60s Music

Badfinger — The Godfathers of Power Pop

Badfinger
Badfinger 2016 with Ron Griffiths. (Source: Wikipedia)

Introduction

Badfinger, formerly known as The Iveys, was formed in 1961 with Pete Ham as the only original member to become part of Badfinger. They got their big break in 1968 break when Beatles roadie Mal Evans convinced the Beatles to sign The Iveys for their new record company, Apple Records. They recorded one album, “Maybe Tomorrow,” under The Iveys name before changing their name to Badfinger. The band consisted of Pete Ham (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Tom Evans (vocals bass, guitar), Ron Griffiths (vocals, bass) and Mike Gibbins (vocals drums, percussion, keyboards). Joey Molland (vocals, guitar, keyboards) replaced Griffiths in 1969 and the core of Badfinger was born. Early on, the band was considered to be a replica of The Beatles. Their first hit song was “Come and Get it,” #7 Billboard Top Ten and was written by Paul McCartney for the movie “The Magic Christian.” It starred Ringo Starr and Peter Sellers. The song had a very Beatles sound to it which may have hurt the band in the long run. They later created their own sound but were often considered Beatle copycats. From 1968 – 1972, the group had two other Top Ten hits, “No Matter What” (#8) and “Day After Day” (#4). They also had a Top 20 hit, “Baby Blue” (#14), and three other Billboard charting songs, “Apple of My Eye”, “Love Is Gonna Come At Last” and “Hold On.” Bob Jackson (vocals, keyboards) was added to the band in 1974. Soon after that, in 1974, Joey Molland left the band. The band was disbanded from May 1975 – April 1978 due to internal fighting and poor selling singles and albums. In 1978, Tom Evans and Joey Molland teamed up to reform Badfinger, adding Kenny Harck (drums) and Joe Tansin (vocals, guitar), replacing Ham and Gibbins.

In 1978, Gibbins rejoined the band, replacing Harck on drums. Gibbins quickly left again and Ham and Molland had several different musical personnel join them in the band. In 1981, the band split with Molland and Evan/Gibbins each creating their own Badfinger bands. Pete Ham committed suicide on April 24, 1975 at the age of 27. Tom Evans also committed suicide on November 19, 1983. Mike Gibbins passed away of natural causes on October 4. 2005. Joey Molland still performs occasionally.

Formation of the band as The Iveys

The origins of Badfinger trace way back to 1960 in Swansea, Wales. Pete Ham (born Peter William Ham on April 27, 1947 in Swansea, Wales – died April 24, 1975 in Surrey, England) formed his own trio called the Panthers. The band was constantly evolving, with members coming and going. As time progressed the group used other names such as the Black Velvets and the Wild Ones.

In 1961, with Ham the only remaining member of the Panthers, he recruited bassist Ron Griffiths and guitarist Dai Jenkins. The new group was named the Iveys, in honor of a street in Swansea, as well as a tribute to one of their musical heroes The Hollies.

The band had already been quite proficient but they only needed a drummer to round them out. Luckily, in 1965 the Iveys found Mike Gibbins (born Michael George Gibbins in 1949 in Swansea – died in 2005) who was known as a very powerful pounder.

With the Iveys now complete, they secured local gigs. The band opened for stellar acts such as the Who, the Spencer Davis Group, the Moody Blues and the Yardbirds who had come to Swansea.

Bill Collins stood as the group’s manager in 1966, and gave them a place to stay in his London home. Now based in the British capital, the Iveys continued in their musical pursuit and making a name for themselves. The group also backed pop singer David Garrick, as well as performed in their own gigs.

The Iveys performed a vast array of covers — from Motown hits to the Beatles tunes — until Collins encouraged the group to write their own songs. Eventually, the Iveys emerged as good songwriters too, with Ham proving as the most proficient at this department.

Jenkins left the band in 1967, around the time the Iveys were now generating interest from records companies who wanted to sign them.

Jenkins was replaced by guitarist Tom Evans (born Thomas Evans Jr. on June 5, 1947 in Liverpool, England – died on November 19, 1983 in London, England), who had been a member of another group called Them Calderstones.

Apple Records years

In 1968, The Beatles’ road manager Mal Evans and Apple Records’ A&R man Peter Asher (formerly of Peter and Gordon) saw the Iveys perform in one of their London gigs. Evans relentlessly pushed the band’s demo tapes to every member of the Beatles, who also ran Apple Records’ parent firm Apple Corps Ltd. Evans eventually managed to convince the Beatles to sign the Iveys.

The fledgling band, still parading the Iveys name, released their first LP Maybe Tomorrow in 1969. The album was helmed by first-time producer Evans as well as his veteran counterpart Tony Visconti. It did get released in some countries like Italy, Germany and Japan, but it scarcely made its way out in the UK and the US.

Maybe Tomorrow was produced poorly and bore no resemblance to the later and more famous Badfinger sound. But this isn’t the reason why its American and British releases were halted. It had something more to do with Apple’s internal troubles and financial disarray at that time.

 

Switching to the Badfinger name

Fortunately, the Beatles’ Paul McCartney was there to save the Iveys’ fortunes. He offered a song for them entitled “Come and Get It,” which he wrote as a planned soundtrack for the film The Magic Christian. The Iveys later did recording sessions for “Come and Get It” where McCartney also stood as a producer. In the middle of these sessions Griffith fell ill, and Evans stood in for him to play bass. As the release date of “Come and Get It” was impending, Griffith left the band.

