All week long, Badfinger guitarist Pete Ham had desperately been phoning their American business manager, Stan Polley, who'd encouraged them to put all earnings into his custody, Badfinger Enterprises Incorporated (BEI), which promised to make them all millionaires.
The results had been devastating. With Badfinger's salary checks bouncing left and right, Ham could no longer afford the mortgage on his Weybridge home. His girlfriend, Anne Ferguson, was pregnant.
Something had to be done about the management, Ham agreed, when he returned from the White Hart Pub with bassist Tom Evans. Before they parted, Ham said, "I know a way out of this. Goodbye, Tom."
Ferguson found her twenty-seven year-old husband-to-be hanging from his garage rafters at 7:00 a.m., but only discovered the note after police had removed Ham's body an hour later. It read, in part: "I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better. PS Stan Polley is a soulless bastard I will take him with me."
Now fast-forward to a similar evening on November 11, 1983, when Evans, who lived just 500 yards from Ham, hung himself from a tree in his backyard. The void left by his colleague's departure had never healed, nor had the financial battery stopped; two reunion albums with guitarist Joey Molland, 1979's Airwaves and 1981's Say No More, had sunk in a disco-driven marketplace.
Worse yet, Molland had indicated he felt entitled to monies from Without You, the oft-covered Ham/Evans standard. This pushed Evans over the edge, right before the night of his suicide, when the two exchanged angry words about the matter. The once-promising Evans-Molland partnership had dissolved into open acrimony, with both touring behind separate, yet dueling, Badfinger lineups. Evans had been especially harmed by a misbegotten alliance with a Wisconsin printer, John Cass, whose purported 1982 offers produced a meager handful of gigs in a six-week span.
Fed up by what he considered utter cruelty and inefficiency, Evans had bolted for England, resulting in a lawsuit from Cass, whose agents pursued him there. Evans had also contended with Molland, who was allegedly phoning promoters and canceling gigs. Molland contested those stories, even as he continued scouting gigs for his own "Badfinger" lineup.
By then, Badfinger's hard-fought legacy had seemingly disappeared. The absence of classic Apple albums like No Dice (1970) and Straight Up (1971) enabled bootleggers to mint $100 per copy, while surviving members Molland and drummer Mike Gibbins were struggling to pay their bills.
Sadder still, a peculiar shroud of silence clouded Badfinger's story. The industry for whom they'd quarried hits like Come and Get It (1969), No Matter What (1970), Day After Day and Baby Blue (1971) expressed little outpouring over the deaths of Ham and Evans. In just four years, Badfinger had gone from eager Beatles apprentices into the abyss of pop cultural memory banks.
How could such a promising story turn so dreadfully wrong? Recording engineer/producer Dan Matovina cites answering that question as his prime motivation for writing Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger(Frances Glover Books, 1998), which exposes the injustices committed against them while reevaluating its recorded legacy.
What's amazing is the wealth of detail spread over Without You's 456 pages, especially for a group whose life and times had never been intimately documented.
"Badfinger was a major musical inspiration for me," says Matovina. "I still have memories of hearing their stuff for the first time, things I'd picked up from them were tricks and inspirations that I used in my style of engineering."
Matovina's quest didn't begin till the late Eighties, when someone else sought his help for a projected book. As it happened, Matovina had interviewed Evans, Gibbins, and Molland for a late-Seventies Trouser Press article that is still regarded among the premier Badfinger articles. The original writer bowed out "because he saw I was a much more detailed worker than he was," adds Matovina.
So began six years of research and five trips to Wales, where Badfinger began, and also England, where many of the band's associates still lived. No stone stayed mossy for long; besides the nefarious Polley, Matovina located players like Dixie, a Kansas-born teen who became Ham's girlfriend and the inspiration behind Baby Blue.
"The biggest challenge," says Matovina, "was to capture the essential truth of the story, because I figured there would only be one book about Badfinger, being that they weren't a hugely successful group in the context of superstars."
Cooperation rose and fell, depending on people's interest, mood, and schedule. Original Badfinger manager Bill Collins initially declined to participate; "I didn't get him until the very end; he turned me down for four years, basically," says Matovina. "He actually came in early and did some interviewing with Kent Gray (who assisted with the book), and then was informed not to speak to us by Joey Molland. After about three and a half years, I'd earned his trust to do interviews with him again."
Gibbins and Molland also expressed radically different postures about the project. "Mike did extensive interviews with me, but, at a certain point, decided he wasn't going to participate any further," says Matovina, "'cause he was also interested in doing his own [book]."
