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A band who expertly mixed sweet and satisfying melodies with potent guitar crunch, Badfinger were one of the best and most celebrated precursors to the power pop movement of the 1970s. Mentored by the Beatles and signed to their Apple label, Badfinger's best work faintly resembled their patrons, while the guitar work of Pete Ham and Joey Molland gave much of their catalog a hard rock edge that set them apart and 1970's No Dice and 1971's Straight Up showed they knew how to write songs and play them with spirit and energy. They were Apple's most successful act besides the Beatles, but when Apple ran into financial trouble, the group's fortunes took an unfortunate turn, and while 1974's Wish You Were Here (recorded for Warner Bros.) confirmed they still had plenty of great songs left in them, bad luck and predatory business deals took a tragic toll on a great band. Hailing from Swansea, Wales, guitarist and songwriter Pete Ham formed a band in 1961, featuring Dai Jenkins on rhythm guitar, Ron Griffiths on bass, and Roy Anderson on drums. The group went through a handful of names, including the Panthers, the Wild Ones, and the Black Velvets, before they settled on the Iveys in 1964, a nod to rising stars the Hollies. While they originally followed the example of the Shadows, then doing double duty as a popular instrumental group and as Cliff Richard's backing band, they developed a tougher, R&B-influenced edge as they gained more experience; after Mike Gibbins replaced Roy Anderson behind the drum kit, they developed a stronger local following and opened shows in Swansea for major acts, including the Who, the Yardbirds, and the Spencer Davis Group. After signing a deal with manager Bill Collins, the Iveys alternated between gigs of their own and serving as accompanists for pop singer David Garrick, and record labels began showing an interest in signing the combo. In 1967, Dai Jenkins was asked to leave the Iveys, and Tom Evans, a guitarist from Liverpool, was invited to take his place. With Evans on guitar, the band's blend of pop, R&B, and rock became stronger than ever, and in 1968, when the Beatles opted to launch their own label, Apple Records, Peter Asher (formerly of Peter & Gordon and now an Apple A&R man) and Mal Evans (a roadie and assistant for the Beatles who was also working with the label) took notice of the Iveys. Evans was especially impressed with the band, and after he produced some demos, the four Beatles all agreed to sign the band. In addition to taking them on as a recording act, Apple also signed the Iveys to publishing contracts as songwriters. Going into the studio with producer Tony Visconti, the debut single from the Iveys, "Maybe Tomorrow" b/w "And Her Daddy's a Millionaire," was issued in November 1968, and while it fared well in Europe and Japan, it failed to crack the Top 40 in the United States, and failed to chart at all in the U.K. A second single followed in July 1969, "Dear Angie" b/w "No Escape," that once again sold well in Europe and Japan but floundered in English-speaking markets. A proposed Iveys album, 1969's Maybe Tomorrow, only saw a limited release in Germany, Italy, and Japan as the fledgling label attempted to reorganize themselves. It was Paul McCartney who came to the group's rescue. He had been commissioned to pen songs for the film The Magic Christian, which was to star Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr, and he felt the tune "Come and Get It" would be a good match for the Iveys. Producing the session and urging the band to follow his arrangement as closely as possible, "Come and Get It" was committed to tape in just an hour, and two group originals, "Carry On 'til Tomorrow" and "Rock of All Ages," were also recorded for the film's soundtrack album. Shortly before "Come and Get It" was to be issued as a single, it was decided the group needed a new name with a more contemporary edge. After brainstorming by the band and Apple's staff, they settled on Badfinger, inspired by the song title "Bad Finger Boogie," which had been the working title of a Lennon/McCartney song that became "With a Little Help from My Friends." Badfinger also shifted their lineup, and fired Ron Griffiths. Tom Evans moved from guitar to bass, and Joey Molland, formerly of the Masterminds, became Badfinger's rhythm guitarist. "Come and Get It" was issued by Apple in December 1969 in the United Kingdom and January 1970 in the United States, and was a solid hit, going Top Ten in both markets. An album soon followed, 1970's Magic Christian Music, which was a blend of recent recordings and leftovers from their days as the Iveys, and they soon returned to the studio, with Mal Evans and Geoff Emerick both producing sessions for the group. No Dice was issued by the end of 1970, and the tough, rollicking single "No Matter What" was another Top Ten hit for the group. The album also included "Without You," which became a massive hit for Harry Nilsson when he covered it for his 1971 album Nilsson Schmilsson; it hit the charts again in 1994 when Mariah Carey recorded the tune. Meanwhile, George Harrison recruited the members of Badfinger to add acoustic guitars and harmonies to several tracks for his 1970 album All Things Must Pass, and they were part of his band when he staged his 1971 all-star benefit concert for Bangladesh. They also added backing vocals on Ringo Starr's single "It Don't Come Easy," and did the same on sessions for John Lennon's Imagine LP, though their appearances didn't make the final mix. In 1971, Badfinger