Ken Sharp's Beatlefan Interview of Dan Matovina
This is reprinted by permission
Author and journalist Ken Sharp, renowned for his work on books on The Raspberries, Cheap Trick, and Power Pop, interviewed Dan Matovina for Beatlefan magazine in January of 1998. Portions of the interview were published in April of 1998. This is the unused portion of that interview. (used by permission)
Ken - How did you become interested in the band and what inspired you to take on such a project?
Dan - My interest in Badfinger started in mid 1975. I was in high school. My friend was playing me records and I told him I really liked the Beatles. Just before this I'd been mostly focused on sports, though I'd also had an interest in Top 40 and rock music ever since I was a youngster, and I played guitar from age 8 to 11. My friend thought he'd play me "Baby Blue" because of my mention of The Beatles. I became really excited. I borrowed the album Straight Up and listened to it over and over with headphones on. I instantly became a major fan of the group and this started me heavily into rock music. In my mid twenties I eventually got into recording engineering and record production. Badfinger's music was always a major influence on my taste and direction.
K - You wrote a story on Badfinger in Trouser Press magazine in the 70s. Was this really the start of your doing a major project on Badfinger?
D - I first got into Badfinger just after Pete Ham had died. There wasn't a lot of press on what had happened to Badfinger. Being a fan, I was curious. I saw that Trouser Press did retrospective articles on bands. I suggested to them they do one on Badfinger. They tried to get it off the ground with one writer and couldn't. They finally asked me if I was interested in doing an article. I said sure. I interviewed Joey Molland, Tom Evans, and Mike Gibbins. I wrote the article in 1977 and they incorporated a couple of comments from the other writer's rejected story. Actually a longer version of the article first appeared in a fanzine called Hoopla. The Trouser Press article came out in 1978. A book was never in my mind. In early 1990, I got a phone call from Kent Gray who said that he was interested in writing a book on Badfinger. Because I had done the article, he wanted to see if I could help with any information. I was between recording projects, so I had some time to help him. Eventually, I took over the writing of the book solely because Kent didn't want to spend as much time on the project as I did. He offered to help with interviews, transcribing; he became someone to bounce ideas off of; he was a tremendous help in that way.
K - A lot of people are aware of the name Badfinger and may know a few hits and the Beatles connection. What would you tell people that don't know too much about Badfinger that inspired you to write a book on them?
D - I was very aware of the incredible tragedy involved in their story, from having done the article previously, and from meeting Tom and Joey. But I was actually more inspired by their music. I'm a record producer by trade. I really like to promote music. I felt they were underexposed and I hoped to get more of their music noticed and examined. I hadn't realized the really incredible underlying layers of their story - the real drama of it - until I really got into it. As I worked on it, it became more and more fascinating as a story.
K - Could characterize each member of the group?
D - On a musical level, Joey Molland brought in an edgier sound, a lot of energy, rock'n'roll spirit, and spontaneity. He has a unique voice, it has character, it's slightly world-weary. He's a great songwriter, too. A good melodic sense, he is very underrated. Ballads like "I Can Love you", "Icicles," "I Don't Mind," are top-flight. His rock'n'roll tunes are always based on extremely catchy riffs. Just a natural at that sort of thing. Occasionally, a great lyricist.
K - A lot of people don't realize Joey actually played a lot of the guitar solos.
D - Yes, Joey and Pete traded off on solos a lot. Often playing them on each others songs. Joey's solo on "Baby Blue" is a classic. He had a number of shining moments. As far as Tom Evans, he bought in a poppier sound at times, but he also had this soulful, Lennonesque thing happening. He was adept at the edgy high harmony, which really was a noticeable signature to the Badfinger sound. His early outstanding tunes were "Carry On Til Tomorrow,' "Maybe Tomorrow," timeless melodies that still stand up. He basically wrote "Crimson Ship," another very solid song. His "Believe Me" is a McCartneyesque tune; just irresistible.
K - Tom really seemed to blossom as a writer near the very end of the original version of the band and just after Pete died.
D - Just after Joey joined, Tom put a lot of effort and focus into learning the bass, and let up on his songwriting. Then he lost a bit of confidence. After Pete died, he came up with some really quality commercial songs like "Lost Inside Your Love" and "Hold On," which really only failed as singles because of mediocre production.
K - Even the demos with Rod Roach showed he was writing really great songs right up to the end of his life.
D - Yes, he was continuing to mature and a song like "Over You" was another potentially commercial song that never saw light of day. Someone should cover that. It definitely has crossover hit possibilities in the pop or country field.
K - What about Mike Gibbins? He wrote a lot great songs, too.
D - Yes, Mike is the secret weapon of Badfinger. His songs, like "It Had To Be," "Lovin' You," were simple, beautiful melodies. A lot of people dig "Cowboy." His two songs on Wish You Were Here are just brilliant. "In The Meantime" even has classical tendencies. Mike had to be pushed to sing. "Your So Fine" was sung by Joey and Pete. Chris Thomas wanted him to sing his own material. Mike was an excellent drummer, too. Even Ringo complimented Mike at one point.
K - Tell me about Pete Ham.
