Management, Music, and Misery: Badfinger Signs Their Life Away
Perhaps nowhere in the history of rock has a band been so close to grasping the brass ring of success and crashed back to earth in such tragic disarray. The story of Badfinger is one of wide-eyed innocence being burned by the ugliest manifestations of evil, that of greed and indifference. While their career was launched with all the cache necessary to achieve great heights, the four members of this mild-mannered British group signed their lives over to one man who effectively snuffed out their flame. Talent was all they could rely on in their darkest hours. And Badfinger had talent to burn.
The band had its roots in the cold, wet environs of Swansea, Wales. Pete Ham was a sensitive lad who showed an affinity for the guitar at an early age. He immersed himself in the local music scene, playing in a succession of bands from the late ‘50s into the early ‘60s. As rock ‘n’ roll swept the nation, he and his mates got more gigs at clubs in neighboring cities. When their bassist quit, local lad Ron Griffiths joined Pete’s group. After tossing about various names, Griffiths came up with the moniker The Iveys, based in part on their love of the Hollies’ song “Poison Ivy.” Drummer Mike Gibbins soon hooked up with The Iveys in 1965.
When the group played a local ballroom in 1966, a man named Bill Collins was in the audience. This woodworker and engineer had been a pianist for several dance bands throughout the 1930s. His interest in the sparkling tunes, many originally written by the band members themselves, prompted him to offer his services in managing The Iveys. Over thirty years their senior, Collins came to be seen as a protective father figure in their struggle for success, and he allowed the boys to live at his London home. The atmosphere around this abode was conducive to constant rehearsing and youthful shenanigans.
When the group’s guitarist announced he was leaving, the Iveys looked to a Liverpool guitarist named Tom Evans, who played in another band called The Calderstones, to join their ranks in the summer of 1967. Evans had grown up in a very musical family, and his fascination with rock ‘n’ roll left him with a burning desire to be in a band. As a young teen, he had caught the Beatles at a performance in Liverpool’s Cavern Club shortly after their second trip to Hamburg. Evans soon moved into Bill Collin’s house, and The Iveys rehearsed, recorded in the front living room, and toured incessantly.
Collins was an acquaintance of the Beatles’ road manager, Mal Evans, and one day, he accompanied Evans to a recording session at Abbey Road Studios. There, he met Paul McCartney and struck up a conversation about The Iveys. McCartney expressed interest in hearing some of this new band’s tunes. In 1968, the Fab Four formed their business venture, Apple Records, and were soliciting anyone and everyone to send in their music for possible recording deals. Mal Evans was extremely keen on bringing The Iveys to Apple. After many demos were sent to the staff, Apple Records finally conceded that The Iveys had what it took to be on their label. The Apple contract they signed basically agreed to split the publishing share of their songs with Apple and The Iveys could keep their writer’s share. Bill Collins essentially became the fifth member of the band, and all agreed to split the monies equally between themselves. It was a glorious moment for the four naïve rockers from Northern England. The Iveys went from playing small gigs in London clubs to being represented by the greatest musicians on the planet practically overnight.
The band set to work immediately, strumming through the vast assortment of tunes they’d written over the last few years at their new upscale recording studio. One particular song, “Maybe Tomorrow,” seemed to strike a chord with their new-found mentors. Tom Evans told interviewer Glen Baker, “I remember Paul McCartney comin’ down the stairs at Apple saying, ‘I think you got a hit record there.” The single was released in late November 1968, but fared poorly on the British record chart and only reached number 67 on the American chart. Apple, nonetheless, warily continued to support The Iveys. Tom said at the time, “The Beatles bought our gear for us, all the equipment and the group van, and we’ve had all sorts of concessions…all we need now is a hit single, or even just a new single, hit or not, and we’ll be happy.”
As a result of a changeover in Beatle management under New Yorker Allen Klein, Apple was in a state of disarray and put The Ivey’s first LP, “Maybe Tomorrow” into limited release in countries like Germany and Italy. Hope for a hit single seemed to diminish. But, suddenly, the band got a boost from Mr. McCartney. Having been contacted to contribute songs for the British film “The Magic Christian,” McCartney realized he did not have enough of his time to give to that effort while he was in the midst of putting together the “Abbey Road” album. He offered The Iveys the job and played them a song he’d written for the main theme of the movie. “Come And Get It” turned out to be the hit Tom Evans and the others were pining for.
