Badfinger significantly influenced the power pop genre in the 70s, but they are more likely to be remembered for the bad luck that befell them throughout their career. As anyone who is or has tried to become famous will tell you, it involves a considerable amount of luck. Seemingly random moments or decisions propel some bands to the big time while others stay in the doldrums. Those moments and decisions sadly seemed to go against 60s rock group Badfinger.
When they came together as a band in 1968, Badfinger were originally called The Iveys. They named the band after a street in their hometown of Swansea, Wales.
The lineup consisted of Pete Ham on lead guitar, David “Dai” Jenkins on rhythm guitar, Ronald ” Ron” Griffith on bass and Roy Anderson on drums. They played gigs in their local area for a few years, and by the time Roy Anderson left to be replaced by Mike Gibbins in 1965, the band had secured a series of concerts around Swansea. They opened for bands that would become extremely famous such as The Moody Blues and The Who.
A year later, they secured a manager, Bill Collins, who moved them to London and let them live in his home in Golders Green. Another band called The Mojos lived there too and to say space was tight is an understatement! They performed around London, mostly singing cover songs, and their talent attracted interest from some record labels.
Ray Davies of The Kinks applied to be their producer and produced three of their songs at a studio on Old Kent Road, Taxi, Sausage and Eggs, and I Believe In You Girl. The band signed a 5-year agreement with him, agreeing to an equal split between him and the four members of the band after management expenses were paid.
They played gigs around the UK for the rest of the decade, and the only notable event was the departure of David Jenkins in 1967. Griffiths said later he was politely asked to step down when it became clear his interest was far more in girls than music. Tom Evans from Liverpool was chosen to take his place.
On January the 25th, 1968, the band’s first big break seemed on the horizon. Collins asked The Beatles’ assistant Mail Evans and Apple Records’ head of A&R Pete Asher to come and see The Iveys perform. They were impressed, and Evans played the demo to each of The Beatles and got their blessing to sign them. It was quite a coup. They were the first non-Beatles artists to be signed to Apple Records.
Their first single, Maybe Tomorrow, was produced by Tony Visconti. It sold quite well internationally, reaching the top ten in several European countries and Japan. Sadly it did not do well in either the UK or the US. Apple Records’ US manager ordered 400,000 copies and aggressively promoted the song but to no avail. On the back of Maybe Tomorrow’s success in Europe and Japan, the band recorded a single called Dear Angie and an album also called Maybe Tomorrow. They were only released in the markets where the first single had been successful.
Rain Griffith was starting to feel a bit aggrieved at the situation, and in a magazine interview, he said, “We do feel a bit neglected. We keep writing songs for a new single and submitting them to Apple, but they keep sending them back, saying they’re not good enough.” When Paul McCartney read the interview, he decided to intervene. He offered the band one of his songs, Come And Get It, on the strict proviso they replicated his demo note for note. The band later said they were so excited at this turn of events that they couldn’t sleep that night.
McCartney originally wrote the song for The Magic Christian, and he still owed the movie two more songs. He produced these songs with The Iveys and chose Carry On Til Tomorrow, which eventually was used as the main theme and Rock of All Ages.
Before Come And Get It was released, the band and Apple discussed their name. Unfortunately, they all thought it was too trite and too similar to The Ivy League. The Cagney, The Glass Onion, The Prix and Home were all proposed, but Neil Aspinall from Apple suggested Badfinger. The name occurred to him because With A Little Help From My Friends was originally called Bad Finger Boogie. The name stuck.
By the end of 1969, tensions started to form within the band. The band were still living in their shared digs, and this was difficult for Ron Griffiths, who was now married with a child. His wife, Bill Collins and Tom Evans did not get along, and eventually, he quit the band. After a series of auditions, they chose Joey Molland from Gary Walker & The Rain. As he was a guitarist, Tom Evans switched to bass.
When Come And Get It was released, it was the band’s first hit. Selling more than a million copies worldwide, it went to number 4 in the UK and 7 in the US. Their Maybe Tomorrow album had only been released in a few countries, so they took songs from it and The Magic Christian songs and created a new album, Magic Christian Music. It reached number 55 in the US.
Feeling encouraged, the band returned to the studio to write more songs. Mal Evans produced the first two, but when Apple rejected them as singles, he was replaced by Geoff Emerick, the Beatles’ engineer. No Dice was complete by July 1970. During this time, Badfinger also flew to Hawaii to perform at an Apple Records convention and played concerts in Rome. No Dice made it to number 28 on the US charts, and the single No Matter What reached number 8 in the US and number 5 in the UK. One of the tracks they did not release as a single was a massive hit for other artists. Without You was covered by Harry Nilsson and Marian Carey at separate times.