D - Pete as a person was very kind, caring, gentle, warm, deeply sensitive - that is how people described him, and it showed in his music. It's a great part of Badfinger. A lot of pop bands have a light, fluffy overtone to their sound; less sincere. Badfinger always had a very warm, direct aspect, and Pete's vocal carried a lot of that. He could sing the ballads and rockers equally well. As a guitar player he was phenomenal. George Harrison realized that and utilized him on some sessions. Pete's solos and fills honored the song. He had a nice, melodic sense, great tone; he lifted the music, never clouded it over.
K - At the heart of all of Pete's work seemed to be his feelings, what was affecting him, like a commentary on his life.
D - Pete almost always wrote in an autobiographical sense. Early on, he wrote a lot about his girlfriend, Beverley. "Without You" was about her. Later on, "Lonely You," was inspired by a girl that was romantically interested in him, but he was not, and he was consoling her. Pete could express himself very well with his music. All his girlfriends said it was very hard for him to communicate well while speaking, but his songs would convey what he was really feeling. "Baby Blue" was basically written as a letter to an American girl he had lost connection with. Now she is immortalized forever, as her name is mentioned in the song.
K - It seems people get the wrong idea of what Pete was like as a person because of how he took his own life. It seemed like Pete could be a fun-loving type of person. He really wasn't a morose, depressed acting person.
D - Right, when Pete was interacting with people he was a very upbeat, positive person. He liked to clown around. His sense of humor was extreme, in a clownish way; practical jokes, making faces, getting people to play games. But he was also very serious about the business side of his life. People said he was extremely well-spoken and respectful. But in the presence of strangers he wasn't nearly as gregarious. Some saw him as quiet and shy, at times he was interpreted as aloof.
K - How was he at interacting with fans?
D - Apparently quite impressive, as everyone I talked to that met him recalled the experience favorably. One effusive fan said that Pete put his arm around him and his dad backstage after a show and Pete said that he was the one honored to play his music for them, as they had to work hard every day. He said they shouldn't put him on a pedestal, he was just the guy playing music. He said it was his honor to be able to entertain them. Of course, that blew this guy away and he never forgot it.
K - Could you share the story behind the song "Catherine Cares," a song on CD you put together called 7 Park Avenue?
D - Pete wrote that as a Christmas gift to his mother in 1968, to convey his love and affection for her. He had some lines in there about the fact he may have acted poorly in dealing with her reluctance to see him go off to London to pursue a music career. He partly was apologizing to her, and apparently she was very touched by this. It's a very strong tune, and it may seem strange The Iveys never did this, but its possible the band never heard it.
K - Tell me about "Coppertone Blues".
D - I think the band may have considered doing it, though the existing demo sounds more like a solo-oriented track. Joey Molland remembered hearing it. A rudimentary band backing track of it seems to exist.
K - In your book, you described everyone in the tour bus playing games and joking around in front, while Pete would be in the back doing something a lot more serious like writing or coming up with a set list.
D - He was an incredibly devoted songwriter, and he liked to write letters, or to do something to improve the band like working on the live set. He worked hard and wasn't easily satisfied. He actually lacked a lot of confidence and that pushed him to work harder.
K - What are some of the lesser-known Pete songs that you think are as worthy as the hits and emblematic of Pete?
D - "We're For The Dark" and "Name Of The Game" are two album tracks which are outstanding. They are sweeping and majestic. "Take It All" is a unique pop song with a bluesy overtone. He was a good rock'n'roll writer, too. "I Can't Take It" and "Baby Please." Basically his songs are always quality.
K - I liked "Just A Chance"
D- "Just A Chance" was inspired while the band was recording in Colorado at a studio situated at a ranch. The band's roadie, Ian Ferguson, had broken up with his wife abruptly while there and Pete ended up with her (Anne) until his death. In response to everyone's dismay, Pete wrote this song. It was a complex situation for everyone as Fergie had been a good friend to everyone.
K - What about "Dennis"?
D - That was about Fergie's son, Blair. Pete was conveying his paternal instincts there, as he loved the child like his own. Different mischievous incidents inspired the song. Pete was a wonderful father figure to the boy, according to Anne.
K - How about a lesser known Joey, Tom, and Mike song that typifies them?
D - For Tom, "Carry On Til Tomorrow," maybe, on the one hand. Tom had a dual personality. That was sort of an autobiographical song, in some ways, signifying his heavy Everly Brothers influence. "Rock Of All Ages" conveys his rambunctious, rebellious side, his drinking and carrying on, his high energy side. Joey, I think "Get Away" shows how he could take the most basic rock'n'roll riffs and create something fresh and timeless. "Sometimes" is a great song. He was very gifted at weaving a melody around a basic riff. His lyrics showed different sides, such as his humor and irony in "The Winner" and "Regular," and his contemplation of serious social issues, such as in "Give It Up" and "No More." Mike's writing was consistently good. "In The Meantime" has an odd timing for the usual rock context and is impressive. ""Your So Fine" is just a rock solid song by him.
K - Could you talk about the almost schizophrenic personality of the band in that they did long jamming on-stage and covered numbers like "Feelin Alright" and "Only You Know And I Know"?