Meanwhile, a transition took place in the group. Bassist Ron Griffith, who had been with Pete Ham from the start back in the mid-60s, had just become a new dad. After barely-veiled needling from Tom Evans, Griffith reluctantly resigned and moved his family to another town, where he became a factory worker. The group, at this time, was also bandying about ideas for a name change. Evans told Glenn Baker, “We used to come out with lists and lists everyday, everyone had to write a hundred names out, you know. It was like being in school…we’d hone them down to 20 everyday.” Paul McCartney wanted to call them Home. John Lennon was chiming in with Prix. It was Apple’s executive, Neil Aspinall, who suggested Badfinger. He remembered a moment when John Lennon was playing a riff on the piano with a bad finger and had christened the ditty “Bad Finger Boogie.” Pete Ham, Tom Evans, and Mike Gibbins all accepted the new moniker and became collectively known as Badfinger. Now they just needed a new bass player.
Joey Molland had been playing guitar in bands since his grammar school days in Liverpool. He had been a member of groups like The Masterminds and Gary Walker and The Rain. His agent encouraged him to join the newly-named Badfinger. To accommodate Molland, who didn’t play bass, Tom Evans relinquished the rhythm guitar slot to Joey and took up the Hofner. “Come and Get It” was rising into Britain’s Top Five and Badfinger’s debut album “Magic Christian Music” peaked at number 4 on the U.K. chart. In America, “Come and Get It” reached number 7 on the Billboard chart. The boys of Badfinger were dazzled by their good fortune, as Mike Gibbins later summed up to VH-1, “It was Alice in Wonderland for us, come on!”
Bill Collins had acted as the group’s manager throughout their Ivey days, but now, as Badfinger, the band was gaining global recognition, and Collins’ business savvy was not very well informed when it came to the American market. Through a mutual friend, while on a trip to the U.S., Collins was introduced to music business manager Stan Polley. Polley was a New Yorker who had come up primarily through the garment trade, having practiced law along the way. His clients included Al Kooper, formerly of Blood, Sweat, & Tears, and singer Lou Christie (“Lightning Strikes”). Badfinger met Polley shortly thereafter and agreed to have him set up their debut tour across America in September 1970. Mike told VH-1, “My first impression of Stan was ‘he’s a powerful guy.’ Joey gave this observation: “He’s a real kind of ‘Dad’-kind of person, you know, ‘father’ kind of person.” A father usually has the best interest of his children in mind. Stan Polley turned out to be Badfinger’s nightmare papa.
The band’s next single “No Matter What” was released on October 12, 1970, while they were on their first tour of the U.S. Written by the group’s unofficial leader, Pete Ham, the solid rocker has endured on classic rock stations ever since. At the time, it rose to number 8 on the Billboard chart and number 5 in Britain. The group’s second album “No Dice” peaked at Billboard’s number 28. The band appeared to be on their way to a prosperous and creative career.
Polley spied those looming dollar signs on their horizon and wooed Badfinger while they were in New York. Mike Gibbins told author Dan Matovina, “You couldn’t help but like Polley. He could sell sand to an Arab; he was that good.” Gibbons, Ham, and Molland wound up signing a contract. It basically stipulated that Polley would receive 30% gross of all Badfinger revenue. Most managers take 5 or 10 percent. The boys in Badfinger were on a speedboat ride and didn’t stop to worry about the shark in their midst. Tom Evans was the only group holdout. That is, until Polley presented him with a new Porsche. Evans quickly scribbled his signature on the dotted line.
Polley set up a company called Badfinger Enterprises, Inc. (BEI), and attached Stan Poses to run the British end of it. His idea centered around the group putting all of their earnings into the company. Polley would then give them a salary. He’d manage their taxes, offer stock options, and find investments. Polley, of course, owned the majority of stock in the new endeavor. According to author Matovina, a friend of the band’s said, “Pete was very excited when they signed with the manager from New York. He said he had a few big stars on his books. He felt he wouldn’t have to worry about money, that this fellow was going to take care of it all.”
