Pete Ham hung himself in the garage of his London home. He was 27. "He believed in the people around him. He trusted people implicitly but unfortunately he put his trust in the wrong people. When he died, he was broke, his phone was going to be cut off, his wife was pregnant and she was going into the hospital. It was a really bad scene and there was nobody there to help him. He would not accept the fact that these people were doing this to him. You know, the manager was shopping him a solo deal. Like he was planning on the band breaking up. Its frustrating. You cant turn back the hands of time. The lawyers couldnt help, it was contractual interference. The management company couldnt help, the record company couldnt help because the last two records hadnt sold very well. And there was the Warner Brothers lawsuit going on. The manager was hopeless - he freely admits it now, he admits riding around in a limousine in New York and not reading our contracts. Its just stunning. These people to this day still kind of fob it off to some kind of gray area over there but the reality of it is that they were directly responsible for it."
After Hams suicide, the band fell apart. Mike Gibbins moved back to Wales while Molland formed Blue Goose, then Natural Gas (I saw Natural Gas backing up Frampton on the Comes Alive tour - one of the only times I ever saw an opening band so thoroughly blow away the headliner!). Tommy Evans and Bob Jackson (whod played keys with Badfinger on tour) formed The Dodgers and released several singles.
In 1978, Molland was working in LA, laying carpet. Evans was doing pipe insulation in England and the two of them decided to reform Badfinger. The resulting LP Airwaves is a minor masterpiece and they were back in 1981 for Say No More, recorded with Tony Kaye on keys (ex of Yes). But after a 1983 US tour, the group splintered once more. Gibbins was married and living in South Wales. Evans was having severe financial problems and going to court, attempting to finally get royalty money from songs like "Without You." He told his wife Marianne that he was convinced the entire world was aligned against him. On Nov. 19th, Tommy Evans was found dead in his Surrey England home. Hed hanged himself.
For the 1984 British Invasion tour with Hermans Hermits, The Troggs and others, Badfinger consisted of Molland and Gibbins, plus Bob Jackson, Al Wodke (bass) and Randy Anderson (guitar). Molland moved to Minneapolis and put out a hard rocking solo album in 1985, After The Pearl. When I caught Badfinger live in 86, their amazing set list included a wonderful segue from "Without You" into John Lennons "Mind Games." The poignant moment brought me near to tears, thinking about the great losses weve all suffered - Pete Ham, Tommy Evans, Lennon and so many others.
Today, theres more Badfinger available than ever, and the group is finally getting the attention and acclaim its long deserved. Rhinos Best Of Badfinger Vol. II is a hit, as is Rykodiscs Day After Day, a 1974 concert recording. Molland formed his own label (Independent Records), releasing Timeless in 1989 (Gibbins appears on drums). His 1992 solo record The Pilgrim may not a top seller but Id highly recommend it (and Ive never steered you wrong yet, have I?). Though Gibbins is no longer drumming with Badfinger (currently called Joey Mollands Badfinger, due to legal reckoning), Ive seen them several times and I can testify that they still rock and should not be missed when they blow the doors off The Bank Street Cafe August 13th. Itll be one of the best shows youll see this year (you can thank me later).