The Story Behind Head First
by Dan Matovina
*At the end of this page there is new additional information and previously-unreleased interview materials regarding the Head First album and this time period.
This section of the book, Without You:
The Tragic Story Of Badfinger, reprinted here, covers the circumstances
surrounding the once projected Badfinger album entitled Head First, which
eventually came out on CD in rough mix form in November of the year 2000. By
the time of these recording sessions, Joey Molland had already left Badfinger
(in early November of 1974), but Badfinger still needed to promote their Warner
Brothers album Wish You Were Here with touring. There had been plans
for the band to gig for months in the U.S., Canada, Japan, and Australia. Instead,
their business manager Stan Polley, knowing of a lawsuit threat by Warner Brothers,
demanded the group go into the studio. Apparently, Polley wanted an LP's worth
of recorded material, which he would then deliver as soon as possible in order
to assert another advance payment be due by the record company, Warner Brothers
Records, and to get further advances from the music publisher, Warner Brothers
Music. This book excerpt begins with a quote from the band's newest member at
the time, Bob Jackson, referring to a one-month U.K. tour Badfinger had just
completed with the Welsh band, Man.
"I had gone back to Coventry after the tour. In early November I got a call from Tom, 'You've got to come down.' I came down and Bill Collins was at this meeting. He said, 'Polley rang through and said you've got to get your next album together fast. You've got three weeks.' I can remember Tommy saying, 'What do you mean we've only got three weeks? To get it done?' Bill said, 'That's the way it is. We have to do it.' There was this mad panic. I stayed over at Tommy's."
Badfinger was not in a good position to mutiny. Though they did not want to rush into a new recording situation, a refusal would be of great risk. Mike recalls, "We weren't getting paid regularly at this point and we thought, 'What are we doing this for, when we haven't even gotten the money for the last one yet? Our hearts weren't in it. But being a musician it was, 'At least we're doing something, at least we're playing music."
Actually, the band was only going to get two weeks to record the album. Apple Studios was booked for the sessions and in late November, Polley sent over American producers Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise, along with Richard Duryea.
The two producers were then in their early twenties. They'd had great success in 1972 and 1973, including the production of a Billboard Number One hit by The Stories, "Brother Louie." Kerner explains how he and Wise had become connected to Polley. "Richie Wise and I had produced the first two Kiss albums for Neil Bogart, the owner of Casablanca Records. He'd refused to pay us and Polley had stepped up and said, 'I'll straighten it out.' Polley came back to us and said, 'I worked it out. You're going to get $75,000.' I said, 'Stan, we're owed $250,000, not $75,000.' He said, 'Look, Bogart's not going to pay that. If we go to court it'll be five years, so take it.' We did, and he took his thirty percent off the top. What we didn't know was he managed Bogart in some capacity. My guess is that he cut a deal and pocketed a lot more. Stan was real slick. He could sell you a piece of shit and you'd be thanking him for it."
Kerner admits he couldn't complain when the call had come to produce Badfinger. "We were giant fans of the band. When it was presented to us we jumped. You don't often get to work with people you really admire. In fact, if someone had said, 'Kenny, I can't pay you to do this,' I'd still have been at the airport taking off for England.' "
The band met Kerner and Wise at their rehearsal space on Denmark Street. Richie Wise says it couldn't have been more than one day that they ran through material. There was no time to truly acclimate. Everyone moved almost directly into Apple's recording studio. "Phil McDonald was the engineer," says Kerner. "Working in the Beatles studio, with a Beatles engineer, and Pete Ham - one of my favorite songwriters - was an incredible honor. I felt like a kid getting away with his hand in the cookie jar."
The group needed new material to record, but "Pete had been having a lot of trouble writing," said Anne. Finally, a new song did come to him, "Keep Believing":
I couldn't wish you any bad
I only miss the many highs we had
Our problems made it hard to talk
Slowing our run down to a walk
I would have liked for things to last
But now the time has floated past
We we're the pawns in someone else's game
Keep believing, you can make it now
Tom later said Pete's ballad was about Joey. Though Joey and Pete were never truly close friends, Pete perceived Joey as part of the Badfinger "family." "Pete didn't hold any grudges against Joey," says Anne. "He was genuinely concerned with his well-being. Pete cared about everybody."