Molland simply declined, forcing Matovina to rely on extensive interviews Joey had done over the years, including some with Matovina. For some fans, Molland's ongoing usage of the name (billed as Joey Molland's Badfinger), along with his American wife Kathie's attempts to stage-manage the band's history over its own "official" website, are controversial, if not distasteful.
"Joey felt a Badfinger book was a good project, in that he and his wife would like a book written," says Matovina. "They claim to feel the most interconnected into the story, from top to bottom, and their account should be the only impacting one.
"Later on, they tried to make claims I was not a competent journalist and that was their reason for not considering me, but they were highly praiseworthy of my [Trouser Press] article at the time, and gave me no indication they didn't think I was a good writer, so I'm skeptical that had anything to do with it [their non-cooperation]."
The Mollands have filled in the blanks with a Gary Katz-directed documentary (Pegasus Flight Productions, 1997) that also features Gibbins and Abbey Road engineer Richard Lush, who did the honors for Day After Day.
This project marked the first time Apple, the Beatles' now-dormant artist-directed label, had opened its archives to an independent filmmaker, yielding some knockout, surreal moments. Contrast the relatively stodgy video ("promo," in Seventies parlance) take for Come and Get It with a more energetic GermanT.V. appearance on the Beat Club show; if you look closely, the smiling Ham is wearing an Apple wristwatch!
Original bassist Ron Griffiths mugs it up through an even earlier clip forMaybe Tomorrow, mock-bowing his instrument with mad abandon, while Day After Day is represented by a crude "concept" video of the band walking around and hanging out.
A Midnight Special appearance is notable for a frenzied Suitcase, a Molland road ode ("Driver, driver, go too fast/ Miser, miser, make it last/ Pusher, pusher, on the run/ It's only just a game we're playin' for fun"). Evans appears subdued until halfway through, when he vocally elbows Molland aside for a commanding performance.
All this renewed activity underlines one simple point: nothing was ever simple in Badfinger. "The group politics were a lot stronger than I perceived," says Matovina, "but, at the same time, there was still a lot of camaraderie and democratic nature to the group, very few groups can sustain four songwriters out of four players.
"Early on, they really worked quite well on the first albums, in terms of Joey Molland's  entrance, but once they got past the Straight Up period, it started to filter through. After Straight Up became successful, and Pete was getting his success, I think the other members were clamoring more and more to get their moment in the sun."
They also got production help from some of rock's most valuable players: The Beatles' Paul McCartney and George Harrison; pop conceptualist Todd Rundgren; Chris Thomas (Pretenders, Roxy Music, The Sex Pistols); Geoff Emerick (The Beatles); and Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise (Kiss's first two Casablanca albums). Badfinger's music even rubbed off on engineers like Richard Lush and Thomas' own right-hand man, Bill Price, who became renowned in their own right.
When Gibbins, Ham, and Evans settled into the communal home/studio, 7 Park Avenue, few beyond Badfinger's immediate circle understood how much groundwork had been laid for their arrival. Original guitarist David "Dai" Jenkins had already drifted away, smitten by London's lasses and nightlife, while bassist Ron Griffiths would resign, reluctantly, after recording Badfinger's debut album, Magic Christian Music (1969). The conflicts preceding Griffiths' dismissal led Ham to remark, "The four of us came to London, now there's only two."
The circle closed anew with the hiring of guitarist Joey Molland. Like Evans, he hailed from Liverpool, The Beatles' mecca, and had experienced some degree of success with Gary Walker & The Rain, who'd actually released an album in Japan.
Molland's urgent guitar style would exert a gravitational pull from The Iveys, Badfinger's original incarnation, which Ham and Jenkins had originally jump-started in 1966-era Swansea, Wales. Thanks to Collins' acquaintanceship with McCartney's father, Jim, The Iveys found a place at Apple, which promised to stress artistry over profit, or so The Beatles said.
Yet Apple's newest protégés had seemed adrift; their Maybe Tomorrow single, a haunting, piano-driven Evans composition, hadn't set the UK charts alight (although it did make the Dutch and German Top Five), while their similarly-titled album had been yanked days before a US and UK release. The enthusiasm of Beatles road-manager Mal Evans and gifted arranger/producer Tony Visconti hadn't been enough to capture the group's potential, and debts were piling up faster than leaves at 7 Park Avenue.
That led the ever-helpful McCartney, recounts Without You, to suggest the boys needed a snappy signature tune to establish themselves. His home demo of Come and Get It wrapped a sardonic take on Apple's money problems ("You better hurry, 'cause it's goin' fast") around a bass-drums-piano setup.
McCartney's advice ("Simplicity is the way to go") yielded a #3 UK/#7 US hit and anchored one of several contributions to The Magic Christian, a Peter Sellers/Ringo Starr vehicle the Beatles bassist hadn't found enough time to score (wanting to give that final album, Abbey Road, his all!).
