Thursday, September 21, 2006

Badfinger's tragic past revisited

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There is no more tragic story in rock than Badfinger, the promising band decimated by a pair of suicides despite having a handful of hit singles.

Given that, seeing surviving member Joey Molland perform in 1996 was a bittersweet experience.

The original band, guitarist Pete Ham, bassist Tom Evans, drummer Mike Gibbins and Molland, also on guitar, recorded four albums for Apple Records and two more for Warner Bros.

They came away with five significant hits. Between 1970 and 1972, the band struck gold with some of my favorite songs, including "Come And Get It," "No Matter What," "Day After Day," and "Baby Blue." In addition, Harry Nilsson polished a Badfinger album track, "Without You," written by Ham and Evans, and recorded a version which topped the charts for four weeks.

Having a connection with the Beatles didn't hurt either. John Lennon named the group, Paul McCartney wrote "Come And Get It," and George Harrison produced and played guitar on their biggest hit, "Day After Day."

In fact, Badfinger was the first group signed to Apple and easily the most successful, outside the Beatles themselves.

The group played acoustic guitars during Harrison's high profile charity event, "The Concert for Bangladesh," held at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 1, 1971.

But all was not peaches and cream for Badfinger, despite their success.

By the mid-70s, Apple Records was collapsing and the band was increasingly plagued by financial woes. Badfinger's finely-crafted Warner albums didn't alleviate their money problems.

Unable to receive royalties, broke and broken, Ham hanged himself in his garage studio on April 24, 1975, three days before his 28th birthday.

Following Ham's death the band broke-up, but Molland and Evans reformed the group three years later.

After recording some material with moderate success, including "Love Is Gonna Come At Last" and "Hold On," Evans also became increasingly depressed over financial concerns and in a replay of Ham's death, hanged himself in his garden on Nov. 19, 1983, age 36. The tragedy happened after Evans and Molland argued over the telephone, allegedly about royalties.

Surviving members of the band continued to suffer financially until a 1985 court settlement, including the estates of Ham and Evans, resolved differences over those royalties.

In the years since, Molland has toured as Joey Molland's Badfinger and appeared at a fan convention at Chicago's Hyatt Regency O'Hare Hotel on Aug. 16-18, 1996.

My wife Sue and I were present when he performed Badfinger's hits that weekend, although faithful re-creations were impossible due to the absence of original vocalists Ham and Evans. Certainly, Molland and the audience were both painfully aware of the obvious loss.

Today, Badfinger's influence continues to be felt. Songstress Mariah Carey also fashioned a monster hit with her take on "Without You," and Def Leppard mined "No Matter What" for a standout track on their "Yeah Yeah Yeah" album released earlier this year. Several posthumous Pete Ham demo collections have been released, pointing to his genius as a songwriter.

But, bad omens have continued to haunt Badfinger.

Like Molland, Badfinger drummer Mike Gibbins also attended fan conventions at the Chicago Hyatt, including Aug. 17-19, 2001 when he was selling a compact disc he recorded called "More Annoying Songs." Unfortunately, Gibbins died in his sleep at his home in Florida on Oct. 4, 2005, age 56, leaving Molland as the sole surviving original member of Badfinger.

Molland lives in Minnesota with his wife Kathie and is reportedly working on a definitive history of the band. But, like the song says, "no matter what" he writes, it's bound to be a tragic story indeed.

1 comment:

Bud Lemire said...

Wonderful write up on a great bad with a tragic end. In their short time, they've done a really great job. Too bad it had to end so soon. Thanks for sharing. ~Bud~