Badfinger went back into the studio around the start of 1971. Kathie Wiggins, a girl Joey Molland had met while the band played Minnesota, flew to England and moved in with everyone at Bill Collins’ home. A new tension seemed to be introduced into the makeup of their tight unit. Band friend Brian Slater told author Dan Matovina, “Prior to Kathie, Joey Molland was a fun-loving guy who had no responsibility, didn’t want any. Everyone liked him, he was good-time, good-laugh Joey. He became very serious and very heavy after Kathie came ‘round.” Funds were scarce still, adding further to the tension. While on their second tour of America in the spring of 1971, Pete Ham told Rolling Stone magazine about the drawbacks sudden success can bring. “Business, it’s the big problem,” he related. “The only really big problem is business – money.” The band’s pittance of a salary from their new management barely paid for their cigarettes and meals. Kathie Wiggins (later Kathie Molland) observed on VH-1, “They had no clue about what they were doing. ‘Cause these guys had hit records, and they didn’t have a fridge, and they didn’t have a TV.”
Undaunted, the boys genuinely liked performing their songs to audiences, and most fans related to their easygoing, highly-melodic structures. The group’s next album, “Straight Up,” would contain two hit songs that were partially shaped by life on the road. While in Kansas, Pete Ham met a girl backstage who he subsequently brought along for the rest of the tour. Her name was Dixie, and she is the primary character (“my Dixie dear”) of Pete’s top 20 song “Baby Blue.” While Dixie was just a fling, Pete truly missed his ex-girlfriend Beverly, whom he had been with for over five years. Thinking of her, he wrote the wistful rock classic “Day After Day,” a single that went to number 4 on the Billboard chart.
Both of these songs had been produced, at varying periods in the studio, by Todd Rundgren and George Harrison. Harrison had always appreciated the band ever since they signed to Apple as The Iveys, and he wound up having them contribute as backing artists to his “All Things Must Pass” album. As another indicator of his great regard for their musicianship, Harrison asked them to participate in his landmark Concert For Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971. With practically no rehearsal, Pete Ham stood up front beside George onstage strumming and singing together on “Here Comes The Sun.” Sharing the limelight with legends like Leon Russell and Bob Dylan, the Badfinger boys truly thought they’d “arrived.”
After the Bangladesh concert, Stan Polley showed up in England, took the boys to a fancy dinner, and regaled them with scenarios of how much money was their’s for the taking just over the horizon. Polley’s wife stayed behind at the hotel with the mother of Ian Ferguson, the band’s roadie. As related to author Dan Matovina, Ian’s mom later told Ian, “Stan Polley’s wife was talking to me and she said, ‘You’ve got to get the boys away from my husband. He’s not good for them.’ Ian related the comment to the band, but they didn’t act on these sage words of advice. After all the notoriety and record sales that had graced the group, they still lived in the cramped quarters of Bill Collins’ house. None of the band members were allowed to see their tax statements. Joey Molland related his financial concerns to New Musical Express magazine in February 1972: “I keep reading about groups buying houses for thousands of pounds and I just don’t know how they do it. I certainly couldn’t afford to buy an 80,000 pound house; I’ll be lucky if I can get one for 5,000 pounds.”
While Mike Gibbins was a solid drummer and Joey Molland preferred straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll, Tom Evans and Pete Ham were the Lennon/McCartney of Badfinger. The songs they crafted were harmonious and skillfully executed. Delve into any number of their tunes from their seven albums that they worked on together, and one is bound to find a truly worthy gem to cover. For singer Harry Nilsson, such was the case with Tom and Pete’s “Without You.”
Released on Badfinger’s second album, “No Dice,” the song “Without You” was not issued as a single for the group. But while they were working on the “Straight Up” album, singer Harry Nilsson strolled into their studio and took them to a nearby mixing room. He played his version of “Without You” for them, complete with string accompaniment. Tom Evans told interviewer Glenn Baker, “That really showed me what you can do with a song production-wise and with a good singer, ya know? It just blew me away.” The band members were surprised that Nilsson was so interested in their song. Evans related that Nilsson said, ‘To tell you the truth, we came to England to do this album with just this one song. We didn’t have any other songs…We built this album around this song, he said. I said, ‘Well, I thought it was corny.’ He said, ‘Well, what do ya think of it now?’ Tom incisively concluded from the experience, “That’s why I don’t mind ballads anymore!” Nilsson’s impassioned version of “Without You” topped the Billboard chart for four weeks in March 1972.
By the fall of 1972, the foundation of Apple Records was shaking apart. Lawsuits and management woes, along with the messy dissolution of The Beatles, sent the fabled record label down the road to massive reorganization. Badfinger’s next album for Apple was recorded in early 1973 but was placed on hold while legal wrangling ensued.