The movie is a dreadful period piece, with Starr playing a street waif "adopted" by Sellers, why, we're never told, who commence a series of contrived misadventures with society. It leaves both men sleeping in a public park; when a guard tells them, "That's against regulations," they ignore him.
"Sod the regulations!," responds their tormentor; roll those closing credits, with Badinger's music, beginning a long-standing public association with The Beatles. In some respects, Badfinger seemed eerily annexed to The Fab Four, whether by accident or design.
Harrison produced several Straight Up tracks and used Badfinger to strum away acoustically at his all-star 1971 Bangladesh benefit concert and album; Evans, Ham, and Molland all appeared on his All Things Must Pass (1970) triple album, along with Ringo Starr's It Don't Come Easy single (1971), and John Lennon's Imagine album (1971).
Writers frequently commented on Molland's uncanny facial resemblance to Paul McCartney, and a teenaged Evans had accidentally bumped into Lennon back in Liverpool! By 1973's Ass album, Apple's last non-Beatles release, the never-ending comparisons had become a genuine sore-point, to be fended off whenever possible. "To this day, a lot of people think Day After Day is a Beatles record," Molland found himself telling Request in August, 1992, almost twenty years after the fact. "I think that overshadowed a lot of what the band did."
"It was an initial help," says Matovina of the Beatles business. "McCartney writing Come and Get It certainly helped guarantee a lot of notice. Obviously, it was a perfect match of their sound, his songwriting, and Apple production. But when the group [first] toured America, they felt they were solely getting attention based on that [single]."
Specifically, he adds, Ham and company found themselves peppered with queries like "Is Paul gonna be with you?", or, "Are you really Paul's backing band?" Suitably goaded, Badfinger dropped Come and Get It from its fall 1970 American setlist, "and never again played it," notes Matovina. "They may have played it a little bit on their second American tour, of course, being such a signature song, [its exclusion] really stunned audiences."
Yet the band's defensiveness stemmed from an increasing divide between albums, which "serious" bands like Led Zeppelin wove into fullblown artistic statements, and singles, which "lightweight" entities like Badfinger cobbled to seduce the teenage set, or so the prevailing views held. In an early foreshadowing of today's rabid narrowcasting, nobody imagined that the twain should meet; why would a Zeppelin freak buy Come and Get It, anyway?
"It [the Beatles association] didn't hamper their singles being listened to and being successful," argues Matovina, "but did keep many hip people from taking them seriously. In that era, if you had a few hit singles, you often weren't regarded as having consistent albums.
"Being that The Beatles' poppy sound was not a hip thing at that time, Badfinger's records probably weren't even listened to by people who may have ended up liking them. No Dice and Straight Up are now considered classics, and Magic Christian Music's almost considered a bit of a classic. It's a shame people didn't give it [Badfinger's studio prowess] the credibility."
Lack of response and snide headlines back home ("The accusing finger . . . are they merely copying?") virtually ensured the adoption of America as Badfinger's promised land. As late as fall, 1974, in the UK, Badfinger couldn't muster more than a supporting slot to Man, Wales' answer to the Grateful Dead, even though most objective pundits felt that Badfinger deserved a headlining UK tour.
"Even now, it's [the Beatles connection] never really gotten away from them," says Matovina. "Even today, in mainstream media, you have people that are passionately supportive, or many writers who completely ignore them and still look at them as a Beatles copy band."
The group complicated matters in what it played live; Badfinger were always two distinctly differing entities, onstage and on record, which yielded some truly contrarian setlists. On that first US tour, when Ham's rollicking No Matter What was peaking at #3 UK/#8 US, Badfinger would open with My Dark Hour, an obscure, gospel-driven Steve Miller blues, to which crowds "rarely reacted with pronounced enthusiasm," writes Matovina. "It certainly wasn't what people were expecting."
Associates like Wayne Treiber, a frequent transatlantic caller to 7 Park Avenue, couldn't understand the schizoid stage choices the boys made. "They threw in Rock of All Ages [from Magic Christian Music] once, and it was incredible," he told Matovina. "I asked Tommy why, and he said 'That's from the old Iveys days, we don't do it anymore!' But they'd do Johnny B. Goode and Roll Over Beethoven every night! I couldn't understand that."
Later uncharacteristic choices included Dave Mason's Feelin' Alright, which allowed Ham to showcase his wah-wah pedal mastery, and Chuck Berry covers (Roll Over Beethoven, Johnny B. Goode) encouraged by Molland, to show off his six-string mastery.
