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Badfinger was a pop/rock (or "power pop") band that orginated in mid-60s pop bands around Swansea, Wales. Adopting the name Badfinger in 1969, the band was touted as the 'heir apparent' to The Beatles, in part because of their close working relationship with the "Fab Four." Badfinger's meteoric rise and demise (marked by the suicides of founder-member and leader Peter Ham on 24 April 1975, and later of band-member Tom Evans on November 19, 1983) remains a cautionary tale for the rock music industry. They're probably best-remembered for the Ham/Evans-penned Badfinger song, "Without You", which became an international hit for Harry Nilsson in 1971 and later a hit for Mariah Carey in 1994. Other popular singles include "Baby Blue", "Come And Get It", and "No Matter What".
Badfinger originated with guitarist/keyboardist Pete Ham (27 April 1947 – 24 April 1975) and a group called The Panthers. Ham, Ron Griffiths (bass guitar) (b. October 2, 1946) and David 'Dai' Jenkins (guitar) went on to form The Iveys, named after a street in Swansea, Wales (and a pun on influential British Invasion group, The Hollies). By 1965, Mike Gibbins (March 12, 1949 - October 4, 2005) had joined as the drummer, and the band began playing locally with such groups as the Spencer Davis Group, The Who, The Moody Blues and The Yardbirds. The following year, The Iveys moved their base to London, performing both for David Garrick, a local singer, and as a solo act. In 1967, David 'Dai' Jenkins left, and was replaced by Liverpudlian guitarist Tom Evans (June 5, 1947 - November 19, 1983). The Iveys recorded and released a single, "Maybe Tomorrow" (1968) which reached the lower levels of Billboard Hot 100. An album of the same name was issued in some European countries, and Japan, in 1969 (See Maybe Tomorrow), although plans to release the LP in the U.K. and U.S. were halted.
Ron Griffiths, Mike Gibbins, Pete Ham and Tom Evans (who appeared on the cover of their first album, Maybe Tomorrow, released in 1969) signed with The Beatles' label Apple Records in 1968. Paul McCartney gave the group a boost in 1969 when he offered them their breakthrough song "Come And Get It," intended for the soundtrack to the film The Magic Christian. The single was a hit throughout Europe and the United States, where it reached the Billboard Top 10. During the recording session for "Come And Get It," original compositions of "Rock of All Ages" and "Carry On 'Till Tomorrow" were also recorded. These three tracks, produced by McCartney, appeared in the film and soundtrack album. Badfinger's own album, Magic Christian Music, was released several months after the film's premiere.
Before "Come And Get It" was released, the group decided a style and name change were both needed. Discarding The Iveys' '60s pop sound in favor of a rockier edge, the group changed their name to Badfinger (passing on McCartney's suggested 'Home' and John Lennon's suggestion of 'Prix'). The name "Badfinger" was suggested by Apple's Neil Aspinall. This was a reference to 'Bad Finger Boogie', an early working title of "With a Little Help from My Friends" (from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band). Griffiths left the band in the fall of 1969, shortly after the McCartney sessions were completed. The band reorganized, with Evans moving to bass and adding Liverpudlian guitarist Joey Molland in December of 1969.
In late 1970, Badfinger released the album No Dice. It was accompanied by the single "No Matter What," which also reached the Billboard Top 10. More notably, another track from No Dice, "Without You", became a bigger hit when recorded by Harry Nilsson in 1971 (where it reached the Billboard #1 slot) and Mariah Carey in 1993.
In preparation for their first American tour in 1970, Badfinger enlisted a New York business manager named Stan Polley. Although Polley's reputation was well presented to Badfinger at the time, his alleged connections to organized crime and dubious financial arrangements would only become known to the group in the coming years. Badfinger toured in America and were generally well received, but the group complained they were living in the shadow of The Beatles because of their close connection to the band. Many music critics of the time unfavorably compared Badfinger and The Beatles, which haunted the group for years to come.
The band's popularity began increasing exponentially. The band recorded many sessions for fellow Apple Records labelmates, notably playing acoustic guitar on tracks from George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" and providing backing vocals on Ringo Starr's single "It Don't Come Easy". Evans and Molland performed on John Lennon's album Imagine, and all four members of the band appeared as backup musicians throughout George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971.
Badfinger's second album, Straight Up, was released in 1971, and spawned two successful singles, "Day After Day" and "Baby Blue." George Harrison and Todd Rundgren took production credits on the LP, Badfinger's most commercially successful record, with Harrison and Ham trading slide guitar solos on "Day After Day". ' Decades later, Straight Up ranked as the most-requested CD release among out-of-print albums in a readers poll for Goldmine magazine.
Unfortunately, Straight Up was apparently poorly marketed in the UK with radio airplay hampered by poor singles distribution. Apple Records' finances in the post-Beatles era were also in chaos and Polley reportedly did not negotiate well with Apple President Allen Klein. Even more egregious for the band's fortunes, Polley had been misrepresenting and exploiting artists he had contracts with, according to several of his clients (including Lou Christie and Al Kooper).
Ass by Badfinger. The sessions for what would be Badfinger's fourth and last album for Apple, Ass, began in September 1972 at Apple's basement studios at 3, Savile Row and would continue at five recording studios over the next nine months. During the recording of "Ass", Polley autonomously negotiated a multi-million dollar deal with Warner Brothers Records. The album's release would be held up by legal proceedings which followed Badfinger's departure from Apple. "Ass" featured a satirical record cover of a donkey (the band) following a carrot on a stick (Polley's promises to the band) - a theme more recently purloined by the American band Styx. "Ass" and its accompanying single, "Apple Of My Eye," failed to reach the Billboard Top 100.
