Badfinger Back In Business
By Dan Matovina and Peter Olafson
Trouser Press May 1979
What would eventually become Badfinger started out as a part time local band in Swansea, Wales during the post-Mersey beat boom of 1964-66. Back then they were called The Iveys and their line-up was Pete Ham and David Jenkins on guitars, Ron Griffiths bass and Mike Gibbins as drummer. In April 1966 they were spotted playing at a Swansea a ballroom by an elderly gentleman who was impressed enough to want to manage them. Despite objections by the boys' parents they signed up with him, quit their day jobs and became professional musicians. By December 1966 the Iveys had forsaken Wales for London. Through '67 and early part of 1968 the Iveys played the British club circuit appearing frequently at the Marquee, and the Cavern Club in Liverpool. Despite having to comply with the audience demand for currently popular music-Hendrix, blues, Motown, Top 20-the Iveys always managed to squeeze in a few originals along the way. Soon enough offers began to come in from a number of interested record labels but most of them wanted the Iveys to cover pop standards rather than compose and record their own material. They rejected all those offers, opting to wait for a deal which allowed them the creative freedom they desired. Meanwhile they kept busy by recording hundreds of tunes in a 12x12 sound deadened room in Golders Green, London. In early '68 Jenkins left and was replaced by Tom Evans, a young Liverpudlian who played in a local group called the Calderstones.
Ray Davies saw the group, dug them, and hoped to produce them. That never came about, but soon record companies were coming around again, this time with better offers. Finally in mid-'68, they signed on with the Beatles' Apple label, becoming one of the first bands to join the fledgling Apple Corps. Mal Evans, the Beatles late road manager, had flipped out on seeing them and told them to make a demo for Paul McCartney. After further sets of tapes were listened to, George, Paul and John decided to sign them up, mostly on their strength of their excellent songwriting.
After signing, The Iveys gigged some more and made further tapes. By October '68. Apple deemed them ready to record. For their first single they picked “Maybe Tomorrow”, a lush Tom Evans-penned ballad which actually got up to #60 on the American charts, but made little impression elsewhere other than in a few European markets. Having all sorts of pop star dreams - who wouldn’t, being on The Beatles’ label - The Iveys were hurt by the failure of the single to make bigger impact.
The summer of 1969 saw a good deal of Iveys material released, starting with the group’s first LP, Maybe Tomorrow, produced chiefly by Mal Evans. The album is a strange grab-bag of late 60’s pop, which shows a talented group in need of better direction in order to develop. There is a wide variety of styles, but although some of the cutesy quirks detract from the overall effect , about half of the performances are genuinely good. Among the LP’s successes are “See Saw Granpa”, a dynamite ´50’s-ish piano-based raver, “Angelique”, a glorious harmonic exercise, “Sali Bloo” and “They’re Knocking Down Our Home”, a mournful complaint about progress - written and sung by Pete Ham and performed in a manner reminiscent of middle-period Kinks. Disappointingly, though, Apple felt that the time wasn’t right for US and UK release and instead only issued it in a few European markets ( a fact that has now turned it into a rare collector’s item ), which distressed The Iveys no end and made them feel unworthy of being on the label. To add to this, the band were growing increasingly poorer and were not eating very well.
On the heels of the album came the groups second single “Dear Angie” backed with “No Escaping Your Love” which although quite good, wasn’t even issued in the States, where it could have been a follow up to the moderate success of “Maybe Tomorrow”. An excellent Iveys tune, “Storm in a Teacup”, a rocker in the Small Faces vein, was included in an EP sampler Apple did as a promotion for Wall’s Ice Cream at around the same time the single was released.
What none of these releases could do, get the band as a known and recognizable entity, Paul McCartney did by giving them one of his songs to record for the soundtrack on an upcoming film The Magic Christian - starring Peter Sellers and Ringo - for which he’d been asked to write the music. That song was “Come and Get It”, which the movie’s producers loved so much that they asked the band to write two more songs to accompany particularly segments of the film.