During the start of this album, the band's friend from the United States, Wayne Treiber, had called Pete at the Park Avenue house. He recalls, "Pete mentioned he felt really bad about Joey's quitting. He alluded to the fact he felt a lot of pressure on himself now. They were starting an album unprepared. He tried to keep the conversation light, but things definitely weren't to his liking."
Joey and Kathie continued to stay in London after Joey had quit, but they did not stay in touch with the band members - except for one brief pop-up visit by Joey to Apple Studios. Kathie has said she and Joey were surviving off a house down payment they'd received from Polley, which they'd gotten just after they'd came from California in June. She claimed they had only been given half of what they'd asked for, and when they'd complained to Polley, he'd said, "Then send it back!" She also claimed Joey's salary checks were stopped at that time.
Bob Jackson had been asked to present material for the new recording project. "I was really happy," he said, "I'd been in a lot of bands and this was the first time I'd been in a situation where everyone could contribute." Bob was over at Tommy's one evening playing his backlog of tunes. "I had this song 'Turn Around.' I had other songs I had written, more poppy, but Tommy liked that. 'More gutsy,' he said. He liked the feel of it. He didn't want my poppy things."
The band recorded "Turn Around." It was bluesy, heavy, and unlike anything they'd ever tackled before. Bob has a versatile voice, and one of his styles was close to Steve Winwood's, which the producers encouraged. Bob sang on two other songs he helped write, "Passed Fast," and "Moonshine."
The recordings were moving quickly, as little vetoing was going on. Mike had noodled up a sing-along called "Rockin' Machine," ". . . something I wrote on the spot. That was just a joke. I couldn't believe it was used."
The fact the band were given only two weeks to finish an album didn't leave much time for contemplation. Richie Wise recalls leaving virtually all of the arrangement ideas to the group's discretion, with him and Kerner basically giving a "yea" or "nay" votes to performances or songs.
At some point the producers made note of needing a single. "I remember those discussions and the band feeling pressure," said recording engineer Phil McDonald, "especially Pete."
Furiously working up ideas on cassettes, Pete finally presented "Lay Me Down." Richie Wise recalls, "We'd heard him working on that in the lounge. We thought that could be the hit."
Late into the sessions, a strange incident happened. Pete was putting down an overdub. "He had this beautiful Martin guitar," says Wise. "And he couldn't get through the whole song without the tuning screwing up. So he kept stopping and retuning. Suddenly he let out this huge 'ARRRGH!' at the top of his lungs. He grabbed the guitar like he was gonna smash it, but then he just threw it across the floor. It smacked up against the front wall."
Producer Kenny Kerner said he had ducked behind the console when he saw Pete wind up. Bob Jackson: "It really struck me as odd, because I'd never seen Pete do anything like that." After the incident, Pete stormed off to a pub. Kerner and Wise caught up with him later. "He was real apologetic," says Wise. "He put his arms around us and said, 'I'm really sorry. I got caught up.' "
One of Pete's surviving songbooks from this time indicated a lot of heavy, introspective lyrics being written, like the accusing "Look What You've Done," the autobiographical "A Portrait Of Someone We Knew," and the harsh "By Order Of The Fuhrer," whose words seem to indicate an intense foreboding:
You will create or get no daily bread
You will cast aside all feeling
You will beg for what is yours
You will not have an opinion
You will sacrifice the ones you love
You will accept all my mistakes
You will pay for all yours
Meanwhile, Tom Evans was openly obsessing about Polley. He wrote two songs specifically relating. One was called "Rock'n'Roll Contract," the other "Hey, Mr. Manager." The latter is a sauntering, bleak-edged pop tune that clearly shows his frustration:
Hey Mr. Manager
Your messing up my life
Hey Mr. Manager
Don't think I need that kind of strife…
You've got no feeling
You've been dealing
All the wrongs
Your lies are stealing
Lord, I think you should be gone
In "Rock'n'Roll Contract" Tom sings:
Wrapped up in a rock'n'roll contract
Lots of things I had to sign at the time
Man told me not to worry 'bout the business
Just keep on poppin' those hits. . .