Six weeks after the Ass sessions were completed, Badfinger entered the studio to begin recording material for their first Warner Brothers release, Badfinger (the intended Warner title, For Love Or Money, was accidentally excluded). Neither Ass nor Badfinger were well-received by music critics. Badfinger and its two accompanying singles, "Love Is Easy" (UK) and "I Miss You" (US), also did not reach chart positions. Badfinger did manage to maintain U.S. fan support as a result of several American tours. A performance at the Cleveland Agora in March 1974 was released on CD in 1990, although it became a subject of controversy because of Molland's later studio overdubbing.
Following the group's last American tour, Badfinger recorded Wish You Were Here at the Caribou Ranch recording studio in Colorado. Unlike their previous two albums, Badfinger's Wish You Were Here was well received by Rolling Stone Magazine and other periodicals upon its release in 1974.
Internal friction centering on band management and money had been growing within Badfinger for a couple years. By 1974, Molland's wife began taking a more assertive role in the band's politics, advocating a complete break with Polley. This advocacy did not endear her to Molland's bandmates, particularly Ham. Just before the band began rehearsals for an October 1974 UK tour, Ham suddenly quit the band during a management meeting. Ham was temporarily replaced by guitarist/keyboardist Bob Jackson. However, just before the 1974 tour began, Ham rejoined the group. Jackson remained as full-time keyboardist, making the band a short-lived quintet. After the tour, Molland quit the band over a lack of consensus on their management situation.
With Polley's urging, Ham, Evans, Jackson and Gibbins reconvened to record a quick follow-up to Wish You Were Here shortly after it was released. The album, Head First, was recorded in two weeks at Apple Studios in December 1974. Warner Brothers' publishing division refused to accept the Head First tapes because it was preparing to launch a lawsuit against Badfinger Enterprises, Inc. (the group's management company) and Stan Polley. The Head First album became lost in the litigation and was never issued by Warner Brothers. Bob Jackson retained a copy of a rough mix completed by engineer Phil McDonald on 15 December 1974. This tape is the basis of the 2000 Snapper release of Head First. In reference, biographer Dan Matovina wrote in detail about the events surrounding Head First.
The lawsuit launched by Warner Brothers' publishing division against Badfinger Enterprises, Inc. in December 1974 would work its way through California courts until 1979. At issue was the disappearance of several thousand dollars of publishing escrow money which Polley had access to. When Warner Brothers repeatedly asked about the money's whereabouts, Polley reportedly did not respond. As a result of this legal fray, Wish You Were Here and all other Badfinger releases by Warner Brothers were stopped and shelved in early 1975. Coupled with the termination of Badfinger's Apple contracts, there soon was no Badfinger product available on record store shelves anywhere.
On 24 April 1975, Pete Ham, financially broken and despairing, hanged himself in his garage studio in Surrey. His suicide note, addressed to his girlfriend and her son, blamed Stan Polley for his misfortunes: 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." Ham's daughter was born one month after his death.
Badfinger disbanded after Ham's death, and for years afterward, lawsuits and bankruptcies haunted the members on both sides of the Atlantic. Evans and Molland were both unsuccessful in separate new band projects, and by 1977 they were both out of the music business; Molland was laying carpet while Evans worked as a plumber. That year guitarist Joe Tansin recruited Molland for a new band he was putting together, and when they needed a bass player Molland suggested Evans. Pressure from their management led to the decision in 1978 to call themselves Badfinger, and together they recorded their "comeback" album Airwaves which was released in 1979. Tansin left the band immediately after the album was recorded.
To promote the album, Molland and Evans recruited Peter Clarke (Stealers Wheel) on drums and Tony Kaye (Yes) on keyboards. The single "Love is Gonna Come At Last" reached #69 in the US. They recorded and released a second album, Say No More in 1981, with that year's touring line-up. This LP was distributed on a much smaller independent record label with its single. "Hold On" reached #56 in the US.
Ultimately, Evans and Molland split acrimoniously in 1981. During 1982 and 1983, they briefly operated rival bands, both using the name Badfinger. On 19 November 1983, Evans and Molland argued on the telephone, reportedly about the publishing royalty division of the song "Without You." Following the argument, Evans hanged himself in the garden at his home in an eerie replay of Pete Ham's 1975 death scene.
In August 1984, Molland, Gibbins and Jackson played a small number of U.S. dates as part of a 20th Anniversary of the British Invasion in America package tour. In 1986, Molland and Gibbins reformed Badfinger again as a touring band until Gibbins left for good in 1990.
Molland continues to tour as Joey Molland's Badfinger and has released three solo albums. In 1997 and 1999, posthumous collections of Ham home recordings were released on separate CDs, 7 Park Avenue and Golders Green. A detailed biography on Badfinger came out in 1997 entitled Without You: The Tragic Story Of Badfinger.
Mike Gibbins died in his sleep at his home in Oviedo, Florida on October 4, 2005. He was 56. He is survived by his wife, as well as three sons, who perform together in the Orlando based rock band the Seven Sisters. The City of Swansea planned a museum exhibit commemorating the Welsh members of Badfinger. A Badfinger convention in Swansea in June 2006 brought together Jackson, Griffiths, and several surviving family members of Ham, Evans and Gibbins.
Evans and Jackson formed The Dodgers after Ham's death in 1975. Molland formed Natural Gas with former Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley in 1976, and Mike Gibbins went into session work, appearing on Bonnie Tyler's 1978 hit single "It's A Heartache."
In 1995, Jackson joined The Fortunes, a 1960s English group still playing on the nostalgia circuit.
Molland's wife, Kathy, passed away unexpectedly in the Spring of 2009 after a short illness. He currently lives in the Minnetonka area of Minnesota and performs frequently in the United States as "Joey Molland's Badfinger." Read more on Last.fm
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