Joey Molland Interview — Last Badfinger Standing: BeatleFair Oct. 27
October 27 will see the return (after an 8 year absence) of the local BeatleFair convention, with rare performances by mainmen from Beatles lore like Tony Sheridan (in his only U.S. appearance of 2012) and local Beatleholics like Dave Humphries, Baja Bugs, Bart Mendoza and True Stories, and Beatles tribute band Help.
Humphries' personal connection to the Beatles dates back to February 1964: The Beatles’ “Do You Want to Know a Secret” and “Love Me Do” dominated the U.S. and U.K. charts. The British songwriter remembers it well — he was there. Humphries moved to San Diego in 1996, but at one time the native of Durham City, in northeast England, was known as someone on the periphery of the Beatles story.
In fact, he holds the official title of “The Man Rejected by Apple Records [four times] More Than Anyone Else Alive.”
Humphries’s appearance at the 2003 BeatleFair allowed him to meet and play with another figure from the Beatles’ past: Tony Sheridan, for whom the Fab Four played on their first-ever recording, “My Bonnie,” credited to Tony Sheridan and the Silver Beetles. While Sheridan was at BeatleFair, Humphries talked him into cowriting and recording a song in Mission Hills: “38 Days” appears on the 38 Days CD self-released by Humphries. The recording was made easier due to Sheridan’s longtime keyboard player Wolfgang Grasekamp living in La Mesa.
Humphries also tried to get onetime Beatles drummer Pete Best to participate in the “38 Days” recording, since Best was in town at the same time for BeatleFair. It was rumored that Best’s reaction to the invitation was “Show me the money.” Best’s agent reports that he’s paid $4000 to appear anywhere and upwards of $6000 to $10,000 if he performs.
At least being rejected by the Beatles has paid off for someone.
38 Days earned Humphries a nomination at the 2006 San Diego Music Awards. The disc includes two tracks featuring Sheridan on guitar.
Humphries shared his own Beatles Story with the Reader, remembering the night John Lennon died, on December 8, 1980.
“It was just like another normal December morning in Durham, northeast England, cloudy and a little cold. I heard my dad go off to work and before long would hear my mother shout up the stairs, 'Are you getting up?' But today she didn't do that, today it was 'John Lennon has been shot.'”
“A sick feeling consumed me. I didn't know how to handle this. Of course we'd had deaths in the family, but this was different, it felt as if my youth had been torn away. My hero was gone, a man whom I felt I had known personally since 1963, a man I admired, a man who together with his three mates inspired me, made me laugh out loud, made me pick up the guitar, a man murdered by a bastard with a gun. I recall the BBC showed Help! that night. I didn't watch, didn't see any of the news reports, couldn't; I don't know now how I got through the days or nights. I tried to avoid friends, couldn't discuss it -- just felt raw. It was months before I could listen to John's voice without filling up and breaking down. John, who gave so much to the world, murdered for what?”
Bart Mendoza, who'll perform at BeatleFair with his band True Stories, shares his own Beatles Story. "Growing up, I was a music fan and, therefore, a Beatles fan. Paul was my fave, but John, George, and Ringo were right behind. A local TV showing of A Hard Day's Night I caught as a ten-year-old in 1972 (thanks, Bob Dale!) inspired me to form a band."
"How could anyone watch the closing segment and not want to be a musician?"
Here's an interview from the Reader archives with Joey Molland, the sole surviving member of Apple Records discovery Badfinger. Conducted at one of the previous San Diego BeatleFairs where he performed, he discusses meeting and working with John Lennon, George Harrison, and Todd Rundgren, plus the Concert for Bangladesh, and more.
As cool as it is to hear the Badfinger/Paul McCartney song "Come & Get It" in that Buick Pontiac commercial, I can't help but laugh at how they leave out the more apropos lyric "Would you walk away from a fool and his money!" Not a ringing endorsement for Buick, at least not to anyone familiar with the song they're (over)using!
I’m a huge Badfinger fan. I was buying their ‘45s long before three of the four pivotal members died over the years (two by suicide). Back in the Stones’ age, in Wales during 1968, they were called the Iveys. Signed to the Beatles’ new record label, Apple, their first single "Maybe Tomorrow" peaked at US #67 in March 1969. The follow-up single "Dear Angie" was only released in Europe. They weren’t exactly taking the world by storm.
In a newspaper interview, original bassist Ron Griffiths once mentioned that being on The Beatles label hadn’t helped the band achieve any real success. Paul McCartney read this and went to 7 Park Avenue, where Badfinger lived and worked together. Giving them a demo of a new song, he said "Record this and you’ll have a hit record."
The song was "Come And Get It," which he’d written for Magic Christian, an upcoming Ringo Starr/Peter Sellers film. The group recorded it with Paul playing tambourine and producing, little realizing the song would be used to sell cars 37 years later.
