The Life and Death of ‘Badfinger’

badfinger album artBadfinger, one of the true originators of power pop ascended the rock and roll success ladder in the late 1960s and early 1970s only to fall prey to the harsh realities of the music business. Pete Ham (Guitar, keyboards, vocals), Joey Molland( guitar, keyboards, vocals), Tom Evans (Bass, guitar, vocals) Mike Gibbins (Drums, percussion) and Ron Griffiths (Bass , vocals 1965-1969) are sadly a tragic footnote in classic rock history, but on further examination gave the  music world mellifluous melodies, stirring vocals and harmonies, top notch guitar work and brilliant songwriting.

Badfinger was “born” in Swansea, Wales in 1961. Pete Ham, along with Griffiths, Gibbins and early guitarist and vocalist David Jenkins were a beat group that originally called itself the “Iveys,” a tribute to a street in their beloved Swansea. They paid their dues and by 1965, were backing up The Who, Moody Blues and other notable British acts. In 1967, Liverpool native, Tom Evans, replaced Jenkins. As their reputation grew around London, Mal Evans, Beatle roadie and an employee of “Apple Records,” the Beatles’ new label, took notice. He signed the Iveys to the “Apple” label on July 23, 1968 with the approval of John, Paul, George and Ringo. With their ringing endorsement, the Iveys released “Maybe Tomorrow” toward the end of 1968. This poignant song written by bassist Tom Evans contains a beautiful string arrangement by Tony Visconti.

The next stage in the band’s history came about when Paul McCartney presented  a demo to the band of a song  “Come and Get it” that was written for a 1969 film, “The Magic Christian” starring Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr, John Cleese, Raquel Welch, Christopher Lee, Richard Attenborough and Roman Polanski. He auditioned each member of the band for the lead vocal spot and designated fellow Liverpudlian, Tom Evans as the singer. Legend has it that McCartney told the band if he did not like their version, he would record it himself. Blown away by Badfinger’s (The Iveys’ new name) take, which became an international hit, he commissioned them to compose a couple of songs on the soundtrack.

Those songs, along with “Rock of All Ages” (another McCartney composition), were included in the film and Badfinger’s debut release, “Magic Christian Music.”

Griffiths quit the group for personal reasons and while searching for a replacement for Evans (on guitar at the time) played bass on “Rock of All Ages.” Once Molland, another Liverpool native, was hired on second guitar, Evans switched to bass.This was the start of Badfinger’s classic line-up. Mal Evans produced their next album, “No Dice,” (1970) including pop masterpiece, “No Matter what,” which features hand clapping, three-part harmonies and a steel guitar solo. It also contains one of the most famous false endings in classic rock history. Another notable track on the album is “Without You,” a Ham/Evans composition that became a huge hit for Harry Nilsson (1972) and Mariah Carey (1993).

In April 1970, Stan Polley signed the band to a management contract that would lead to their downfall. During this period, the band toured the U.S. and had to brush aside comparisons to the Beatles. There was even a rumor, which claimed Badfinger were the Beatles in disguise. In musical terms, this comparison is valid. Badfinger’s top-notch vocals, expert guitar work and intelligent song prowess measure up to the “Fab Four.”

The aforementioned Beatles connection extended to the band getting involved in Beatles members (now solo) projects. They played guitar on George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” added vocals to Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy” and two members (Molland and Evans) were featured on John Lennon’s “Imagine” album. The band can also be seen on the DVD of Harrison’s “Concert for Bangladesh” (1971).  The year 1971 also saw Badfinger release their third album, “Straight Up” which was produced by Harrison, early on, and Todd Rundgren. It spawned two monumental classic rock opuses, “Day After Day” (which sold a million copies as a single) and “Baby Blue.” The former features Harrison dueting on slide guitar with Ham and the latter is a Ham ode to a woman he met on the road in Wichita, Kansas on Badfinger’s 1971 tour. “Baby Blue” became the band’s fourth top 10 hit in the U.S. in 1972.

The band’s business manager Polley, who had alleged organized crime ties and mismanaged other performers’ finances, was unbeknownst to the group cheating them out of royalties and other profit. Two albums, “Ass” and “Badfinger,” were released almost simultaneously with two songs “Love is Easy” and “I Miss you,” going nowhere. Despite the lackluster reception for the two releases, in 1974 the band recorded “Wish You Were Here” at the Caribou Ranch in Denver, Colorado and received rave reviews from Rolling Stone magazine. Despite this turn of fortune, there was tremendous infighting in the band due to Molland’s wife getting involved in its financial affairs. This led to Ham temporarily quitting the band and Molland permanently leaving to pursue a solo career.

Polley insisted that the band (Now on the Warner Brothers label) record a new album, called “Head First.” Warner Brothers in turn sued Polley, which led to the scrapping of “Head First” and the company not promoting “Wish You Were Here.” This sequence of events led to the end of Badfinger. It is ironic that melodic songs like “Meanwhile Back at the Ranch/Should I Smoke” were written and recorded amidst so much turmoil.

