Mention the name Badfinger and the account of their infamous, tragic story comes to mind. Famously hailed by the Beatles as the next big thing, and signed to their Apple label, the band emerged from the shadow of the Fab Four to be one of the most respected rock outfits of the early ‘70s. It all fell apart by mid decade: as Apple crumbled, the band signed a predatory contract that left them virtually penniless, contributing to the eventual suicides of two of their principle members — Pete Hamm and Tom Evans.
However, to dwell on this tragic trajectory shouldn’t overshadow the great music Badfinger made. They were brimming with talent, featuring three burgeoning songwriters who crafted albums of honeyed harmonies and killer power pop riffs. Even in the slew of classic rock also-rans you hear on the radio, the Badfinger hits “Come and Get It,” “No Matter What,” and “Without You” (famously covered by Harry Nilsson) stand out as stellar tunes full of empathy, packing an emotional punch that few of their peers could muster. It’s a back catalogue that should be celebrated.
Joey Molland provides exactly that tonight as he continues to carry the Badfinger torch at the Broward Center for the Performing Art. Badfinger featuring Joey Molland have been touring as part of the Hippiefest concert, along with The Family Stone, Rick Derringer and Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels. Molland took time out from his hectic schedule to reflect on his time with Badfinger, and give us insight as to what to expect this weekend.
New Times: How did you integrate so quickly and establish yourself as a songwriter in your own right within the band?
Molland: Well I’d had experience in other bands. So that held me in good stead with Badfinger. I was also a really good rhythm guitar player, and they were looking for that. So I had these points in my favor, and of course am great looking as well! It all worked out in me favor. I was really impressed with them, Pete and Tommy were really great singers, Mike (Gibbins) was a great drummer, there was a lot of talent in the band. So it was a cool scene to walk into for me.
You’re originally from Liverpool. Did the Liverpool connection help you form your relationship with the Beatles?
They liked the idea I was from Liverpool. It helped me out. It was really nervy for all of us to be around them. I loved them. I remember us all panicking before we met, but they just wanted to knock around, didn’t want to talk about being in the Beatles. They wanted to know where you got those good looking shoes from. They were normal blokes.
In those early years, could the Beatles connection be both be a help and a hindrance?
It definitely helped us a lot! They helped us get radio play, and people gave us a listen because we were on Apple Records. We went and made our third album, Straight Up, and delivered it to the Beatles. They thought it was primitive and wanted something a bit more sophisticated. George kind of took over. He went through all our songs and made arrangements. He was really nice. He approached “Day After Day” as an extension of George. I remember Leon Russell stopped by the studio one day to say hello to George and he ended up playing piano for us on “Day After Day.”
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You also worked with George on the Concert for Bangladesh performance. How was that?
It was everything you imagine. George was kind enough to ask us. We’d just played on his album, All Things Must Pass. He asked everyone from the album to play at the concert. We went to NYC, and rehearsed with him, Ringo, Klaus Voormann and Billy Preston. Throughout the week the band just got bigger — backing vocalists, horn section. Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan showed up on the Saturday!
Nobody got paid. It made a fortune for the kids. I’m really proud I was part of it - a magic week.
Perhaps the band’s most celebrated record is Straight Up. How was the recording process?
It was difficult. It was convoluted the way that it happened. George had taken over production and it was going really well. Then suddenly George got involved in the Bangladesh situation, and recommended Todd Rundgren. He was a horror to work with — rude and obnoxious. It was really upsetting. We didn’t like him. I told him to his face years later, when we were both doing a show in Atlantic City. I asked him why he was like that … an asshole. And he said, “I wasn’t really like that, you just remember me like that.”
The last album with the classic line-up was Wish You Were Here. Do you look fondly upon the recording of the album now?
I have positive memories of that. Making the record was great. We were starting to become aware that our management was stealing our money, but we still had a great time putting the record together. We were pumping hot because we’d been on tour. The songs were coming; and they were influenced by some of the stuff that was going on at the time. Pete had fallen in love with a roadie’s wife, our management were stealing our money, there was a little bit of drug taking going on. But we were still Badfinger, we still knew what we were about. We brought everything we had to the rehearsals and recording. We were just the ingredients in the stew. It really worked. The thing that I’m sad about is that we didn’t persist; I wish I would’ve been stronger, and I wish that for all of us. We weren’t strong enough to keep the band together. Tommy and Pete could sing as good as anybody. Before his death, Pete was on a dry patch, but he would’ve come back writing those great songs. It’s a thing I look back on and regret. I wish we had the strength to stay together.
Badfinger plays Hippiefest 2015 with The Family Stone, Rick Derringer and Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $20 to $75 via Ticketmaster. (954) 462-0222, browardcenter.org.