A change in the lineup also offered the Iveys a chance to switch names once again. Finally they settled on their new moniker, Badfinger. After the band tried out many bassists to replace Griffiths, they finally found a new one in guitarist Joey Molland (born Joseph Charles Molland in 1947 in Liverpool, England). The classic Badfinger lineup – Ham, Evans, Molland and Gibbins – was complete.

Badfinger’s first single “Come and Get It” was released in late 1969 in the UK (early 1970 in the US). It eventually went to #7 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and #4 on the UK singles chart in 1970. Their first album released by the band now as Badfinger,Magic Christian Music was released that same year. It was actually a composite of songs from the Magic Christian movie and remixed versions of some of the Iveys’ Maybe Tomorrow tracks.

 

Encountering Stan Polley

It was also in 1970 where Badfinger first encountered American entertainment manager Stan Polley. Polley had handled clients such as stars Al Kooper and Lou Christie. He became Badfinger’s new manager and signed them into a business management contract. Polley also re-assembled the band’s finances and was supposed to take care of the band’s future. However, his practices in handling with money had become more dubious as years passed.

The band kicked off their American tour in late 1970. Badfinger saw both their American live performances as well as their second LP No Dice, getting rave reviews. But despite the good news, Badfinger members were growing weary of the American audiences and media who kept on comparing them to the Beatles. It didn’t help further that some members also participated in the Beatles’ solo works. That included George Harrisons’ All Things Must Pass album, John Lennon’s Imagine LP, Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy” single and their appearance at Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh in 1971.

Anyway, No Dice produced another Top 10 hit single “No Matter What.” Written by Ham, it was one of the finest early examples of power pop. It went to #8 on the US pop chart and #5 on the UK singles chart. No Dice became their most successful album ever to perform on the Billboard 200, peaking at #28.

 

In 1971, their third album Straight Up was released; it was also produced by Harrison and Todd Rundgren. Straight Up is now widely considered as the band’s best output ever, producing two hits “Day After Day” (#4 US pop, #10 US adult contemporary, #10 UK) and “Baby Blue” (#14 US pop).

The band spent 1972 mostly touring, with no new material coming out from them. Gibbins left the group that year and was replaced by Rob Stawinsky, but Gibbins would later join Badfinger again.

They sorely needed a new album, and Badfinger sought to produce it themselves. They started to record for what could be their next LP Ass, but the album was delayed because of quality issues. Co-producer Rundgren worked on only a couple of songs and left. Newly hired producer Chris Thomas strove to improve the album’s overall quality.

After many months of delay, Ass was finally released in the fall of 1973. It peaked at #122 on the Billboard 200; its single “Apple of My Eye” bubbled under the Hot 100 chart at #102. Ass was also to be Badfinger’s last album with Apple as their manager Polley negotiated a new contract with Warner Bros. Records.

With Warner Bros. Records

The band’s new LP with Warner, Wish You Were Here was released in the fall of 1974. The meticulously-produced LP garnered positive reviews and could have signaled a comeback for the band. However, Warner Bros. Records filed a lawsuit against Polley over missing escrow money (amounting to millions of dollars) which could have secured the band and the label. This resulted in pulling out of Wish You Were Here from record stores, although it still had had time to spend on the charts, peaking at #148.

Following the album’s completion, Ham tried to quit the band, but he reluctantly decided to stay. Guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Bob Jackson (formerly of the beat group The Fortunes) was supposed to replace Ham but the latter returned, making Badfinger a five-piece. The band then went on a tour to support Wish You Were Here; Molland quit following the tour’s completion.

Mounting financial and legal problems, and Ham’s suicide

In late 1974, Badfinger recorded another album Head First but it was not released. Early the following year, Warner canceled its contract with Badfinger, worsening the situation between the label and the group. The band was now left destitute and in debt, and still having impending legal actions. With its income cut off, the band members no longer received any salaries and didn’t see the possibility of getting any.

It was an extremely critical situation especially for Ham, who had bought a house and was expecting a child with his girlfriend. Ham tried to contact Polley but their manager became uncommunicative. Things came to a tragic point on April 24, 1975 when Ham, seeing no hope any longer, committed suicide by hanging himself in his garage. It was three days short of his 28th birthday.

Dissolution, re-formation, and Evans’ suicide

Things had become a nightmare for the band, which dissolved right after Ham’s death. Still, the surviving members tried to move on and put their lives back together while the lawsuits were still ongoing.

Evans, Molland and Gibbins attempted to resurrect Badfinger in 1978 by adding drummer Kenny Harck and guitarist Joe Tansin. A new album by the revamped lineup Airwaves was released in 1979. Still, the legal conflicts and infighting had been haunting the band members themselves.

One evening of November 18, 1983, Evans and Molland were engaged in a heated argument over the telephone. The following morning Evans committed suicide by hanging himself, the same as Ham. He reportedly never got over his dear friend’s death by saying, “I wanna be where he (Ham) is.”

The Badfinger legacy

Several reissues of their studio albums (except Ass) appeared in the 1990s and in the new millennium. It proved that the Badfinger legacy is still apparent — well and alive. In 2002, a live Badfinger recording was released on a double-CD set. Their song from the No Dice album “Without You” has been covered by many artists. The most well-known covers of “Without You” are hit versions by Harry Nilsson and Mariah Carey.

Gibbins, aged 56, died of natural causes in October 2005. Molland has occasionally performed under the Badfinger name since the 1990s.

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