They went into the studio under Paul’s direction and came out with three tracks for the film, with Paul even playing piano and adding some background screaming to “Rock of All Ages”, a screeching rocker which would soon become the B-side of “Come and Get It”. The single was in fact released prior to the movie and quickly rose into the high reaches of both the British ( where it stayed for 10 weeks, reaching #4 ) and US ( 15 weeks, making #7 ) charts, helped along, no doubt, by the McCartney songwriting credit and the fact that many people at first thought it was The Beatles recording under a pseudonym. The name on the record, though, was not The Iveys. That moniker was scrapped in favor of a hard-edge title: Badfinger, a name suggested by Apple exec Neil Aspinall after Paul and John had offered “Home” and “Prix” respectively. At any rate, it was a tremendous single: deceptively simple, with terrific drumming against a bottom provided by piano and bass off setting the high, sneering harmonies. A great false ending wrapped up what one could safely call the first great single of the 70’s.
With the single a huge success, an album was culled from the three film cuts, some new tracks produced by Mal Evans and about half a dozen remixed or re-recorded tunes from the Iveys LP. While the recording was in progress, bassist Ron Griffiths quit the group to get married. Auditions were held for a replacement, and Joey Molland, who had stopped in at a friend’s suggestion and immediately hit it off, got the job. Molland’s strong sense of elemental rock, good looks and bubbling personality made him the obvious choice - the only problem was that he was a guitarist. Fortunately, Tom Evans also played bass and decided that he’d be willing to make the switch. So Molland who came from Liverpool and had been in bands since 1962, most recently Gary Walker and The Rain, was in.
Magic Christian Music came out in early 1970 at a time when music was being heavily dominated by “progressive rock” , and its bright melodic pop clearly went against the current vogue. McCartney’s influence on the band is quite noticeable - he obviously wanted as much of a basic feel as possible. As The Iveys they had tried to dress up their songs with often unnecessarily cluttered arrangements. Paul taught them that simplicity and rawness could be virtues and gave them a sound to progress from.
The album stands as a fine debut and was critically acclaimed as a breath of fresh air. It sold quite well in America, but not in Britain where only “Come and Get It” could get airplay and where Badfinger were immediately tagged as teenybop due to the simple singalong nature of that song. But the album contained varied and lovely material like the ethereal “Crimson Ship” and a couple of ballads, “Walk Out in The Rain” and “Carry On Till Tomorrow” (the latter a haunting, folkish tune with a raunchy guitar break accompanied by shuddering cellos). The album’s only major fault is the poor choice of Iveys tracks.
Badfinger toured Britain in early ‘70, playing clubs and getting good response. Rather than the teeny band some expected, the crowd saw before them a tough vibrant rock 'n' roll band. The problem of their image as a singles band blinding people to what they actually were in performance, was to plague Badfinger throughout their career.
When the British tour ended, the band returned to the studio, this time to record a complete LP with Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick producing (while at the same time they were helping out with some sessions for George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass). Upon its completion Badfinger immediately flew over to America for a three-month tour of the college circuit by Greyhound coach. The band received great reactions everywhere and good crowds as well, partially due to rash of rumors that Paul or George would be at the shows and that Joey was Paul’s brother. During the tour Badfinger heavily previewed the upcoming album, from which single. "No Matter What" was released during the tour. Once again a worldwide smash! Instantly memorable from its punchy opening riff, it synthesizes the best '6Os styles into classic modern British rock 'n' roll . Oddly, Apple was reluctant to lease it and Badfinger had to fight like hell to get it put out.
No Dice, Badfinger's second LP, appeared 1 November 1970, an exceptionally raw and exciting pop-rock showcase, which is more representative of the band's style than Magic Christian Music had been. Joey Molland's presence adds to its harder feel and there is a fine balance of rockers, all catchy and electric with tasty solos. Pete Ham's "Midnight Caller" and "We're for the Dark" are beautiful songs with grand acoustic strumming, while Pete and Tommy collaborated on "Without You, the same sterling ballad turned into a huge hit by Nilsson. Here it's less polished - Nilsson, obviously recognized its potency, smoothed it over with lush orchestration. and a year after had one of the biggest pop hits of all time. The LP sold well and received universal accolades. Many took note of great similarities to the Beatles. In Britain, Badfinger were looked more upon as copies while America mostly saw them more as a fresh extension of the Beatles. On their second American tour, Badfinger served up a tight, energetic show with healthy doses of melodic rock 'n' roll sprinkled with a couple gutsy blues-rockers. To top it off, they performed with a freshness and enthusiasm that most bands had lacked since the British invasion. Upon returning to England they rented Clearwell Castle, a musty old edifice, to rehearse, write and relax. Everyone was feeling up, and out of this positive atmosphere came a load of sensational tunes. An LP was soon recorded, but Apple had other plans. They scrapped the album Badfinger gave them because they weren't quite satisfied with it, and, anyway George Harrison wanted to produce them.
