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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Whatever Wednesday - The Rise and Fall of Badfinger

First things first, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the events of September 11, 2001. If you are interested, I wrote a blog entry about that day on the tenth anniversary of the attacks, which you can read about by CLICKING HERE. I can't believe that it has been twelve years since that devastating day. So many people lost their lives, and thousands of families were never the same. But as the Freedom Tower at the new World Trade Center nears completion, it is a symbol that life does go on, and I think those who lived through that day are more stronger and resilient than ever before. We'll never be able to forget what happened, but we can become stronger people as a result of it.

And now, on with today's entry.

Wednesdays have always been a bane in the existence of this blog. I've changed the theme day for Wednesday a total of...oh...four times over the last two years. I don't know what it is about Wednesdays, but I can never keep the same topic up and running for long.

The most recent attempt at the Wednesday topic was All-Request Wednesdays, where I would ask you all to submit requests on topics that you would like to see. And for a few months, it went over very well. But as the request well dried up in recent weeks, I came to the conclusion that the feature was inevitably going to be short-lived.

So, I thought that I would use this space and leave it up to fate instead. Though, that's not to say that I won't accept any more requests. I will. I'll just incorporate it into one of the other theme days, is all.

What do I mean when I say that I'll leave it to fate? Well, I'm going to let the cards fall and decide what topic I choose.

It's a little something I like to call “Whatever Wednesday”. I've even designed a special logo for the event!

Colourful, no?

Okay, so what I'm going to do is simple. I'm going to grab six different coloured cards, and assign each one a different theme day. Every Tuesday night, I will select a coloured card from a bag, and whatever colour card I choose will represent the theme of the Whatever Wednesday entry that I work on this week.

Now, here's the kicker. Where am I going to find six different coloured cards on such short notice?

Oh, look...I happen to have a copy of the board game Clue by my side with six different coloured character cards! How's that for lucky?

Okay. Now that we have our six cards, let's assign a theme day to each of the characters.

MISS SCARLET – Sunday Jukebox
COLONEL MUSTARD – Monday Matinee
MRS. WHITE – Saturday Smorgasbord Wks. 3-5 (Cartoons, Comics, Books)
MR. GREEN – Saturday Smorgasbord Wks. 1-2 (Toys, Games, Video Games)
MRS. PEACOCK – Friday Night On Television
PROFESSOR PLUM – Thursday Diary

So, for instance, if I selected Professor Plum from the bag, I'd be doing a diary entry. If I choose Mr. Green, I would do a blog on cartoons or comic books, etc, etc.

Makes sense?

Okay, so let's kick off the inaugural edition of Whatever Wednesday by drawing a card at random out of the bag.

And, we have Miss Scarlet, meaning that we're going to be rummaging through our vinyl collections and music trivia books for today.

And, in some ways, I almost think that it was kismet because I really did want to do a music spotlight today after hearing a particular song playing on the radio just the other day. It was a song that I had heard time and time again, and one that I absolutely loved...but for whatever reason, I could not figure out who sang it. At first I thought that it was The Beatles during their “Let It Be” period, but I couldn't quite make out any of the Beatles' singing voices, so I suspected that I was incorrect.

And I was...partly.

Sure, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr had nothing to do with the composition of this song. George Harrison on the other hand? He produced the song...well, at least partially. See, he already had a prior engagement to produce the Concert for Bangladesh, so Todd Rundgren took over the unfinished product.

And this was the end result.

ARTIST: Badfinger
SONG: Day After Day
ALBUM: Straight Up
DATE RELEASED: November 10, 1971

I'll admit that this song always manages to make me smile. Granted, it's a song about a lonely man longing to see his true love again...but there's just a timeless quality about it that is sorely lacking in today's pop music. I would much rather listen to Badfinger non-stop than any Justin Bieber album. Of course, that's just my own personal preference.

Now here's the double edged sword. This Badfinger song was light, fluffy, and serene...which contrasted with the ultimate fate of the band. Truth of the matter is that the history of Badfinger is a tale filled with betrayal, hardships, and in the case of a couple of members, death at their own hands.

This is the story of the rise...and fall of Badfinger.

When the band first got together in 1961 in Swansea, Wales, they went through several band names (including “The Wild Ones” and “The Black Velvets” before settling on “The Iveys”. The group's original members were Peter William Ham, Ronald Llewellyn Griffiths, David Owen Jenkins, and Roy Anderson.

(Or, as they liked to be called, “Ham”, “Griffiths”, “Dai”,

In 1965, the group added member Michael George Gibbins to the lineup, and soon after began to perform as the opening acts for several up and coming British groups which included “The Spencer Davis Group”, “The Yardbirds”, “The Moody Blues”, and “The Who”!