Stan Polley decided to pounce on the weakness and shop his superstar band around to potential bidders. The giant conglomerate Warner Bros. Records was interested. A contract was drawn up that essentially called for the band to deliver six albums over a three-year period. A $225,000 advance would be given to BEI for each album delivered. $500,000 of this advance money was placed into escrow, in an account BEI could withdraw from at the designated period of delivery. Polley enticed the boys of Badfinger with that guarantee of $3 million dollars for those six albums. Stan Poses, Polley’s right-hand man in Britain, became fed up with his boss. He told VH-1, “I called up Peter and I called up Tommy, and I said, ‘My decision is I’m not going to be involved in this situation. Go to your meetings next week and just refuse to sign any management papers.”
Polley was a very persuasive man. Faced with thick pages of legal documentation, the members of Badfinger once again placed their blind faith in Polley and accepted the deal. Poses left his association with Polley behind. Poses had come to believe in the reports that Stan Polley had ties with organized crime. A federal trial involving the investigation of a New York State Supreme Court Justice, who was allegedly taking bribes, uncovered Stan Polley as being one of the purported bagmen who delivered the money. The case subsequently fizzled in the courts.
Polley intimidated anyone who dared to make demands. His client Lou Christie related to author Dan Matovina that Polley “used to tell me, ‘If anybody tries to get anything from me, I’ll take their eyeballs out of their head.’ That was his famous line. I thought, ‘My God! This guy has all of my money and he’s threatening me – in his own way. He could wipe me out, he’s got control of everything. And I had none of my contracts. He kept all of them in his office.”
In order to get dibs on that advance money, Polley rushed the boys back into the studio during the summer of 1973 to record their first album for Warner Bros. Even though they were ill-prepared, all of the members of the band came up with their high standard of song craftsmanship. But clearly, the mood had darkened. “This cloud moved in very quickly and hung over the band during almost the entire time I dealt with them at Warner Bros.,” Joe Smith, former president of the record company told VH-1. “They weren’t getting their money, they felt that they were trapped. They had sold their birthright, their talent to write songs and perform.”
By this point, their former ‘protector,’ Bill Collins, could no longer help the group out. He was in way over his head in trying to effectively combat the machinations set in motion by Badfinger’s New York management. When the final Apple Record was released in November 1973, its cover art depicted how the band felt in their business dealings. A donkey with headphones stands mesmerized by a giant carrot being held before it in the sky. The album was called “Ass.” Not only did the record not yield any notable singles, it practically collided with the release of the band’s first Warner Bros. album, self-titled “Badfinger,” in February 1974. It seemed like their manager could’ve cared less about the canceling effect both albums would have on each other. Joey Molland spewed on VH-1, “It was a stupid thing to do. You don’t put two records out at the same time and, you know, fight yourself. You’re fighting everybody else!”
Warner Bros. was not only concerned about the poor record sales, but their lawyers began to wonder where $100,000 of the escrow money they’d given BEI to place had disappeared to. Stan Polley remained ‘mum’ about its whereabouts. With the members of Badfinger completely in the red and in debt to him, Polley effectively forced the band to sign over half their gross publishing income to BEI. He then sent them to the Caribou recording studios in Colorado to lay down yet another album in the spring of 1974.
Tom Evans had always been suspicious of Stan Polley. He constantly was urging friends to do some digging for him, to investigate Polley. Mike was aware of their dire straits and was leaning towards instigating some sort of severance from the manager. But Pete Ham, the sensitive gentle soul of the group, was hard to sway on his notion of the inherent good will in people. “Peter was the type of person who if he put his trust in someone, he would feel humiliated if he was wrong, you know,” Tom told Glenn Baker. “He was a very stubborn type of guy.” After Polley showed up at their Colorado studio to have the band sign some more papers, Kathie Molland finally blew her stack. “I took a jar of peanuts, and I threw it at Pete’s head,” she related to VH-1. “I was so mad at him. I said, ‘When are you gonna wake up and realize this guy is screwing you!”
After the band finished up this new album, titled “Wish You Were Here,” in July 1974, everyone took a break for a month. In September the band got together for rehearsals to prepare for an upcoming tour. Kathie’s outspokenness in the band had grated on the other member’s nerves, except, of course, for her husband Joey. Mike told interviewer Sean Siever, “She was trying to manage the band, and she was giving people advice, and she was making phone calls, and she was actually trying to do deals.” Pete felt enough was enough with the Mollands, and he quit the band. Stunned by his departure, Badfinger fretted over whom to replace the band’s strongest songwriter with. Keyboardist Bob Jackson was called in, and he seemed to get along well with everyone involved. But a few weeks later, a humbled Pete appeared back at the studio and profusely apologized, wanting to rejoin the band.
