by Parke Puterbaugh
Rolling Stone , August 10, 1989, page 52
WE WERE GENUINE, REAL HIPPIES," SAYS JOEY MOLLAND of Badfinger, the British pop-rock hitmakers who recorded for the Beatles' Apple label. "Not airheads, but hippies. We really believed in certain concepts; our reality was based on certain ideals. And it was a bit of a drag to find out that wasn't the real world."
Despite the band members' successful conquest of the U.S. charts with "Come and Get It," "No Matter What," "Baby Blue" and "Day After Day" - not to mention the authorship of "Without You" a Number One hit for Harry Nilsson - Badfinger blew apart in 1974 amid a flurry of accusations and lawsuits over missing money. As drummer Mike Gibbins bluntly states it, 'We got scammed out of the business. It was one big nightmare."
The story didn't end with & band's dissolution. Despondency over money woes and other personal and career frustrations led to the suicides, by hanging, of founding members Pete Ham (in 1975) and Tom Evans (in 1983). Ham left behind a suicide note damning business manager Stan Polley as a "soulless bastard." Evans, who reportedly had a drinking problem, was in the process of losing his house and was being sued. There are also unconfirmed rumors he'd contracted throat cancer.
Although Badfinger's records are still played on the radio, the group's catalog is out of print in this country - a situation that frustrates surviving members Molland and Gibbins. "I can never find out why the records aren't on the market," says Molland. "Neil Aspinall [director of Apple] tells us contracts are being negotiated with major labels. They say they'll be out by the end of the year, but they told me that last year and the year before."
"The only people making any money are the bootleggers," says Gibbins. Indeed, bootleg CDs of such Badfinger classics as Straight Up and No Dice have been flooding the market. A legitimate CD reissue of two later albums for Warner Bros., titled Shine On and released in England by Demon Records, has been selling well, and Rhino may issue a similar set in this country.
In the meantime, Molland and Gibbins have kept Badfinger alive, playing clubs with two new recruits. They perform all the old hits, plus favorite album tracks and some new songs by Molland. "We sound like a beat group," says Gibbins, alluding to the stripped-down sound of the early British Invasion. "No keyboards, no synthesizers, no bullshit. We're steaming along,"
The group originally came together in 1968 as the Iveys, consisting of guitarists Ham and Evans, drummer Gibbins and bassist Ron Griffith. They were signed after Apple associates Peter Asher and Mal Evans caught an Iveys set at London's Marquee Club. The sole Iveys album, Maybe Tomorrow, came out only in Europe; original copies fetch upward of $400 on the collectors' market. The group changed its name to Badfinger, recorded four songs for the film The Magic Christian - including the Paul McCartney--penned and -produced "Come and Get It" - and released Magic Christian Music in 1970, fleshing it out with old Iveys material. Griffith was replaced by guitarist Molland, and Evans switched to bass. All four of the group members sang.
The next few years were rewarding ones for Badfinger: The group was produced by George Harrison and Todd Rundgren, played on Harrison's All Things Must Pass and John Lennon's Imagine and shared the stage with rock's biggest names at the Concert for Bangladesh, in 1971. "The whole Apple period for us was just magic" Gibbins says fondly.
Badfinger has sold an estimated 14 million records worldwide, yet Molland claims the group was awarded only one gold record and saw very little of the money earned. Even at the height of their success, the band members were kept on a lowly stipend of $1000 a month. "They had two hits on the charts and "Baby Blue" on the way, and we were living on packaged soup," says Kathie Molland, Joey's wife.
Still Badfinger's worst problems began when the Apple contract expired and the band signed with Warner Bros., which offered more money. Shortly after the 1974 release of Wish You Were Here, Badfinger's second album for the label, an audit of a band account that had held approximately $600,000 of advance money in escrow came up empty. Warner Bros. immediately yanked the album from record stored. It had been bulleting up the charts and selling 25,000 copies a week. Although the band members hadn't raided the escrow account and the money was later returned, the momentum had been halted. "It killed the album outright;" says Molland. "It broke up the band, and Pete died six months later."
Ham's suicide drove Gibbins to leave music and move back to his native Wales. "I lost my faith in rock & roll and the business," Gibbins says. "They just raped us, and I felt bad about it for a long time." Eventually, he began playing again drumming on Bonnie Tyler's platinum hit "It's a Heartache." Molland, meanwhile, moved to Los Angeles and formed Natural Gas, which opened for Peter Frampton on the starmaking Frampton Comes Alive tour, in 1975. Four years later, Molland re-formed Badfinger with Evans, recording Airwaves and later Say No More. Afterward, Molland lost touch until he saw Evans with a band called Goodfinger. "That was a sign he was starting to lose it." says Molland. "I think he actually may have gone around the twist."
Since 1984, Molland, 42, has lived on the west side of Minneapolis not far from Prince's Paisley Park complex, with Kathie, his wife of seventeen years, and their sons Joey and Shaun. Gibbins, 40, has settled down in Royal Oak, Michigan, "with a mortgage, two babies and a nagging wife," he says, laughing. "I'm a family man." His wife, Florence, is the sister of a former roadie.
In 1985, Gibbins and Molland successfully sued in British court to recover royalties for their Apple releases, which had been held in escrow at the band members' request in the wake of the Wish You Were Here fiasco. "It was a nice shot in the arm," says Molland. "It enabled me to buy this house, and it gave Mike and I the wherewithal to put the band together again." Though things are looking up for Badfinger, Molland admits he's perplexed over the reactions his latest demo tapes have elicited. "Some of the responses I got were It sounds too Beatlish'," Molland says with a chuckle.