A string of hit singles shot Badfinger up the charts, but the power-pop pioneers became a rock ’n’ roll tragedy, riding the rise and fall of Apple Records and ending with band members killing themselves.
Before Badfinger, guitarist Pete Ham, drummer Mike Gibbins and guitarist Tom Evans were part of a group known as the Iveys, the first band signed by the Beatles’ Apple Records in 1968.
Soon, they were given the Badfinger moniker derived from “Bad Finger Boogie” (John’s working title of “With A Little Help From My Friends” composed on piano with an injured digit).
Paul McCartney offered the musicians the demo “Come And Get It” for the group to record. Under his production, the band’s note-for-note rendition became Badfinger’s first Top 10 single.
In 1969, Joey Molland joined as a guitarist after the departure of bassist Ron Griffiths, with Evans switching to bass.
Three more worldwide hit singles followed for Badfinger: “No Matter What,” produced by Beatles road manager and personal assistant Mal Evans; “Day After Day,” produced by George Harrison, with the Beatle adding slide guitar; and “Baby Blue,” produced by Todd Rundgren.
The most renowned Badfinger song might be “Without You,” a power ballad co-written by Ham and Evans and famously covered by Harry Nilsson and Mariah Carey. McCartney once called it “the killer song of all-time.”
If those rock touchstones don’t ring any bells, you’ve probably heard Molland and Evans strumming alongside Lennon (“Jealous Guy,” “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier” on the “Imagine” solo album) and Harrison with Ringo Starr (“My Sweet Lord” on his “All Things Must Pass” solo record). Or you saw Ham perform “Here Comes the Sun” live with Harrison at “The Concert for Bangladesh.”
Some anointed Badfinger as the next Beatles, but a financial and legal quagmire led to the suicides of Ham in 1975 and Evans in 1983. Gibbins died of a brain aneurysm in 2005.
“Well, we never really considered ourselves the next Beatles or anything like that,” Molland said Tuesday via telephone. “We were kind of embarrassed about it and a little angry about it at first. We were huge Beatle fans.”
Ultimately, lead guitarist Molland blames bad management and business woes for the band’s demise.
“It sounds like I’m bullshitting you, but it’s actual fact,” Molland said. “We were all ready good friends. And I really think if it wouldn’t have been for the managers and business side of the band, we probably would have been together today. I mean, I might be exaggerating there, but I don’t think I am.
“The way we worked together was really complementary to each other. We enjoyed each other’s songs. We enjoyed that we were all different to each other. And we all did our best, all brought our best to the band.”
‘Badfinger and Beyond’
When Molland joined Badfinger half a century ago, he recently had given away his Les Paul and was living day-to-day, according to the “Badfinger and Beyond” biography by Michael A. Cimino.
Molland plays lead guitar on “I Can’t Take It,” the first song recorded for the “No Dice” album at the famed Abbey Road studio.
“We did our very best,” Molland said. “We wrote the best songs we could, and we included the ones on the record that we really liked. We submitted all the songs we had, and they were nice enough not to interfere with us, really. It wasn’t a case of them coming in to the studio, ‘Do this song, or do that.’”
Molland also wrote the Chuck Berry-inspired “Love Me Do,” which shares its name with a different Fab Four tune.
Never heard of those songs? Molland played lead guitar on the hit single “Baby Blue,” the Badfinger track that closed the “Breaking Bad” finale. (The title referred to meth in the TV show, but Ham wrote the original song about an American singer — and girlfriend — named “Dixie.”)
“Pete got really hot there for that period,” said Molland, who played lead guitar on many of the tracks featuring Ham as the main singer.
“He wrote some incredible songs.”
On the Ham-penned hit single “No Matter What,” Molland played the slide solo on a Gibson lap steel. Molland also strummed an acoustic guitar on Ham’s classic “Day After Day,” which showcases slide guitar by Harrison and Okie Leon Russell’s understated piano part that was recorded in one take.
“(Harrison would) bring his guitar in, and he come in and ask when he could play with us,” Molland said. “That was the thing about it — here he is, George Harrison, the lead guitar player in the Beatles, and he’s asking us if it’s OK to play guitar.”
When Harrison left the “Straight Up” recording session to help provide aid to Bangladesh, Rundgren stepped in to finish producing the album.
For the Bangladesh benefit gig, Molland said Harrison wanted to reproduce the “All Things Must Pass” session’s sound, setting up a bizarre scenario of rehearsing with half the Beatles.
Molland, Ham and Evans strummed acoustic guitars and Gibbins handled various percussion in album sessions that included Eric Clapton, Ringo, Russell and Harrison.
Wandering through Lennon’s estate during the “Imagine” sessions on another occasion, Molland discovered that John had a room full of Dr Pepper.
“We were happy enough to be working around them,” Molland said of the Fab Four. “They were always kind to us, really nice. They made use of us playing some guitar for them.”
“Straight Up” was the swan song of Badfinger’s commercial success. Badfinger’s last Apple album, “Ass,” came out at almost the same time as a self-titled LP released by Warner Bros.
Manager Stan Polley had negotiated a contract with Warner Bros. for Badfinger, setting up for advances to be paid into an escrow account. Unable to locate the funds, Warner sued Polley. Amid legal action, Warner Bros. pulled and stopped promoting the critically acclaimed “Wish You Were Here” album.
With Badfinger struggling financially, Ham hanged himself in 1975.
“I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better,” Ham wrote in his suicide note “P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.”
Badfinger dissolved and reunited with different lineups and releases until Evans hanged himself in 1983.
As sole survivor of the most popular Badfinger lineup, the 71-year-old Molland is now touring with bassist Mark Healey, keyboardist Gregg Inhofer (Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” album) and drummer Mike Ricciardi.
“It’s not some band we threw together last week,” Molland said. “It’s not me hiring a bunch of guys for the job next week. It’s a real band. We play like a real band. We sing like a real band.”
He’s also working with producer Mark Hudson (credits include ex-Beattle Starr, Aerosmith, Scorpions, Ozzy Osbourne, Hanson and Nilsson) on a new album set for fall release.
“I really can’t believe it that at my age, I’m actually doing a record,” Molland said. “But here we are.”
Touring as Joey Molland’s Badfinger, the band is slated to perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at 7 Clans Casino - Paradise in Red Rock. Fans can expect Badfinger hits and “a compilation of stuff I’ve written over me career,” the Liverpool native said.
“Mainly, it’s the enjoyment of it,” Molland said of keeping Badfinger’s name alive. “The relationship with the fans, which has always been very strong. I just love to do it.
“We go from very quiet to very loud. I hope the people enjoy it. Please come and see us. People should bring their records if they want me to sign them. … We do sign and meet the people after the show.”