Soon, Griffiths was out and Liverpool guitarist Joey Molland was in. Guitarist Tom Evans (also from Liverpool) switched to bass, and the lineup was rounded out by Mike Gibbins on drums and guitarist Pete Ham. Changing their name to Badfinger (to avoid confusion with a group called the Ivey League), the "Come And Get It" single (from the Magic Christian Music LP) was a huge top ten hit in both England and America.
Beatles comparisons were inevitable and some accused them of shamelessly copping the Beatles’ sound.
This constant matching against the Fab Four would prove their greatest boost - and their greatest hindrance. The single "No Matter What" (from No Dice) hit US #8, and suddenly Badfinger was hot. Their business manager Bill Collins (who’d represented Al Kooper and others) told the band that, with his help, they’d all become millionaires. Ironically, only Collins himself would ever approach that.
The group recorded in the big studio at Abbey Road, where The Beatles worked.
"They had a cupboard in the corner and the Beatles’ stuff was in there," Joey Molland told me when I interviewed him in Mission Valley at a local BeatleFair. "When there was nobody in the studio, we’d open up the cupboard with their stuff. Rub their anvil for luck."
Besides their obvious musicianship, Badfinger’s vocal harmonies were sublime. They recorded themselves singing together instead of piecing together tracks.
"We’d all be around the mic singing,” says Molland. “We learned each other’s phrasing. Pete’s phrasing was a bit stiffer than, say, mine was. And Tommy had this kind of nice lilt. We knew where to step back and where to move forward. George Harrison taught us a lot about that when he produced the Straight Up record. He actually forced us to do that stuff, to stay in the studio for hours on end doing oooohs and ahhhs. He’s a remarkable man I was such a complete Beatles fan. He talked to you very natural, you know...he was really regular and I was, like, well it was like talking to Jesus! I’m losing me mind and he’s being all cool."
Among Straight Up’s highlights is Molland’s tender slice of perfection , the love ballad "Sweet Tuesday Morning." "In those days, for a guy to sing that kind of song, I don’t know. I never saw Humphrey Bogart do that, you know what I mean? Or John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, none of them ever sang a love song. So it was kind of embarrassing."
Pete Ham was also crafting indelible pop gems, like "Baby Blue." "Pete was funny guy, very attracted to women. He never wore underwear on stage! Brilliant writer, so many great tunes. He was a worker as well. He’d be in that studio day in and day out. That’s really what he focused on, writing songs. He’d pull practical jokes. He’d eat blood capsules and run down the stairs making noise and then lay down at the bottom and he’d have blood on him."
At the time, Harrison was planning the Concert For Bangladesh benefit and had to drop out of the Badfinger project. Todd Rundgren came in to finish the album.
"Oh, the heebie jeebies,” recalls Molland. “It was really weird, this fellow with red and yellow hair. He did make a big hit record, though, I’ll give him that." Their association with Harrison continued, as Badfinger played rhythm guitars for George’s All Things Must Pass album, as well as being invited to play at the Bangladesh show in August 1971.
"When you stand up in front of 20,000 people doing ‘Here Comes The Sun’ with George Harrison,” says Molland, “I don’t know what Pete was thinking, but I bet he wished he had underpants on that day!"
"One day," remembers Molland, "we get a call at the house on Park Avenue. It was Joe, John Lennon’s driver. He said ‘John’s recording tonight and he was wondering if you’d do him a favor and come down and play some guitar on a couple of songs.’ Of course we said yes...we went in [Lennon’s house] and there was the ladder in the vestibule, the one you climb up with the magnifying glass."
"So we go into the foyer and there’s a big staircase going up and the carpet was all black, the walls were all white. On the walls going up the stairway were these empty picture frames. Big beautiful gilt portrait frames. I remember a hammer hanging in this frame. I’m going, yeah, this is definitely Johnny’s house, isn’t it!"
"So we go down the hallway and into this billiard room...the door closes behind us and there’s no door there! It was all library books, like one of those secret doors, so we were in there walking around for a half an hour. Finally one of the panels with the books swings open and we go into another room and that’s full of Dr. Pepper. Crates and crates of it."
They finally got to Lennon’s home studio.
"We sit down and tune up and in comes Mr. Lennon and Yoko. He sits down on his stool, says hello to everyone and says ‘The first song we’re going to do is 'Jealous Guy.' He told everyone to keep it together, nice and simple. I put the headphones on and there’s John Lennon sitting five feet away from me playing 'Jealous Guy,' and it was unbelievable. We did the session, he said ‘These Badfinger guys aren’t bad now, are they?’ He said we could f-off for awhile if we wanted to but we said no that’s okay, we’ll stay! So he did ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier,’ and we banged around on that for awhile."
"Day After Day" was a million selling single (US #4). At the same time, Harry Nilsson’s version of Badfinger’s "Without You" went to US #1. But in 1973, their record deal with Apple ran out and they signed with Warner Brothers. Apple, as a business, was falling apart and would soon collapse.
When the label went into receivership and the Beatles started suing each other, publishing rights and royalties to Badfinger’s songs were held up in the same court proceedings.
