Whether it was bad luck, bad karma or bad timing, Badfinger met a bad end

The real-life misery that befell Badfinger, The Beatles’ hand-picked pop proteges, makes even the harshest Shakespearean tragedies look like sitcoms.
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By Mike Greenblatt

Could there be any more tragic of a group than British rock band Badfinger? The band, which began under the moniker The Iveys in the 1960s, went through several lineup changes before settling on its classic lineup of vocalist/keyboardist Pete Ham, bassist Tom Evans, guitarist Joey Molland and drummer Mike Gibbins for its great run in 1970, ’71 and ’72.

Badfinger promotional photo

While the mood of this Badfinger publicity photo seems rosy enough, the band members were engaging in bitter squabbles behind the scenes. Mismanagement led Pete Ham to commit suicide in 1975 at age 27. After a reunion and comeback effort failed, the band's unfortunate history repeated with bassist Tom Evans, who committed suicide in 1983 at age 36.

Harry Nilsson took their beautiful and soulful original “Without You” all the way to No. 1 in America. Hall & Oates recorded it on their 2004 “Our Kind Of Soul” covers album, but as typical for Badfinger, it only made the European version. Despite working with Todd Rundgren, Eric Clapton, The Kinks’ Ray Davies and Beatles John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney, bitter inter-band squabbles and horrible — if not criminal — mismanagement led Pete Ham to take his own life in 1975 at age 27.

In the early 1980s, I flew to Miami to go into the recording studio with a newly reconstituted Badfinger, complete with original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye. Guitarist Joey Molland and bassist Tom Evans were on speaking terms again, and indie label Radio Records was banking big time that an album called “Say No More” would restore some of Badfinger’s former glory.

Molland: “I hate to say I got a raw deal. I just accept what’s happened to me.”

Badfinger suggested playlist

Evans (regarding Ham’s suicide): “It felt awful. We all felt like we were in a box of legal sh*t that we’d never get out of. At one point, we quit the music business entirely. I became a milkman.”

Molland: “I fixed pipes.”

A series of bad business signings had left the band members with no money and no career. In Ham’s suicide note, he mentioned “that bastard” Stan Polley (1922-2009), the business manager who led the group’s members into a pit from which could not be extricated. Evans and Ham had been out drinking the night Ham died.

“He put away 10 shots of scotch in 10 minutes,” remembers Evans, “and wanted to take a bottle of wine home.” Evans dropped Ham off at 2 a.m. He was dead three hours later.

“If this album doesn’t make it,” Evans says, “I’ll go back to London and write more f**king commercial jingles. At least I’m good at that.”

“Say No More” didn’t make it. Tony Kaye started drinking again. He admits that was the reason he was kicked out of Yes.

“Yes was five people and four of them decided that what [singer] Jon [Anderson] wanted was what they wanted. I wanted the band to go in another direction, ironically, the exact direction they seem to be going in right now! Plus, I was enjoying it all way too much. I was out of my f**king mind most nights, totally incapable of playing to the best of my ability. I think I was rebelling because it got to be very frustrating to play Yes music. It had to be so f**king accurate! Every note was conceived and choreographed and was played the same damn way every single night.”

Evans and Molland became mortal enemies once again, having major fights about back royalties. At one point, they even simultaneously formed two touring Badfingers. This led to more fights, recriminations and ultimately, after one particularly nasty telephone battle with Molland over royalties from “Without You,” came the cruelest cut of all. Reminiscent of Ham’s final choice, Evans was found hanging from a willow tree in his backyard. He left no note, but the distaste over royalties, the frustration over a lack of recognition and the fact that he never got over Pete Ham’s suicide led Evans down the same path in 1983. He was 36.

The Iveys on Apple

I can’t get the last thing Evans told me out of my mind. It was only 18 months before he killed himself, and the tone of his statement foreshadowed his demise.

“I’ve been through it too many times to get that up on whether this album is going to be a success,” he softly said. “You have to have a bit of reserve about it all, or else it destroys your life.” GM