So they went into the studio with George, who started by completely rearranging a couple of songs and reworking a new song by Pete, Day After Day, to make it a distinct copy of his own sound. Halfway through the recording, though, George organized the Bangladesh concert (at which Badfinger played acoustic guitars-they considered it a tremendous thrill to be there). Todd Rundgren was brought in to finish the album. According to the band, he was totally domineering and had little respect for their ideas. Todd made the album slick and simple, and an abundance of the groups natural energy was lost. What came out was a great album due to the tremendous songs, but one which lacked overall vitality. Also, in the process of the recording, many brilliant tracks were discarded, almost all raucous rockers and some possible singles, sadly never to be released.
Straight Up was the new disc, released in December of 1971. It spawned two dazzling hits, "Day After Day" and "Baby Blue," the former a gold record. Both are melancholy tunes featuring brilliant melodies and Pete Ham's warm vocal delivery. All the songs are top rate, it's a wholly consistent well-done record, only not exactly what the group desired. The LP had a lengthy chart stay and received mostly positive reviews. Some critics cited the lost vigor, others got more hungup on Beatlish similarities. Working with Paul and George, being on the Apple label, there was just no way to avoid comparisons. The press got totally bent on relating anything and everything until it became fashionable to use Beatles in the same breath as Badfinger. So as praiseworthy as critics were, there still existed a general refusal to consider the band as a viable musical force. The quality of their work was acknowledged but this also was still the "progressive" era and the rock press usually slobbered over that more than some "revivalist" group, no matter what they had to offer.
Badfinger toured twice in 1972, when they were at the peak of their popularity. Their new show was even harder rock with more jamming that proved conclusively their talents as musicians. A couple of acoustic numbers were included and even live the vocals were brilliantly executed. Their stage manner was always cheerful and humorous, a pleasant change from the usual dull cliched heavy chat. Mike Gibbins was unable to make the second tour, due to commitments to his wife and family, but was back soon after. In the meantime, he was ably spelled by Rob Stawinsky of Sky.
At this time with two smash tours, three successful LPs, and responsibility for five worldwide hits you'd think the group was rolling in dough, full steam ahead for superstardom. The reality was that they were just beginning to make money for the first time ever! For years they'd been just getting by. There'd been debts to pay, Apple was in financial straits, and their management had been disorganized and poorly motivated. For example, whenever Badfinger toured, they never got to rehearse with lights or a decent sound system, and often had to do their shows with terrible sound and atrocious house lighting. This, then, was the crucial period for Badfinger's management, they had money and the chance to invest in the band for sound, lighting, equipment, whatever it took to help the band improve and grow. It never happened.
Somewhere along the way they hooked up with a pair of business managers and the entire operation of Badfinger's management became centered in New York. The group was happy about what seemed to be progress towards better organized management, but the relationship eventually ended disastrously for Badfinger. Early in 1973, they recorded their fourth album (to eventually appear as Ass), the last one on their Apple contract. It was expected they'd switch labels since Apple was failing, but the business managers began negotiating with Apple for a new contract. They attempted to play on Apple's desperation to hold onto Badfinger with outrageous demands. This, along with Apple's stubbornness and own business problems, resulted in the shelving of the LP for about a year. While things were being held up by these legal problems, Badfinger were unable to tour or make records and their finances dwindled substantially. When at last they were finally signed to Warner Brothers, they immediately went into the studio and recorded Badfinger. Due to all the delays that had taken place, the last Apple and first Warners disc were finally released a few months apart early in 1974.