In 1974, WB released the group’s new LP, Badfinger, just as Apple released Ass, a compilation of material left off Straight Up and tracks rejected by Apple. With two records out at same time, sales on both were poor. Then in March 1974, WB removed all Badfinger LPs from stores, filing a lawsuit against Badfinger Enterprises.
Their business manager was accused of mishandling their affairs and the band would sue him (he’d sue them back).
The last album with all four pivotal members, Wish You Were Here, never even cracked the US top 100 (more’s the pity, since it’s merely fabulous). Personal problems also plagued the group, and they’d seen almost no income from their hard work. At one point, Ham quit the band (and then rejoined). Molland also quit, and Gibbins announced that he wanted to spend more time at home with his son Owen.
On April 24 1975, Pete Ham hung himself in the garage of his London home. He was 27.
"He believed in the people around him,” says Molland. “He trusted people implicitly but unfortunately he put his trust in the wrong people. When he died, he was broke, his phone was going to be cut off, his wife was pregnant and she was going into the hospital. It was a really bad scene and there was nobody there to help him. He would not accept the fact that these people were doing this to him. You know, the manager was shopping him a solo deal. Like he was planning on the band breaking up."
"It’s frustrating," says Molland. "You can’t turn back the hands of time. The lawyers couldn’t help, it was contractual interference. The management company couldn’t help, the record company couldn’t help because the last two records hadn’t sold very well. And there was the Warner Brothers lawsuit going on. The manager was hopeless - he freely admits it now, he admits riding around in a limousine in New York and not reading our contracts. It’s just stunning. These people to this day still kind of fob it off to some kind of gray area over there but the reality of it is that they were directly responsible for it."
After Ham’s suicide, the band fell apart. Mike Gibbins moved back to Wales while Molland formed Blue Goose, then Natural Gas (I saw Natural Gas backing up Peter Frampton on the Comes Alive tour - one of the only times I ever saw an opening band so thoroughly blow away the headliner!).
Tommy Evans and Bob Jackson (who’d played keys with Badfinger on tour) formed the Dodgers and released several singles.
In 1978, Molland was working in LA, laying carpet. Evans was doing pipe insulation in England and the two of them decided to reform Badfinger. The resulting LP Airwaves is a minor masterpiece and they were back in 1981 for Say No More, recorded with Tony Kaye on keys (ex of Yes).
But after a 1983 US tour, the group splintered once more.
Gibbins was married and living in South Wales. Evans was having severe financial problems and going to court, attempting to finally get royalty money from songs like "Without You." He told his wife Marianne that he was convinced the entire world was aligned against him.
On Nov. 19th, 1983, Tommy Evans was found dead in his Surrey England home. He’d hanged himself.
For the 1984 British Invasion tour with Herman’s Hermits, The Troggs and others, Badfinger consisted of Molland and Gibbins, plus Bob Jackson, Al Wodke (bass) and Randy Anderson (guitar).
Molland moved to Minneapolis and put out a hard rocking solo album in 1985, After The Pearl. When I caught Badfinger live in ‘86, their amazing set list included a wonderful segue from "Without You" into John Lennon’s "Mind Games." The poignant moment brought me near to tears, thinking about the great losses we’ve all suffered - Pete Ham, Tommy Evans, Lennon and so many others.
On October 4th, 2005, Mike Gibbins died in his sleep, at his home in Oviedo, Florida. Three of his sons play together in the Orlando-based band the Seven Sisters.
Today, there’s more Badfinger available than ever, and the group is finally getting the attention and acclaim it’s long deserved. Rhino’s Best Of Badfinger Vol. II was a hit, as was Rykodisc’s Day After Day, a 1974 concert recording. Joey Molland formed his own label (Independent Records), releasing Timeless in 1989 (Gibbins appears on drums).
Molland still tours with a band he calls Badfinger. His 1992 solo record the Pilgrim may not a top seller, but I highly recommend it to anyone who loves Oasis, Jellyfish, Tears For Fears, Klaatu, or of course Badfinger (and I’ve never steered you wrong yet, have I?).
"Wonderwall w/ George Harrison: Lost 1968 Psychedelic Gem" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
"Joey Molland and the Beatles Curse" - http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/20...
"The Dream is Over" - around 50 local and national celebs share their recollections of where they were when they heard John Lennon had been killed,including Al Kooper, who gave the Reader his exclusive account of being in the recording studio with George Harrison when they got the news. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/20...
More like this:
- RIP early Beatles collaborator Tony Sheridan: His San Diego ties — Feb. 17, 2013
- Beatles Stories screening (Oct. 2), Fab 4 Musical (Oct. 5), and BeatleFair Convention (Oct. 27) — Sept. 29, 2012
- One Badfinger Standing — July 29, 2009
- Badfinger VS Bob Dylan — Sept. 30, 2007
- Best of 2000: Best Beatlemaniac Bash — Dec. 28, 2000