Other songs, like Suitcase, became launching-pads for jamming, apparently in response to what Badfinger experienced on the road; after all, notes Matovina, their tight, melodic approach wasn't in vogue. They were playing with the likes of Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, The Doors, and Grand Funk Railroad, all of whom stressed a greater sense of theatricality than more reserved peers like Pete Ham wished to offer.
"I don't think they gave themselves enough credit for having fans," observed Young Fresh Fellows frontman Scott McCaughey, who caught them in February, 1972. "They did a fantastic succession of songs from Straight Up and then came out to do an encore of Johnny B. Goode. It was like 'Well, that's pretty cool, I guess, but . . .'"
Even so, the plethora of set choices had a practical element; four different tastes had to be satisfied, especially since Ham was that rare leader who chose not to flex his muscles. He usually entered 7 Park Avenue first and left last. But the group had to collectively adopt or reject whatever songs were presented.
Gibbins found all the compromises distasteful. "Our albums were like twelve perfect singles tied together," he told Matovina, "At that point, bands were making albums you'd get high to listen to. People weren't going to smoke a joint and say, 'Yeah, let's go get the fucking Archies album!' They'd got Pink Floyd."
The same problems stifled Evans' and Molland's reformed Badfinger, Matovina believes; instead of doing what came naturally, they hired producers considered "hot" at the time. Airwaves' opening rocker, Look Out California, seemingly signaled the problems to come in its opening lyrics, "We're tryin' our hardest, just to follow the plan." But Matovina believes that the reunited Badfinger tried just a little too hard.
From Elektra's standpoint, this meant hiring staff producer David Malloy, who'd just done Eddie Rabbitt. Malloy, in turn, relied on session aces like drummer Andy Newmark and keyboardist Nicky Hopkins to complete Airwaves, rather than relying on the Evans-Molland chemistry and vocal abilities to carry the day. This state of affairs disillusioned the "new" Badfinger's lesser-known half; drummer Kenny Harck found himself jettisoned after questioning Malloy's handling of his drum-sound, while guitarist Joe Tansin, who contributed Sympathy and The Winner, quit after recording ended.
A handful of tracks (Evans' aching Lost Inside Your Love, Sail Away, Molland's slide-driven Love is Gonna Come at Last) save Airwaves from breezy disposability, but its production approach failed to win over a new generation. Despite good tour business and write-ups, Airwaves peaked at #125 on Billboard's charts for a meager eight weeks.
Six months after the album came out, Elektra cut Badfinger loose. The pair (Evans and Molland) tried again, this time on Atlantic Records' subsidiary label Radio, with a guitar-driven, minimalist, New Wave album. Produced by Jack Richardson (Alice Cooper), Say No More (1981) improved on a song level; mixing high-energy rockers (Molland's chirpy I Got You, Evans' management diatribe Rock and Roll Contract) with soaring ballads (Evans' bluesy, beautiful Too Hung Up on You), and the expected pop onslaught (Molland's Because I Love You and Evans' Hold On).
Again, the album met with disinterest, peaking at #155 and, again, inconsistent production got much of the blame. "The bottom line was, Badfinger had soaring enough pop songs, Joey and Tom had the ability to make success, " says Matovina, "but the two records they did weren't that well-produced." In other words, their producers' expertise "was in areas that had nothing to do with the classic Badfinger sound," he adds, though similarly stripped-down bands like The Cars or The Knack had experienced commercial success.
Ironically, Matovina didn't learn of the post-Ham era's lowest point until his research had nearly been completed. With Donna Summer and The Bee Gees dominating the charts in 1979, Molland and Malloy apparently decided to tackle the disco style. In that spirit, Tansin's Sympathy apparently got the 12-inch remix treatment, a development on which Matovina can only say: "That's mind-boggling!"
While the band didn't want to leave Apple, they almost felt pushed into it by Polley, who continually promised: "It's a three million dollar deal; you're all millionaires!" Badfinger also saw Apple winding down and figured it made more sense to go with a stronger player; Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, The Faces, and Jethro Tull were only some of the artists on Warner's ledger. Warner believed it could continue minting major American radio hits and make inroads into the English rock sound, as Badfinger represented it. The band also felt slighted by Apple's desire to cut Badfinger's royalty rate and its refusal to fund a sixteen-track studio, something they'd long dreamed of owning.
Of course, the superdeal wound up being anything but super: It demanded two albums per year, a particularly odious notion to the ever-conscientious Ham, who disliked such pressures and would have been happy to sign with Apple for less money, his friends believe. Next, the final Apple album, Ass, postponed Warner's own plans; with little alternative, Badfinger's new label pushed back the release date for any new product to December, 1973.
Third, on November 1, 1973, Polley convinced Badfinger to sign contracts that individually permitted 50% of all income to go into BEI. Just a formality, he assured them; it means more assets when BEI goes public. Despite some growing doubts, Badfinger signed, even as Warner Brothers had begun wondering why the $100,000 publishing advance hadn't automatically gone into its escrow account.