Touring in late September and October 1974, Badfinger returned to London with yet another disgruntled member. This time Joey quit the band. Shortly thereafter, the “Wish You Were Here” album was released with no promotional backing in November. The quaint, talented bunch of wide-eyed scruffs who had once been the cornerstone of The Beatles’ Apple empire, were coming apart at the seams. Stan Polley, at this time, was goading everyone back into the studio for yet another album’s worth of songs. Bob Jackson related the band’s outlook to interviewer Jesper Vindberg: “Tommy and Mike were both very critical of the management’s direction and behavior, whilst Pete still retained optimism that things would work out with them. It later became apparent to me that the management’s only concern had been to get further advances as soon as possible, because of the escalating dispute over the Warners’ escrow account.” Indeed, around the time Badfinger was back in the studio, hurriedly piecing together songs for the next album, Warner Bros. Records filed for recission of their Badfinger publishing contract in Los Angeles.
Because of this legal fallout, “Wish You Were Here,” generally regarded as Badfinger’s finest album, was pulled off store shelves and taken out of pressing a mere two months after its release. The band’s rushed final album’s worth of songs that they had worked on in December, titled “Head First,” was withheld from release entirely. (“Head First” finally made it to CD in November 2000). As with the majority of their songs, the tunes contained on the “Head First” album were highly autobiographical. Tom Evans vented his frustrations with management on two songs, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Contract” and “Hey, Mr. Manager.” In the first song, Evans sang, “Wrapped up in a rock ‘n’ roll contract/Lots of things I had to sign at the time/Man told me not to worry ‘bout the business/Just keep on poppin’ those hits.”
Stan Polley had milked all he could from his cash cow called Badfinger. Musician and former client Al Kooper told author Dan Matovina, “When Stan Polley saw what he perceived as an end to my career, he abandoned me, too. He said, ‘I’m not sending you any more money’…At the end, when we finally parted ways, with all my contracts in the company names, all my money ended up going to him. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.”
This is the legacy Polley left behind concerning his association with Badfinger. Mike Gibbins ranted to interviewer Dennis Dalcin, “Badfinger was left with no band and no contract. And our manager, who had all our money, was like…incognito. We didn’t even have a phone number for the guy. So all the Badfinger enterprise money, which was in America, was distributed throughout his little companies and hidden!…It’s a horror story…”
A few thousand pounds in a royalty check trickled into Pete’s hands around January of 1975. It was likely the most money he had seen at any one time during the rocketing rise and fall of his band. Together with his new girlfriend, Ian Ferguson’s estranged wife Ann and her son Blair, the threesome found a home to put money down on. It was a few doors away from Tom Evans’ abode. A small canal ran behind both properties in this quiet country setting. Pete tried to unwind in the first few months of 1975, to clear his head, and he focused what little attention he could muster on Ann and Blair. Ann was pregnant with Pete’s child.
By mid-April 1975, Pete’s bank account was overdrawn. He phoned the Polley’s management company in the U.S. weekly, but was never able to reach his manager. Finally, for Pete Ham, he realized that he had been horrendously abused in his business dealings. He became very despondent and started to drink heavily. With no income whatsoever, the band couldn’t even afford any money for touring equipment to try to go back on the road. Their livelihood, all they ever knew, and what they were so talented at, had been completely decimated. Pete wrote a few songs during that month. One was called “Ringside.” The lyrics mirrored the anguish he felt: “Take your seat by the ringside/Watch them bidding for your blood/Who will own you tomorrow?/Will you be misunderstood/Take me back to the father/Take me, take me, take me home/For I can’t bear to feel the sorrow/Of the evil that you’ve shown.”
The baby was almost due. Pete phoned everyday to America during the week of April 20th. Polley could not be reached. On April 23rd, Pete talked with Tom Evans about the possibility of getting Stan Poses, who had left Polley in disgust, to be their new manager. Poses said he was amenable to this arrangement, provided they could extract themselves from Polley without involving Poses. Sometime that evening, a phone call purportedly came in from America to the Ham residence. After Pete hung up, he mumbled something to Anne about all of his money being gone.