The early months of 1975 found the band trying to figure out what to do next. This was particularly difficult because Polley controlled all song royalties and had the band on a salary that was not adequate for their needs. This chain of events hit Ham particularly hard because he had just purchased a house and his girlfriend was expecting a child. Ham tried to contact Polley to rectify matters, but could not get in touch with him.

On April 24, 1975, Ham hung himself. His suicide note read “Anne, I Love you, Blair I love you. I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better. Pete. P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.” His daughter was born a month after his demise. A brilliant guitarist, vocalist and songwriter had died needlessly. This was the official end of Badfinger, though the others carried on with various side projects.

In the early ’80s, Molland and Evans toured with competing versions of Badfinger, which led to the dissolution of their friendship. On November 19, 1983, Molland and Evans had a screaming match on the phone over “Apple” money and royalties of “Without You.” After this argument, Evans hung himself in the garden at his home.

Molland has toured extensively with his version of Badfinger since 1984. In 1986, Molland reunited with Gibbins. That partnership lasted three years. Gibbins died of natural causes on October 4, 2006.

There isn’t a more talented group of musicians in rock and roll history than Badfinger. Their songs are rock and roll and power pop classics that influenced bands like the Raspberries and cult favorites Big Star. The Beatles mentored them for good reason; they were extremely talented. There is no more tragic story in the annals of popular music than Badfinger’s. They rose to the heights of the rock and roll world, only to crash and burn because of unethical management. Just listening to their recordings proves why they are one of the most relevant bands in rock and roll history.

About Steve Janowsky 88 Articles
Steve Janowsky is a former co-host of the Rocktologists theme based classic rock show radio show on WKRB 90.3 fm, which was voted the best classic rock podcast in the country by Dave White of About.com. Some of the interview guests on the show were Simon Kirke ( Free and Bad Company), Carl Palmer (ELP), Vince Martell (Vanilla Fudge), Randy Jackson (Zebra) and Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush. Janowsky is also an English and Journalism instructor at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY and is an avid guitar player and songwriter.

2 Comments

  1. Badfinger’s album and CD release of the Album ‘Straight up” Was filled with many. many keepers, one of the best albums ever. Take it all, Perfection, I’d die Babe all could’ve been radio hits, as well many others.
    L:ike the albums mostly written by Mark Farner of Grand Funk and Ken Hensley of Uriah Heep. I saw them live while I was in Spain from 74 to 76 causing me to miss any chance to see the early years version of Grand Funk, though through Billboard, and Rock magazines I was able to keep up the Funk and a few months after following my future wife to the Detroit suburbs running my own Radio Shack on the infamous 8 Mile Road and Dequinder and was successful enough to be promoted to the 3 highest selling store in my District, I just knew I’d be seeing Grand Funk somewhere, little did I know the band was already history. Their album with the late great Frank Zappa was a raw straight through first take album, and all the Farner sonds reflected his prowess growing in his music, with the same very early cry to save our World and ecology, well before his time, Mark like this Badfinger album as well as Hensley “Demons and Wizards and Magician’s Bithday were 2 of the greatest albums to follow, Funk had several when Mark was wher he should be, the major writer, Brewer wrote decent lyrics but 3 chord wonders can only be leaned on so many times before they grow old.
    Straight up is an album of hits Day after Day, Baby Blue were very successful, But unlike a lot of other Badfinger albums this one stayed with similar quality songs, You could hear Harrison influence on Day after Day and others, and Rundren always got the best out of bands. American Band and most of Shinin On, the album was far too heavy in Brewer Frost 3 chord wonders.
    “Straight Up” follows in the successful side of Rungren’s genious, If you like “Come and get it” “No Matter Waht” ” I hear you Knockin” along with this album’s Baby Blue and Day after Day” you will love this album and especially the CD with original versions and demos of the future products, showing the way a song is done, makes all the difference in the world, And bands that sound great live, often are first take recorders, when it wasn’t a novice Terry Knight, which the artistry and the year it was recorded prevented them from being the hits they later became. I heard them all over the world and played them in Spain and America and know the effect they have on a dance floor, even “Closer to home” with a song almost 9 minutes long with different tempos a great bridge and the end with orchestration was what makes it a mainstay on Classic Rock stations. Voted by Vietnam vets as the song that helped them remember what was dear to their hearts “Home” they asked him to sing the song at the 25th anniversary of the Wall. And he treated them to a free 90 minute concert with full band for nothing. Everytime I saw him play it , there’s always a dedication to the Vietnam vets and all others, a song Farner prayed to God to give him a song to touch the hearts he most wanted to touch, The song was “Closer to Home” written in the reverse order Farner usually writes.
    Badfinger’s “Straight Up” was their masterpiece. Buy it you’ll like it!

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