The latter events set Badfinger into its final, downward spiral, though Tom Evans never fully trusted Polley. When the band signed an original management contract on November 12, 1970, giving Polley 30% of all gross income, Evans held out against signing. Eventually, he did, but only because his colleagues did, according to Matovina.
That 5-10% rakeoffs were considered standards and Collins never hired a lawyer to read Polley's contracts hardly made Evans sleep better. But healthy recommendations from Lou Christie and Al Kooper (who'd mixed and produced an aborted single of The Name of the Game) were enough to assuage the boys' doubts, for a time. "(Polley) could sell sand to an Arab. He was that good," Gibbins told Matovina.
The music business is known for its hard-nosed, self-involved characters; on that score, writes Matovina, Polley is notable for exceeding or surpassing both requirements. A few examples should suffice: to Lou Christie (of Lightning Strikes fame), he laughed, "Listen, I have all of your money. I have control of it. You don't have any paper. You don't have anything to get me."
Yet Ham, more than anyone else in Badfinger, trusted Polley fully, despite such matters as inconsistent delivery of their salary checks. Then there was Polley's 30% commission; a financial summary of BEI transactions for December, 1970, through October, 1971, covered by Matovina shows $75,744 going to Polley, a "net" corporate profit of $24,569 and less than $30,000 in "salaries/advances" going to the band. Ham got the least ($5,959), while Molland got the most ($8,339).
In the summer of 1972, BEI V.P. Stan Poses, who'd managed Eric Carmen, tried to warn Ham and Evans about Polley's methods over dinner at his house, writes Matovina. Despite Poses' advice (", and you guys will never see a goddamn penny the ways he's structured your contracts") and desire to leave, the twosome shrugged it off, even though nobody could explain how BEI worked, least of all Collins. "Everything was being soft-selled over," roadie Nicky Bell told Matovina. "Here's a prominent band, and they have a manager [in Collins] who couldn't provide answers to anything they would ask."
Things began unraveling in December of 1973, when Ass peaked at #122 and rapidly declined thereafter. Its lead-off single, Apple of My Eye, Ham's tribute to the company that had nurtured Badfinger ("And now the time has come to walk alone/ We're the children, now we've overgrown"), failed to make the US Top 100. It seemed an undeserved finish for a heavy-rocking outing.
Molland emerged as Ass's dominant voice, skewering Lennon in The Winner ("You can drive a car, be a movie star/ Any day of the week"), Ham's "clown-on-your-time" work-ethic in Get Away's blues-rock ("You can be working all night and day/ But I know sometimes I've gotta get away"), and expressed a more poignant regret about lost love in Icicles and I Can Love You, driven by an impassioned, Rod Stewart-like vocal (incidentally, Matovina quotes Molland as saying he'd intended the latter song for Old Rooster-Top, who passed because he didn't do covers that weren't established standards!). Evans turned in a towering ballad, When I Say, and Blind Owl, yet another music business critique ("Play the role, sell your soul"). Gibbins contributed a fine country song (Cowboy), and Ham got the closing track, a howling, seven-minute ballad, Timeless.
Warner issued Badfinger's self-titled label debut in February, 1974, as the group rushed on yet another lengthy US tour, running through into April, often battling logistics and technical problems. Like Ass, Badfinger dispensed with the group's harmony vocals for a more individualized approach, yet standout tracks still made their presence felt: Evans' country weeper, Why Don't We Talk, Gibbins' spirited My Heart Goes Out, and Ham's brooding Lonely You, the country-rocker Shine On, and Song For a Lost Friend, a lament for unfulfilled ideals ("For awhile, both of our dreams came true"). As usual, Molland kept the energy up with Island; the frenetic Chuck Berry raveup of Andy Norris, his tribute to a renegade tape operator; and Give it Up, whose subject material (the people who "learn to wheel and deal" as they "drive a million miles just to see the sun") would become something of an obsession. Its mix of weary acoustic verses and dive-bombing choruses made Molland's point effectively enough.
Without warning the band, Warner pulled Ham's I Miss You, on which its composer played all the instruments, minus drums, as a single, backed with My Heart Goes Out, only to see it utterly fizzle. So did the Badfinger album, which peaked at #161 US and fell out like a stone after only five weeks. Suddenly, Badfinger's name no longer seemed fated to quarry pop-rock gold; given all the mushrooming grief they'd encounter, why did Badfinger even sign with Warner Brothers?