D - As far as Badfinger live, there were a couple of issues. The band was set-up as a very democratic group, four guys to discuss the music and make the decisions as a team. The live setting sort of evolved to everybody's favorite ideas getting their chance. It became a situation where Pete got his acoustic oriented numbers, Joey his rock'n'roll covers, Tom his blues-oriented covers. The cover tunes partly came out of a lack of confidence the band members had in their own material. Mike admitted he pushed a lot of material faster at times, out of frustration. The audiences were sometimes disappointed by the major sonic difference from the studio material, but the band developed to become so dynamic as players that their virtuosity would often win people over. Most people have very positive memories of seeing the band live. But there's no doubt they were never backed up by their business management in terms of developing a more progressive and representative stage show. The band members were all very frustrated at times by the live gigs. Pete had a number of outbursts. Pete was really burnt out on the touring during the last year of his life.
K - Do you think the Beatle comparisons the group got throughout their career ultimately hindered them more than helped them?
D - It seems that it ultimately hurt them in terms them getting taken seriously by the media. They get typecast or even put down because they were doing these catchy Beatlesque pop songs at a time nearly no one else was doing them. They were thus perceived not to have a lot of substance behind them. That was the thought process upfront, so journalists wouldn't even bother to try to delve further. The only interesting angle was the Beatle connection. I've never come across any remotely serious substantive interview with any of the band members on their music, from the period Pete was alive.
The band also had the stigma of being so closely compared to The Beatles. Any group who gets typecast as a clone of another act is not going to be focused on editorially compared to acts doing something seen as new or challenging in the realm of rock'n'roll. It's only in hindsight that they seem so fresh and bold to have been doing what they did at a time so few bands were playing three-minute pop songs and harmony-laden rock'n'roll.
K - The sad part is they couldn't be completely honest even in interviews as to The Beatles influence.
D - Yes, they would often cite The Stones, The Band, Delaney & Bonnie, many other acts they were excited by, but who obviously didn't have as strong an impact on their writing and arranging. They did become bothered by The Beatles connection rather quickly. The ultimate example of this is that they permanently dropped "Come And Get It" from their live sets as early as their second U.S. tour in 1971 even though many people probably came to see them based on that one song.
K - If you could characterize briefly what happened to Badfinger involving their business manager Stan Polley?
D - Badfinger fell into the traps that many artists have gotten into - getting into contracts that too heavily favor the business people; convoluted, poorly-written, vague agreements that can be broadly interpreted. They, like many others, decided to trust people and take their word on things, not really check into what these things meant. They tried to look into different matters, in different ways, but it was ultimately proven they also had bad luck in who they got involved with. It really was too late to escape a lot of the damage done by the time it all became clear. Stan Polley had fooled a lot of people. Some who were much shrewder than the Badfinger members. Polley basically set up to control as much of the money of the artists he managed as he could and he tried to funnel it into embezzlement schemes. His greed caught up with him quickly, as he became sloppy. Whenever the end was near with an artist, he cut off their salary and dared them to go after him. Very few ever did.
K - Two of the final two songs on the CD of Pete Ham demos, 7 Park Avenue, are very difficult to listen to, as they tell you right there how Pete was feeling near the end of his life.
D - Pete was writing, as he often did, from the bottom of his heart. He poured it all out near the end of his life. He addressed his pain in "No More," "Empty days, sleepless nights, have I lost the will to fight? Someone help back onto the road." In "Ringside" he addresses the music business and Stan Polley.
K - Do you think if Pete had more of a support system he could've gotten through that night?
D - The thing about Pete is, those who knew him said he was always the strong one, the positive one, always looked out for the best in people, didn't like to talk negatively. The other members felt he pushed this to the extreme to where he was not being realistic at times about the management situations, he was being stubborn and hard-headed. Deep inside, he was questioning and in some pain, as his songs show, but he didn't like to show weakness of character, so people that knew him, were not truly aware of how pained he was feeling. So they couldn't reach out to him knowing he was suicidal. Now, he did some unusual things toward the end of his life and Tommy certainly had some guilt seeing these signs of a breakdown, but he was not able to stop Pete from suicide and didn't get any real warning.
K - Why did Pete actually name Polley in his suicide note?
D - Part of what prompted Pete to take his life was certainly the anger he felt for being manipulated and screwed by Polley. That anger propelled Pete's strong reaction to take his own life. He made that clear in his note. But Pete also made the point that he felt he could never love and trust unconditionally again, and that was such an important part of his make-up. He couldn't see, at that moment, being able to live in such a cold and cruel world. It may seem like cowardice to some, but people who have suffered true depression or a nervous breakdown can understand how intense and myopic certain thoughts can get when one is in such a state.
K - Now Tom found Pete, and he never got over his death.
D - Tom and Pete were getting closer and closer in the last four months of Pete's life. Tom was a very deep, sensitive person, prone to deep depression. He was consistently haunted by Pete's death and never got over it. He'd lost his best friend, he had guilt about it. Symbolically he took his life in the same way as Pete. Of course the great irony is that Tom wrote the chorus of "Without You", "I can't live, if living is without you." When you think about it, it's pretty unbelievable.