The group began touring around the London club circuits playing cover versions of a variety of musical genres. Top 40, psychadelic pop, R&B, Motown...nothing was off limits. I suppose that their versatility as a band worked to their advantage, as several record companies were interested in signing the band as a result. Ray Davies of The Kinks even helped the band produce some demo tracks to ship around to various record companies. Bill Collins signed on to be the band's manager in 1966, and throughout 1967, the band would perform occasional concerts. There was a minor shake-up in the band's line-up when Jenkins was asked to leave the group, but the split seemed amicable. Jenkins would be replaced by Thomas Evans Jr, completing the group line-up.

And then in 1968, the group received their big break, courtesy of Beatles' roadie and assistant Mal Young. Bill Collins invited him as well as Apple Records A&R rep Peter Asher to view one of their concerts, and almost immediately after the show, Young persistently asked all four members of the Beatles to listen to the band's demo tapes. It took some time, but all four Beatles eventually heard the demos and put their stamp of approval on signing the band.

The band signed to Apple Records on July 23, 1968 – making them the only non-Beatles act to be signed to the record label. But while their first few releases (under the name of The Iveys) did quite well in Japan and several European countries, the singles stalled in the United States and did even worse in their native UK. This was a common occurrence for the band, and soon the band began to get frustrated with executives at Apple Records, who kept rejecting the new songs that the band wrote. They gave interviews to the press explaining their disappointment, which Paul McCartney happened to read! But instead of getting angry about it, he offered the band a song. The song was called “Come and Get It”, meant for the soundtrack of “The Magic Christian”. The only stipulation was that the band had to perform the song exactly as McCartney had intended for it to be performed.

But shortly after the band recorded that song, as well as a couple of others, Griffiths would depart the band ten months after the birth of his first child, and reportedly his departure caused tension within the band as Griffiths later revealed in an interview that his decision to leave the band to spend more time with his family was met with hostility by Evans, who he claimed made Griffiths feel as if he was no longer a member of the band.

With the release of “Come and Get It”, there were two final changes. The band changed its name to “Badfinger”, which stemmed from an early working title (Bad-Finger Boogie) of the Beatles single “With A Little Help From My Friends”. And with the departure of Griffiths, the band hired Joseph Charles Molland to replace him.

Long story short, “Come and Get It” was released in late 1969, and it instantly reached #7 in the United States and #4 in the United Kingdom, and the single sold one million copies. Over the next few years, Badfinger would enjoy three more chart successes; “No Matter What”, “Baby Blue”, and the song which you heard earlier in the blog entry, “Day After Day”.

And in the case of Ham and Evans, they were even awarded a prestigious songwriting award in 1972 following the success of this song that Harry Nilsson (and later Mariah Carey) had on the charts.

So, how did the band unravel so quickly, with many of its members suffering tragic fates?

Well, many people have pointed the finger of blame at the gentleman up Stan Polley. In 1970, Polley – then a New York City based businessman – signed Badfinger to a business management contract. Each member of the band signed a contract which dictated that all receipts of touring, recording, publishing, and songwriter performance royalties that automatically went into holding companies controlled by Polley himself.

I know what you're thinking. Giving control of everything you earn to one man and his business skills? Instant red flag. But the members of Badfinger trusted him, as Badfinger wasn't the only musical act he was dealing with at the time (Polley also managed Al Kooper of Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Lou Christie).

By 1972, the band's opinion of Stan Polley began to change, and they were getting somewhat suspicious of how he really was handling their money that was earned from album and single sales and concert tours (which given that the band's heyday was in 1972, should have amounted to a small fortune). Badfinger was doing very well, but Apple Records were sustaining hard times (brought upon by the fact that their biggest moneymaker, The Beatles, had broken up two years earlier), and Apple Records flat out told the band that when it came to signing a new contract, they wouldn't be as generous as they would be the first time around.

Nevertheless, the band's final album with Apple Records, 1972's “Ass” (yes, that was the name of the album) was released, despite the fact that there were problems in the production of the album (original producer Todd Rundgren quit the project after just one week due to a financial dispute). Unfortunately, the album did not do as well on the charts as their previous work.

Still, according to Polley, that didn't matter. While Badfinger was putting the finishing touches on their final album, Polley was working out a contract with Warner Brothers Records, which wanted the band to release a new album every six months over the next three years. Once the band's commitment to Apple Records ended, Polley presented the band with a new contract with Warner Brothers Records, detailing the two-album a year condition. The band was however warned by then vice president of Badfinger Enterprises Inc., (a company started by Polley) not to sign the contract. But the contract seemed too good to pass up. It was worth three million dollars, and the deal would provide the band with twelve per cent of all retail sales in the United States, and 8.5% of sales everywhere else in the world. In addition, the band would be presented with an advance of $225,000 for each album they delivered under the new contract. It was too irresistible to pass up.

But, like the iconic image of the jackass chasing after the dangling carrot on the cover of their 1972 “Ass” album, this contract would have the band chasing after a golden opportunity that never presented itself.

After touring the United States throughout late 1973 and early 1974, Badfinger returned to the studios to record the album “Wish You Were Here”, and it was released in October of 1974, which Rolling Stone magazine gave glowing reviews. The album could very well have been Badfinger's best effort yet.