And he commiserates over the developments:
You made me your slave
Whatever God gave me
You took to the grave
Now it's gone
On December 10, 1974, a Warner Brothers Music attorney
filed for rescission of the Badfinger/WB publishing contract in Los Angeles
Superior Court. This action led to a sweeping stop of Wish You Were
Here's distribution and promotion. Badfinger didn't know it then, but
their business and creative affairs were now near the point of a complete
and absolute standstill.
Wish You Were Here had been off to a promising start in the U.S., having risen to #148 on the Billboard charts in just seven weeks, despite no single, no tour, and minimal promotion. But Joe Smith, then president of WB Records, said in 1993, "If we pulled the album, it was because our lawyers told us to do so."
The group continued to record at Apple Studios. Mike had a tune called "Back Again," which the band dressed with a country flavor. A brief instrumental was also done. Bob explains, "We were running out of time and Pete said, 'I've got these chord progressions from my brother, John.' " Pete called the keyboard piece "Saville Row." Richie Wise: "That was the title I remember discussing for the album."
But others recalled something different. Head First was
the title Tom always mentioned. Bob verifies, "One day we went to this little
London photo studio on Wardour Street and a photographer put us in the middle
of all this foliage, like a jungle, and had us peer out from it. The idea came
from Tommy. He wanted the LP cover to be a lion roaring. The idea was the situation
we were in, how we were diving in, 'head first.'"
Ten songs were completed by December 14, 1974. The seeds for a good album were there. Pete's guitar work was a highlight. Be it plaintive, rockin', or soulful, he was clearly in stellar form. Bob Jackson also played tastefully, often utilizing the ARP String Ensemble, one of its first uses in England. Mike and Tom did their usual solid job on bass and drums.
But despite there being a number of top-flight songs, the project showed signs of being a rush job. The running time was only about thirty-two minutes. And some of the material was questionable. Richie Wise recalls, "I was naive, twenty-three years old, a kid working with a group I idolized, yet I knew Polley was doing this for an advance. It was obvious Warner Brothers wasn't involved."
On December 16th, after rough mix copies were distributed to the band, Kenny Kerner, Richie Wise, Bill Collins, Richard Duryea, and the group members all gathered for a goodbye dinner. Bob Jackson recalls, "We met at some plush restaurant in London. Richard Duryea presented me with this thick wad of contracts to sign. I'd say about a half-dozen signatures were required. I was told I had to sign them, there and then. Some of the figures were filled in and some weren't. I remember saying, 'But hang on, there's no percentage on this bit.' And Richard Duryea said, 'Oh yeah, that's just a formality, we'll just fill those in later.' I said, 'Well, what if I decide not to sign? What happens then?' The guys in the band were saying, 'You're in anyway. You're an equal member as far as we're concerned.' But Bill Collins and Duryea were pressuring me. Finally I said, 'Okay, I'll sign.' So I signed the lot of them.
"Later during the evening, I went into the bathroom and Tommy followed me in. He said, 'I've got them! I've got the contracts!' He had pinched them off the bar counter. I said, 'Well, what do we do now?' He said, 'Let's get rid of them.' So he went into the cubicle as if to flush them down the toilet. Suddenly these footsteps came round and in charged Collins and Duryea. They started pushing on the cubicle door with Tommy. Duryea was yelling, 'Look, don't be like kids. Give me those contracts!' Tommy let go of the door. They fell in. . . ."
Tom was obviously angry towards Polley, as his lyrics included some caustic diatribes. Bob remembers Tom saying to Duryea (who was going to be leaving with the master tapes), " 'Look Richard, tell Stan not to take the words too seriously. Tell him it's just a song.' It hit him that he was biting the hand that fed him, and it could cause a problem. He was worried."