"Well, they expected tremendous attention and support," says Matovina. "They did deliver, for their abilities, a mediocre first album for Warners, but they were guaranteed three singles off that album and only one was ever released, and it was certainly the wrong choice. They were supposed to have a nice cover with a title of their choosing, but their title [For Love or Money] was pulled off, and they had no say in [the album cover]. When they toured, they felt no support from the label."
Then again, one might suggest Apple didn't appreciate its only non-Beatles hitmaker, either. Without You's most famous example recalls Apple's response to No Matter What, the song that would establish them in America. Unimpressed by its potential, Apple offered Ringo Starr's It Don't Come Easy as the single choice! The issue ended when Badfinger balked and No Matter What came out anyway.
To Matovina, the picture is more complicated. "Well, Apple was a very, very small company," he says. "By the time Magic Christian came out, the company was starting to unwind. In America, once [Apple overseer and ex-Rolling Stones manager] Allen Klein came in, they were calling the shots, in terms of releases [and] what was put out as singles."
That activity fell to Klein's right-hand man, Al Steckler, who respected Badfinger's potential, but "he was kept very busy with Beatle business, by his own admittance," says Matovina. "He did what he could to deal with the first three albums, but there really weren't some major [efforts] plotting how to deal with Badfinger."
By December 10, 1974, all previous bets were off in Los Angeles superior court, where Warner Brothers sued Polley and BEI to regain the missing $100,000 publishing advance. In its own defense, Warner had accepted Wish You Were Here, the group's latest offering, but after just seven weeks and a #148 chart position, the label yanked it off the shelves forever (reportedly burning whatever copies it found). The vinyl copy is now impossible to find, but much of its contents resurfaced on Rhino's Best of Badfinger, Volume II compilation and Edsel's Shine On mixture of both Warner Brothers albums (1993). Wish You Were Here has also been remastered and reissued as a German and Japanese-only import CD.
Like most hardcore Badfinger fans, Matovina considers Wish You Were Here's demise a tragedy. Its genesis had begun right after the spring US tour, when the group learned they had to start another album at Colorado's Caribou Ranch studios. Infuriated by such demands, yet professional enough to try and meet them, Badfinger re-enlisted Chris Thomas, who'd overseen their Warner Brothers debut, and hammered out a series of songs reflecting their inner turmoil.
Ham's original us-against-the-world ideals had taken a beating. His courtship of roadie Ian "Fergie" Ferguson's wife, Anne, caused ruptures; so did his unblinking defense of Polley, over which Evans and Molland had become openly confrontational. Yet Ham rose to the occasion, delivering a spirited defense of his relationship in Just a Chance and a plea to the management ("You may say it's not a great romance/ But all we want from is just a chance to try"). The soaring choral pop of Know One Knows indicated how firmly he kept his feelings to himself, while Dennis saluted Anne's son, Blair. Molland's frustrations surface in the acoustic bleakness of Got to Get Out of Here, in which he portrays a man trying to escape without knowing what moves he must make.
The true highlights came on Wish You Were Here's twin medleys. Gibbins' In the Meantime rocks out against the hustlers he saw gnawing at the band ("Wear your hair long, sing a love song, you don't mean it"), to which Molland's Some Other Time fatalistically responds: "But somehow we lost it, drifted apart . . . I'm gonna have to make a new start." Ham's angelic vocal chords quiver with righteous indignation on Meanwhile Back at the Ranch: "Why do they play so hard to get? Is it something they might regret? Is it better just to forget?" Molland's answer zings back in Should I Smoke: "Should I laugh or should I cry? Somebody just tell me why!"
Badfinger had reason to be proud; Wish You Were Here's cinematic production, swooping, orchestral horn arrangements, and some of the group's most heartfelt songwriting might finally have ensured them a place at the hippest tables of rock . . . Had anyone ever heard it. Polley responded by pursuing a "business as usual" attitude: on America's tax day (April 15, 1974), he got Badfinger and Collins to put all Apple royalties into his BEI accounts.
The desperation peaked with Molland's departure after the September, 1974, UK tour. Frustrated with what he considered Ham's reluctance, the guitarist struck out on his own. Keyboardist Bob Jackson had also joined when Ham himself, weary of all the conflicts, quit for a few weeks, only to be told his absence would mean the contractual demise of Badfinger's Warner Brothers deal. Jackson remained and Ham returned in time for the tour, and Polley's final gambit, whisking Badfinger into Apple Studios once more for another album, Head First.
What should have been a triumphant homecoming turned into a bittersweet rush job, at least from Warner Brothers' view: they summarily rejected Head First, whose two, titanic weeks of recording had yielded just thirty-two minutes of music. "[Warner Brothers President] Joe Smith was put off when he heard those tapes," WB music representative Ed Silvers told Matovina. "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."