It was fairly crucial to the band that one of these LPs or a single would hit. Their standing had always been a fragile one because they had played basic, '60s-influenced rock at a time when it was considered copying, unoriginal, or a passing fad. Now, with a two-year hiatus behind them, Badfinger's popularity was fading. ASS, the Apple LP, was essentially self produced. After Rundgren's dominance they wanted the freedom to be themselves. The result is lots of snappy, snarling rock 'n' roll, and heavily arranged ballads. The material is excellent, but the LP suffers from fairly poor sound, and a decided lack of bite and punch in the rhythm section. The group had allowed themselves too loose an atmosphere in the studio and by their own later admission weren't ready to produce yet. Chris Thomas was called in to mix it and helped salvage much of it.
The first Warners LP was titled Badfinger, only because the real title, For Love Or Money, was accidentally left of. It's very studio-oriented and has much variety in sound and style ranging from "My Heart Goes Out," a straight acoustic number, to "Andy Norris", a ballsy rock 'n' roller written by Joey and his wife Kathie. "Give It Up", though, is the stellar attraction. Joey sings his verses subtly before everything crashes into his furious plea to "give it up." At the end, a fuzzy, shrill, slow-driving lead drills through a thunderous wall of sound. The lyrics show the dangers of some of our baser obsessions:
We learn to wheel and deal and say goodbye And madness all around us makes for dying Young deceivers soon turn old are left to die amongst their gold and cashes.
Give it up We'll land on the rocks Give it up... Give yourself time... Your savior's in shock
Both LPs had weak sales--neither received good promotion--and the songs chosen for singles weren't good choices The group had absolutely no control over singles. "Love Is Easy" was a UK and European single that never had a chance due to a pressing malfunction which distorted the single, causing the BBC to refuse to play it. Reviews were mixed and the Beatles specter still haunted Badfinger despite there being no reasonable basis for comparison by this time. Two North American tours were done the time of Badfinger and Ass, mostly small venues. Attempts were made to record a live album, but management did not set it up well, and the few recordings made had terrible sound.
All Badfinger could do now was play their hearts out until a more balanced, varied stage show was possible. The group was not satisfied with their progress in any way. Management gave little direction and encouragement. Artistic planing was pitiful, there was little forethought or drive in their actions, little desire to move the band forward. Business management was money hungry beyond concern for the band, and attempted to get as much money as they could and keep the majority. The group was never allowed any financial information and were sent blank tax statements for years. Dejected by the constant struggle against forces that had nothing to do with music, their next LP was born from the emotional intensity and frustration of their experience.
Apparently, little conscious planning went into the recording, the songs simply flowed out. The entire group's writing seemed to be a profound response to their most heartfelt feelings. The LP was called, ironically, Wish You Were Here. Chris Thomas, best known at the time for his work with Roxy Music and Procol Harum, did a masterful producing job. Whereas No Dice and Straight Up were stunning in their pop synthesis, the approach had been basic and straightforward. This album combines the more sterling melodies with an incredibly sparkling full-bodied sound.
As an entity the LP flows superbly, each track is fully arranged and crafted. Orchestration is used subtly and creatively to produce depth and make dazzling, bright tracks. The album is arguably their best, with the bulk of it based around two medleys. Mike Gibbins' "In The Meantime" uses orchestration and tempo changes to perfection, slowing into a resplendent middle section before fusing into the engaging "Some Other Time. The other medley opens with the gritty "Meanwhile Back at the Ranch," a reference to Caribou Ranch in Colorado where the LP was recorded. The song seems to refer back to the hard reality of the events taking place around them. The medley ends with "Should I Smoke", which finds a bewildered Joey contemplating his, mixed-up life. Its magnificent rising guitar solo brings the LP to a glowing close. The recording of Wish You Were Here went over budget, but it was expected to be compensated for. With almost no promotion the LP jumped in at #60 with a bullet on the American charts. It was well on its way to being a giant hit and no singles had even been released. Reviews were ecstatic, the album was being called a classic.
So what happened? The LP was stopped, recalled, and banned ! Litigation had begun because of shady management dealing. It meant stopping any further releases by Badfinger and prevented any singles from being released off the album. This totally crushed the group and reportedly Chris Thomas was so upset about it that he weeped--he considered it one of his finest achievements.