began work on their next album, and as Apple were eager to give their songs a glossier sound, they ended up working with three different producers. Geoff Emerick, George Harrison, and Todd Rundgren each supervised sessions for Straight Up, released in December 1971, with Rundgren assembling and mixing the final product. It produced two major hit singles, "Day After Day" and "Baby Blue," but it came out as the Apple organization was falling apart, and the British release of "Baby Blue" as a single was scuttled at the last minute. The group toured extensively in support, through a falling out between Tom Evans and Mike Gibbins led to the drummer dropping out of a run of American dates; Rob Stawinsky was hired as his replacement for the U.S. dates, though Gibbins would return to Badfinger by the year's end. As Apple's financial troubles became acute, the group were recording their final album for the label, Ass, a troubled project that began with Todd Rundgren as producer, who quit after two songs were completed and would sue Apple for non-payment. Chris Thomas and Badfinger ended up producing the album, which was issued in November 1973 and was a commercial disappointment. Before the sessions for Ass were completed, Badfinger's business manager, Stan Polley, had negotiated a new deal for the band with Warner Bros. However, the Warner Bros. deal called for a new album every six months, and many in the group's organization were wary of Polley's dealings. Badfinger started recording their self-titled WB debut only six weeks after Ass was completed; Badfinger appeared in February 1974, and the two albums ended up competing in the marketplace, with neither living up to expectations. Not long after Badfinger came out, the group was back in the studio with producer Chris Thomas, who oversaw sessions in Colorado and London, England. Warner Bros. released Wish You Were Here in November 1974, and the album received rave reviews and strong initial support from fans. However, Polley's deal with Warner Bros. led to a dispute between the label's publishing company and the band's management, and less than two months after Wish You Were Here appeared in stores, WB pulled it from release. As tensions mounted within the band, Pete Ham briefly quit, but came back in time for a concert tour. As Polley and Warner Bros. were at loggerheads, the manager put Badfinger back into the studio, cutting another album in just 11 days. Warner Bros. rejected the tapes, and the members of the group soon found that their promised payments had vanished. In time, it became known that Polley had ties to organized crime and had essentially stolen the band's fortune, but the full extent of his crimes wasn't known when Pete Ham died by suicide on April 24, 1975. He left behind a note that concluded with the lines, "Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me." A month later, Badfinger broke up and both Warner Bros. and Apple cut their ties with the group. After Badfinger came to an end, Tom Evans and Bob Jackson (a keyboard player who was touring with the group in their last years) formed a band called the Dodgers; they released an album in 1978, Love on the Rebound, before they broke up following a dispute between Evans and their management. Mike Gibbins joined a band called the Flying Aces, and toured and recorded with Bonnie Tyler. And Joey Molland launched a band called Natural Gas with former members of Humble Pie and Colosseum. Within a few years, Evans and Molland had quit the music business and were working day jobs to support themselves. In 1978, Molland was approached by guitarist Joe Tansin and drummer Kenny Harck about starting a new band. Needing a bassist, Molland persuaded Evans to join the project, and Elektra Records expressed interest in signing the band if they used the name Badfinger. The band's "reunion" album, Airwaves, arrived in March 1979. By the time it came out, Tansin and Harck were both out of the band, and while reviews were encouraging, sales were not. Evans and Molland were joined by guitarist Glenn Sherba, keyboardist Tony Kaye, and drummer Richard Bryans for the recording of another Badfinger album, 1981's Say No More. Poor sales led to the group splintering again, and soon Molland and Evans were both touring under the name Badfinger, while recording royalties were in limbo. The former bandmates fought over the publishing income from "Without You," which had become a lucrative copyright. Evans died by suicide on November 19, 1983. In the mid-'80s, Molland began touring again under the Badfinger banner, sometimes with Gibbins on drums, and in 1990, he coordinated the release of Day After Day: Live, an extensively overdubbed and re-sequenced version of a concert recorded in Cleveland in 1974. Various compilations of the Apple and Warner Bros. material would appear in the 1980s and '90s, while the individual Apple albums would see authorized CD release in 1995. In 2000, the unreleased 1975 album rejected by Warner Bros. finally surfaced under the title Head First. Mike Gibbins was living in Florida when he died on October 4, 2005, after suffering a brain aneurysm, leaving Joey Molland as the last surviving member of Badfinger's definitive lineup. In 2023, Cleopatra Records issued No Matter What: Revisiting the Hits, with a Molland-led edition of the group recording new versions of some of their best-known songs, joined by a handful of guest stars including Todd Rundgren, Rick Springfield, Matthew Sweet, Ian Anderson, and Rick Wakeman.
© Mark Deming /TiVo


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