Co-producer Richie Wise also suspected something wasn't right behind the scenes, telling Matovina, "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." It's hard to say what Head First might have done to revive Badfinger's fortunes, since nobody beyond fanatical bootleggers ever heard it (though Polley sent Kerner and Wise for another final mixdown in January, 1975!).
Deepening the mystery, Head First's master have long since disappeared, as have promo stills with Jackson's presence. But four tracks did surface on the Rhino compilation, including Keep Believing, a plaintive, open letter from Ham to the departed Molland: "If you want to blame somebody, you can blame it all on me." A die had irrevocably been cast for Badfinger's extinction, as Evans made clear in Rock and Roll Contract ("You made me your slave/ Whatever god gave to me/ You took to the grave/ Now it's gone") and Hey, Mr. Manager ("Hey, Mr. Manager/ You're messing up my life/ Hey, Mr. Manager/ I don't need that kind of strife").
By early 1975, Ham had become uneasily aware of his own predicament. No deposits had been made into his account for three months around the final UK tour, writes Matovina; by January 30, 1975, it had fallen 1500 pounds into the red, and, in March, the group learned about Warner's court actions against the album that should have been their crowning glory. That much had been known before Ham's death, but not the inner dialogues raging in his head, until Matovina met Ham's brother, John, who mentioned he'd had tapes of his sibling.
Matovina duly began transcribing Pete Ham's demos, which had sat in John Ham's home and music shop for years, for the Ham estate. "Once I started to go through them extensively, I saw that there was a viable CD release project and, eventually," he says, "I negotiated a deal for the estate."
The result is Rykodisc's seventeen-track 7 Park Avenue CD (1997), whose preparation posed several technical challenges, starting with the tapes themselves, which were in "decrepit" condition, says Matovina. To even play them, he needed a sound-on-sound Revox, similar to what Pete Ham had used, which Matovina borrowed from a local musician. He then spent more time in 1993 removing clicks and dropouts, followed by additional overdubs from Griffiths and Jackson in 1994-95. Pete's original vocals, guitar, and other instrumental voices remained.
"I wanted to create a project that held up to repeated listens," says Matovina, "Many of these tapes were him just popping on the machine and a mike and starting to sing while playing an instrument, and his voice would sometimes be way up over the instrument."
This required occasionally dubbing an extra rhythm guitar, he adds, "Just to bring it up to the level of his voice, because these were mono demos, where it was either bounced back and forth, or one track that he'd laid down." At the same time, Matovina, using recording techniques from the Seventies, decided to overdub bass and drums on 7 Park Avenue's rockier material, such as the madcap boogie of Leaving on a Midnight Train.
The biggest surprise, in Matovina's opinion, came from an unexpected trove of Iveys demos. "I found The Iveys had a lot of really good songs that were much better than the material released," he says. "Their production was often very bubblegum, but they weren't a 'bubblegummy' band. They were instrumentally and vocally very tight and had the ability to go into blues-rock, yet their recordings with Apple were extremely light-hearted, with syrupy strings added."
That Pete Ham had so many quality songs showed "he literally worked on songwriting incessantly," says Matovina. "Even in the earliest songs, there's always a level of quality, a melodic streak there. It just continued on throughout. Being in the democratic group that he was, there was only so much outlet for his material, and the other guys were formidable writers."
Matovina also heard glimpses into the guitarist's later frustrations with his colleagues. In the beginning, "he had girlfriends encouraging him to save material for future solo work, but, at a later state, he did become frustrated and did erase a lot of material. I did hear a lot of songs where only snippets survived, and that was sad, because some of them sounded pretty good."
What made 7 Park Avenue amply compensated, from melodic keepsakes to his parents (Catherine Cares, Dear Father), whimsical obscurities (Coppertone Blues), salutes to girlfriends Bev Ellis (Sille Veb) and Anne Ferguson (It Doesn't Really Matter, Just How Lucky We Are), and hard-rockin' displays of authority (Leaving on a Midnight Train, Matted Spam). Matovina also included No More and Ringside, Ham's last recordings. No More's sprightly pop melody is the harrowing open letter from a proud man ground up and spat out by the craft he loved ("Drunkendays/ Sleepless nights/ Someone please turn out the light/ I can't face the mirror anymore"). Ringside's lone, electric guitar thrums like a funeral march, as Ham's cracking voice surveys his ruined career ("Take your seat by the ringside/ Watch them bidding for your blood"), pleads for some last-minute understanding ("Take me back to the country") before deciding no hope exists and there is no way out ("For I can't bear to feel the sorrow/ of the evil that you're shown").
Badfinger's albums are all back on CD, meaning all concerned are finally getting royalties. "I get royalties from Thailand, Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia . . .Badfinger records sell every day," Molland told a paper in September, 1997.