At the beginning of 1970, the band made their first big mistake. They signed a business contract with New York businessman Stan Polley. He diverted all the band’s profits into a holding account and paid them a salary. Later records show he siphoned the majority of the profits for himself, though. The band was also starting to become annoyed by being constantly compared to The Beatles. Nevertheless, they had a successful tour of the States.
Over the following years, members of the band did session work for other Apple Records artists. They recorded the majority of the acoustic guitar and percussion for George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album, and Evans and Molland also performed on John Lennon’s Imagine.
In 1971 the whole band moved to Clearwater Castle in Gloucestershire, where they lived and recorded music. They completed a third album with Emerick at the producing helm. Apple rejected it as it did not sound polished enough. George Harrison took over initially, but when he had to leave to perform in The Concert for Bangladesh, the album was completed by Todd Rundgren.
Straight Up was released in 1971 and reached number 31 in the US. Badfinger released two successful singles, Day After Day and Baby Blue. They began a tour of the US in 1972 but before they left Mike Gibbins chose to leave the band. Rob Stawinsky played drums throughout the tour but on the band’s return home Mike Gibbins was welcomed back into the fold.
By 1972 Badfinger were on shaky ground. Apple Records were failing and the final album they had contractcted with them was beset by difficulties. Stan Polley negotiated a new deal with Warner Bros but allegations of his financial mismanagement were rife. Tom Evans was suspicious of Polley but the band signed the deal with WB anyway. Ass was finally released but neither it or its only single, Apple Of My Eye” reached the top 100.
Just six weeks after Ass was released the band returned to the studio to create their first Warner Bros album. The band intended to call it For Love Or Money but it was eventually released as simply Badfinger. It was released at almost the same time as Ass and neither single from Badfinger sold particularly well.
The band toured the US and managed to retain their fanbase. Following the tour they recorded their seventh album, Wish You Were Here. It was well received but friction was building between Warner Bros and Stan Polley. Polley was supposed to deposit $250,000 in an escrow account but he refused to do this. They eventually terminated their contract with the band.
This was the final straw that began a steady decline for Badfinger. Discord was growing. Joey Molland’s wife was interfering more with the band and eventually Pete Ham quit the group stating he didn’t want Kathie Molland to manage the group. He was replaced by keyboard player Bob Jackson. He was persuaded back but Jackson remained and the band became five.
Polley continued to mismanage the group. He encouraged them to refuse a tour and to return to the studio. However, as this and the financial irregularities led to legal action there was no way the album could be published by Warner Bros. WB also withdrew Wish You Were Here from sale and the band’s career ground to a halt. In March 1975 ther salaries were not paid and they panicked about how they would afford to pay their mortgages. Their contract with Polley did not allow for them to work with anyone else leaving them trapped. Despite multiple attempts to contact him he never spoke to the band.
On April 23rd 1975 Pete Ham received the devastating news from America that all his money was gone. He met Tom Evans and got drunk before tragically returning home and hanging himself that night. He left a note to his girlfriend and her son which read:
“Anne, I love you.
Blair, I love you.
I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better.
P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me”
Pete was just twenty-seven. Even more sadly Anne was pregnant and Pete’s only daughter Petera was born a month after he died. The band disintegrated in the wake of this tragedy and it’s members went on to join other groups. However, they’re weren’t successful and by 1977 Molland and Evans were out of music altogether and flat broke. They took on jobs fitting pipes and laying carpets, anything to get by.
In 1977 United States-based guitarist Joe Tamsin and drummer Kenny Harck recruited Joey Molland into a new band. Joey suggested Tom Evans on bass and a new version of Badfinger were formed. It did not go well and both Tamsin and Harck quickly left. Molland and Evans went their separate ways and created different bands both called Badfinger. The bands formed and reformed and even came together but it was never as it was before.
Then, in 1983 Joey Molland and Tom Evans had a blazing row over the phone about money. Polley had been forced to return a large amount but there were still disagreements about it’s distribution. Later that evening Evans followed his old friend Pete Ham and hung himself.
Former menders of Badfinger have tried over the years to resurrect the band but everything that made it great seems to have gone. It’s light has gone out. It’s so sad that such a talented group of men should be remembered for the worst times in their lives rather than their best.