After arriving back in the U.S., Richard Duryea went to WB Records in Los Angeles with the rough mixes. Ed Silvers of WB Music recalls, "Joe Smith was put off when he heard those tapes. He sent them to me and it sounded like the whole thing was thrown together in a hurry. I thought it was an obvious attempt to please contract obligations so that Polley could extract further advances from us. It was depressing. I'd trusted Hofer and he'd really disappointed me. His and Polley's moves had said to me, 'We'll just make all the money we can and screw the band.' "
The holidays were coming up and Pete was planning to take Anne and Blair to visit his family in Swansea. Bill Collins was preparing for a trip to Canada. Bill says he was trying to talk to Pete about a phone bill which was in arrears. Collins claimed he did not have enough funds to pay it. He indicated that per Pete's request, he had taken out a communal phone box he'd installed at the Park Avenue house earlier, and as he feared, the new phone was abused by people for long distance calls, many of them to America. Pete's response was that Bill should simply debit Pete's personal account, as he usually did. But Bill said that because he did not get the Apple money from the last check, he now did not have enough in the "group" checking account to cover the bill.
According to Collins, Pete sometimes became "testy" when these issues were discussed. Bill indicated that, on December 23, 1974, Pete was rushing around for his trip to Swansea, and again avoided a discussion when the phone bill was addressed by Collins.
Stan Polley was now situated in Beverley Hills, California
(though the New York office was still in existence). On December 24, 1974,
he received the Head First rough mixes back from WB Music. Three days later,
WB Music requested a legal writ of attachment for the return of $175,969.27
from "Badfinger." A California Superior Court judge reviewed their request
and immediately approved $20,000. If WB Music was going to recoup the full
amount, they would have to take matters a whole lot further down the road.
Extra Info on Head First:
1. Tom Evans met with the Ass album artwork designer, Peter Corriston, for a projected Head First LP cover design, for which Tom wanted to portray the group's being eaten alive by Stan Polley's perceived machinations. Per Tom's direction, Corriston created a drawing of a lion with it's mouth open for the kill. The interesting part was this lion has a human mouth inserted inside, with teeth bared, ready to swallow! The original design still exists.
2. A photo session for the potential Head First album was done in early 1975. It is "not" confirmed who initiated the photo session, though Bob Jackson remembers getting a call from Tom Evans about it, and being told what to wear. The group went to a London photo studio on Wardour Street , wearing black turtlenecks, and were shot in a variety of poses amongst jungle-like foliage. The photographer was located in the year 2000 by Bob Jackson. Unfortunately, according to the photographer, upon retiring in the late 1980's, he chose to destroy any negatives or prints he had which were not claimed. He did say, if he still had a contact person's name, he tried to see if the party involved wanted any prints or negatives he still had. He did not recall the result of any Badfinger photos he may have had. Neither Warner Brothers Records in the U.K. or U.S., nor Bill Collins, nor Marianne Evans, say they know anything about these Badfinger photos, nor could they locate them.
3. The Head First release on Snapper Music was originally set-up as one CD, but Snapper wanted to make it a two CD set. The master CDR was converted from analog to digital into a computer system and was ultimately reconfigured into two master CDR's. The mastering engineer in England replaced "To Say Goodbye" with a new mix by Bob Jackson. The sound quality of the overall project did slightly deteriorate with the transfers.
PETE HAM (taped phone conversation w/Steve Craiter,
October 27, 1974)):
I mean we've got problems at the moment ourselves that we're trying
to sort out with our own company and things like, you know… I mean,
there's a lot of things happening. You know, we're in a bit of a sticky
position which I can't really talk about, honestly can't, because we
could lose everything you know, but we've been advised to make another
BOB JACKSON (interview outtake): We were
called together by Bill Collins
who said, 'Uh, listen, Stan's indicated that we've got to get stuck,
stuck into the next album, and we have to do it now.' Right, 'Why?'
'You know, to fulfill a contractual thing, and we have to do it. And,
you'll have about two weeks to do it.' And, well, we were all
horrified. 'What do you mean two weeks? How are we going to manage
that?' 'You know, well, it doesn't matter, do what you want, but you
must get it together.'
MIKE GIBBINS (interview outtake): I mean
it was, I mean Pete even
smashed a Martin D, D50 over the piano in frustration, right. I mean it
was like, we were like, losing it… we're not going to see a penny from
this. Why are we even in the studio? But contractually, they said,
'You've got to do it.' What are you going to do? Get sued man, right…
And, uh, yeah, we finished the album. And, [Polley] took it to Warner
Brothers and he tried to get the money. You know, they threw it back in