Meanwhile, Molland is suing over Rykodisc's Day After Day Badfinger Live CD. Molland received all of the sales royalties for six years and they were later redistributed to all the parties by Badinger's accountant upon that discovery. Molland claims he's entitled to production royalties. The bitchiness continues.
For another thing, awareness; that unread Rock and Roll Contract can literally drive you to an early grave, as Evans' and Ham's suicides prove. The tragedy is imagining how much quality work might yet have stemmed from pens silenced at too young an age.
Had Ham hung on, somehow, Badfinger would still have dissolved, anyway, and taken a hiatus to solve the legal problems, Matovina believes: "There's a very good chance he would have made his name as a solo artist; down the road, it's possible he would have gotten into a group situation, because he worked well in a group context and people liked him so much. He would definitely have been invited to work with other musicians. There's no doubt about it."
Pete Ham needed to be in a more supportive environment. Had that been true, Matovina believes, "he would have flourished unbelievably."
So why didn't Ham approach McCartney or Harrison with a proposition in 1975: "I'm in trouble, lend me a million pounds, and I'll pay you back with a hit record?
"Pete Ham was incredibly proud person, everybody came to Pete for advice," responds Matovina. "He always was the upbeat, positive one, but it actually was covering up major personal insecurities, which he only showed through his music. It wasn't in his makeup to go running to other people for help."
Near the end, Ham did, in fact, meet with people like Warner Brothers president Joe Smith, only to find them unable or unwilling to help him directly. "The managers or agents, or whomever we'd talk to would say, 'Well, who are you with?'" Bob Jackson told Matovina. "We'd explain the set-up and they'd say, 'Well, it's up to you to opt out of that situation. When you do, come back to us.'"
Small wonder that Ham and Evans felt beleaguered and defeated by the likes of a business manager who pulled guns to intimidate clients or tell them, "You'll spend so much time fighting me, you'll never get the answers (now in his 70s, Polley lives in Florida, having successfully avoiding a prison sentence for fraud on health grounds. He declined an interview)."
The uneasy dual alliance between Collins and Polley raises its own unique questions. Was Collins simply duped, or was he too much of a "Yes-Man" for Polley's agenda? He did keep books under lock and key . . .
"Bill established, early on, that he had a huge ego and was protective of his position in the group," says Matovina. "He was their business manager, though today, he would try to deny that. When Polley stepped in, he [Collins] was glad to hand off a lot of his financial dealings but did continue to handle some of their money, in terms of running their operations in England. The band talked about dumping him many times and probably should have, but the loyalty, especially from Pete, kept him in the picture."
If you wanted to see the effects of a predatory business, you only needed to know Tom Evans during the late Seventies, which Matovina did. After Ham's death, Evans, widely considered Badfinger's most emotional member, who'd swing from "total outrageousness and drunken tomfoolery to intense, depressive states," says Matovina, never really recovered. Frequently, Evans would say, "I want to be where he is," or, "He had the right idea."
"They hung out almost every day during that period [the final months of Ham's life]," he adds, "and Tom just felt close to Pete. He was completely traumatized at his death because he had absolutely no expectation Pete would do something like that, though he did note Pete's depression and did try to forewarn that Pete was acting very strange."
When Ham died, Evans had to be the strong one, says Matovina, making calls, notifying family and friends: "He eventually had to deal with Pete's death on his own. When he was drunk, he would talk about him a lot. When he was sober, if you tried to talk to him about it, which I did, he would only tell you a little bit; he'd almost start crying if you pushed him too hard."
In that respect, adds Matovina, Evans' death might be interpreted as a symbolic gesture: "Both drank heavily the night they died; both had issues they were unbelievably angry about at the time. That explosive effect added to their depression, put them over the edge."
Going further, Matovina hopes his book sparks a Badfinger renaissance, "because they were really a special band, and there can't be another like them." He also hopes it'll clear long-standing myths and show a side of Tom Evans and Pete Ham that "they could never speak for, in their own behalf. I felt happy to be able to do that for them and their families," the author adds.
I know the feeling well; my first acquaintance with Badfinger came at our local library's book-sale, where I bought a badly-scratched copy of Magic Christian Music for fifty cents. It came across with a passion that electrified me as a high-school sophomore; how could my class-mates, I wondered, settle for Journey, Styx, and Foreigner when Ham made those wah-wah notes cry so eloquently on Beautiful and Blue, his answer to The Beatles' She's Leaving Home?
"There's still a lot of stigma with them," agrees Matovina. "They get totally ignored by a lot of people, it's hard to make people understand why they're important just by talking about them." If there's any justice, Without You may finally break the ice.