But then it all fell apart.

It all began with tensions erupting within the band, as Molland's wife, Kathie, was becoming increasingly frustrated with the politics within the band, and her assertiveness rubbed Ham the wrong way. In fact, Ham became so annoyed with Kathie Molland that he up and quit the band during an executive meeting! He stayed away for three weeks before being convinced by Warner Brothers to return to the band, as they would have no further interest in promoting Badfinger without him. Ham returned to the band three weeks after he quit, but Molland himself would be out of the band by the end of the year.

But if the tensions within the band weren't bad enough, the behind the scenes action that went on between Polley and Warner Brothers Records.

In 1973, Warner Brothers began to get suspicious of Stan Polley due to the fact that Polley was not communicating with them at all in regards to an escrow account of advance funds. As it was written in the contract, Polley was to deposit a quarter of a million dollars into a mutually accessible account for safekeeping, which Polley did. But Polley neglected to let Warner Brothers know where the account could be accessed. The company sent him letters asking him to divulge the location of the account, but Polley refused to acknowledge them.

This was all done WITHOUT Badfinger's knowledge, by the way.

With Molland's departure from the band in December 1974, Polley pressed the band to give up touring the United States in support of the “Wish You Were Here” album to record the band's follow-up album, “Head First” at the Apple Recording Studios – while under contract with Warner Brothers! But when the band recorded tracks for the album and submitted them to Warner Brothers American offices, they were denied. Their publishing arm had already filed a lawsuit against Polley and Badfinger in the Los Angeles Superior Court in December 1974.

Polley's plan was to submit the tapes in hopes that they would secure one final cash advance before the litigation, but Warner Brothers refusal to accept the tapes meant no cash bonus. On top of all that, the lawsuit that was filed forced the record company to stop production on the “Wish You Were Here” album after just seven weeks, which ultimately became the final nail in Badfinger's coffin.

By 1975, times became tough for the band, as all of the income they were receiving had suddenly stopped. Every band member left in Badfinger was worried and panicked, but none more so than Peter Ham, who had just bought a house and whose girlfriend was pregnant with their child. Out of desperation, Ham tried contacting Polley on numerous occasions, but he was unable to reach him. The band tried to go on without Polley, but the search for new booking agents lead to dead ends, based on the restrictive contract that Polley had the band sign.

Seems like they should have taken that man's advice in not signing the contract.

It all came to a tragic head on the morning of April 24, 1975. The night before, Ham received a call from the United States, and in that phone call, it was revealed that all of his savings were now gone. He and Tom Evans met up at a pub later on where Ham reportedly drowned his sorrows in whiskey.

Hours later, Peter Ham hung himself in his studio garage. In his suicide note, he openly blamed Stan Polley for pushing him into the suicide, proclaiming that he would find a way to bring him down with him.

With Ham's death, Badfinger had no choice but to go their separate ways. Gibbins would join “The Flying Aces” while Evans and Bob Jackson (who was hired with the band after Peter Ham temporarily left Badfinger) joined “The Dodgers”.

The band attempted a reunion of sorts in 1977 (which reunited Evans and Molland after three years), and had a bit of a comeback with their 1979 album “Airwaves”. But tragedy would strike again in November 1983 when following an argument with Molland over past events, Evans would commit suicide in his own garden – using the same method that Ham had used eight years earlier. It was widely reported that Evans – who had seen Ham's dead body – never got over his death, and that months before his death, Evans was heard to make comments about wanting to be where Peter was.

It was a very sad ending to a band who ended up becoming the innocent victims of a lawsuit filed without their knowledge, as well as the victims of a man whose poor choices lead to the band's ruination in the mid-1970s.

So, what has happened to the people since?

Tragically we know the stories of Ham and Evans. May they both finally rest in peace.

Since the 1990s, Molland still tours under the Badfinger name. Come to think of it, I think that he's supposed to be playing at a nearby fair later this month. I did see an advertisement for it on television recently. It is good to see that at least one of the members is trying to keep the name alive.

Bob Jackson also performs some Badfinger staples along with his band, The Fortunes, which Jackson rejoined in 1995.

Sadly, Gibbins would die in his sleep on October 4, 2005 at the age of 56 from a brain aneurysm.

As for the man who caused the Badfinger bad blood? Well, Stan Polley pleaded no contest in 1991 to charges of misappropriating funds and money laundering in California. In an unrelated case to the Badfinger story, aeronautics engineer Peter Brock accused Polley of swindling him for a quarter of a million dollars after the two set up a corporation to manufacture airplane engines. Polley's sentence for that case was a five year probationary period, as well as being ordered by the court to return all missing funds to Brock. But according to Brock, he never did honour that restitution.

Stan Polley passed away in July 2009 at the age of 87, never really paying the price for everything that he did to the members of Badfinger.

A real shame.

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