A British tour had been set up for the fall of 1474. When Joey Molland arrived in England from his new L.A. home for rehearsals, he reported to the group about some thing's he'd found out about underhanded management moves, and brought up the possibility of freeing themselves from their management. But each member had differing views on the situation and it caused internal hassles. Pete left one day in a fit of anger, only to come back after a new member, keyboard player Bob Jackson, was added. As a quintet, they opened the tour for Man, but after it was over, Joey Molland announced that he was leaving the band. As much as he hated to go, everything had just gotten too screwed up for him. This hit everyone very hard, but especially Pete Ham, who became quiet and lapsed into a period of extreme depression.
Still, the band continued, entering the studio with Bob Jackson, and recording still another album. Pete wrote a song to Joey, pouring out the love he usually hid and wishing his best. Sadly, Warners was still in litigation and wouldn't release it, in fact, nothing more of Badfinger's would ever be released.
For months the lawsuits hopelessly tied up the band. Warners even sued the group, in an effort to, break the stranglehold of their management. Pete became severely depressed. By nature a stubborn person, when he put trust in someone or something he'd stick by it and in this case, Badfinger's management had gained his faith early and had him in their control. Finally, friends made Pete realize what had been happening and opened his blind eye. He found himself bankrupt and virtually locked in a box, unable to work. His faith was shattered. His depression led him to heavy drinking. After hours of practice and hundreds of songs composed, everything he had worked for now seemed for naught.
On an April morning in 1975 Pete couldn't take the bleak situation any longer. He hung himself in his garage, but 27 years old, and laid to rest a great overlooked talent. He left a suicide note which pointed an accusing finger at the music business and expressing hope that his death would be taken as a warning to other musicians. The best way to appreciate Pete Ham is to listen to his songs, they tell us a lot about him. He had a deep compassion for mankind and always wrote songs from the heart, that much is obvious, and we should thank Pete for the warmth and happiness he brought to the world, day after day.
The rest of the group was stunned by his death, completely abandoning rock 'n' roll altogether for several months, with serious thoughts of pursuing new careers. In late 1975 and '76, there were signs that each of the members was re-entering the music scene, Mike toured with a British band, the Flying Aces through '75 and '76. Tom Evans and Bob Jackson started a pop band, the Dodgers, specializing in short pop numbers with strong hooks, full backing vocals, and short perky guitar solos. They gigged around England and released two singles on Island produced by Muff Winwood, all of which went nowhere. Tom left the band early in 1977, but they continued on without him, releasing their debut album in mid-'78.
Joey Molland formed Natural Gas, which also included ex-Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley. A solid debut LP came out the summer of '76, but Joey left the group over differences of opinion and Natural Gas is gone today, though most of their members have gone on to form Magnet.
Upon leaving Natural Gas, Joey decided he would try to reform Badfinger. In late '77 he contacted Tom Evans about the possibility, and a skeptical Evans said he wanted a tape of the material Joey had been writing, before making a decision. At the same time he would send Joey a tape of his songs.
Tom received Joey's tape, liked what he heard, and decided to join Joey in the States, coming over to LA in January 1978. They soon hooked up with two musicians from Chicago, Joe Tansin, a guitarist, and drummer Kenny Harck. Within a few weeks they'd recorded their own demos. They brought the demos up to Elektra Records, who loved the tapes and, soon after, signed them. In addition, Jeff Wald, who manages (and in fact is married to) Helen Reddy, became the group's manager. In the late summer, the new Badfinger began work on their first (or seventh) album, with Elektra staff producer David Malloy at the controls. During the recording, friction developed between Kenny Harck and the rest of the band and in September, he was asked to leave. Joey and Tom immediately thought of bringing in Mike Gibbins as a replacement, and indeed he was flown over from Wales to join the band. Unfortunately, he hadn't played drums in months, and was therefore rusty and not playing well at all. Finally, it was decided that another drummer would probably work out better than Mike. He returned to Wales and session drummer Andy Newmark was called in to finish the LP. The album, then, was completed under less than ideal circumstances, and upon its completion Joe Tansin left the band, leaving Badfinger currently a duo. The album, Airwaves, is reviewed elsewhere in this issue, and the future of the group most likely depends very much on the kind of reaction it receives. If only for the great music they made in the past and all the suffering they had to go through to make it, Badfinger deserves success this time around. Here's hoping they get it.