He phoned Tom, and the two went to a nearby pub. Arriving at 10:00pm, Pete proceeded to drink about “10 scotches” according to Tom in a half-hour’s time. “He said, ‘Well, I’ve decided, let’s go back to your house and call this guy up (Poses) and tell him ‘it’s all over,” Tom later related to Glenn Baker. Calling the U.S. from Tom’s home, they gave promise to go with Poses. They celebrated with a few more drinks and tinkered with a few songs. Then Tom dropped Pete off back at his own house. As reported by author Dan Matovina, as Pete got out of the car, he said, “Don’t worry, I know a way out.” He banged on top of the car and went inside.
Shortly before 7:00am on the morning of April 24, 1975, Anne Ferguson awoke and found no trace of Pete in the bedroom. Figuring he was in the garage playing his songs, she went outside and knocked on the back door. When no reply came back, she yanked the heavy door open. Pete Ham was hanging from an overhead beam, a noose around his neck, his body half slumped on the floor. A bottle of wine lay open nearby. According to Matovina, Anne couldn’t get the rope off Pete’s neck. She screamed back into the house and phoned Tom, who rushed right over. But it was far too late. Pete Ham had committed suicide at the age of 27.
Beside him was a songbook. Anne found a note inside. It read, “Anne, I love you. Blair I love you. I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better. P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.”
Friends and family reeled from this horrible tragedy. “He was very sensitive to all sorts of things,” Bob Jackson recalled to Jesper Vindberg about Pete. “Too sensitive perhaps, if that’s possible – to the point where he felt the world had let him down. It is this caring attitude that I find so endearing. It was both his strength and his weakness, and I find it a terrible thing that a person as caring as Pete should have been driven to the point of no return…I hope it doesn’t sound weak if I admit that hearing some of Pete’s stuff can easily bring on the tears. What a terrible waste.”
Joey Molland said to Rolling Stone magazine, “I think what brought him down was that he found he didn’t have any money left. His girlfriend’s havin’ a baby inside a month. He’d had a bank account for over ten years and for the first time he was overdrawn.”
Shortly after hearing the news of Pete’s death, Stan Poses came across Stan Polley in a public setting. Poses told VH-1, “I just turned around and I said, ‘You killed my f*****’ friend,’ and I walked away.”
Pete’s death seemed to affect Tom Evan’s the most. “It wrecked him, you know, for quite some time, and I don’t think he ever got over it,” Tom’s brother, David, told VH-1. Tom later told Glenn Baker, “It just put me right off the music business totally.”
Stan Polley purportedly tried to collect on a life insurance policy of $250,000 he had taken out on Pete under the BEI company. He subsequently settled his legal entanglements with Warner Bros. Records.
By the summer of 1975, Joey was already leaping into another band called Natural Gas. The former Apple roadie, Mal Evans, who had been The Iveys first cheerleader, recorded a few demos for Natural Gas. On New Years’ Eve 1975, Mal was inadvertently shot to death by Los Angeles police officers when they responded to a suicide call placed by his girlfriend. Entering Mal’s apartment, the police say they saw him with a gun and were forced to fire. The gun was a model, a Winchester replica.
Mike Gibbins briefly toured with a band called The Flying Aces into 1976, then settled into a job as contract painter.
After having spent time helping a friend in a pipe insulating business, Tom Evans, had a change of heart about the music profession. “Peter didn’t stop anything, he didn’t change anything,” he told Glenn Baker. “So, what the hell, it’s gonna carry on anyway.” He then went on to prophetically say, “I might as well get back in the rut. – well, not the rut. – join it again.” Hooking up with former Badfinger keyboardist Bob Jackson, the two corralled some other musicians to form a band called The Dodgers.
Natural Gas released one album, a solid piece of rocking tunes, which nonetheless did not chart. Joey left the band shortly thereafter. Tom’s drinking was sometimes a hindrance to his work with The Dodgers, and the band abruptly let him go, as they recorded their first album. While Tom soon welcomed the birth of his son Stephen in January 1977, Joey went on to lay carpets for a living in Los Angeles.
In 1978, two musicians from Chicago, drummer Kenny Harck and guitarist Joe Tansin, knocked on Joey’s door one day. They were big Badfinger fans, and inquired as to whether he wanted to start a new group. “Joey didn’t seem like he was in any great hurry to get back into the music business,” Tansin related to interviewer Sean Siever. “He was working as a carpet installer, and he seemed quite happy to do that. But once a musician, always a musician.” In need of a bass player, Joey gave Tom a call. Soon Joey and Tom were calling the shots again, and Tansin and Harck took a backseat to the dealings. The new group found that the name Badfinger was garnering them attention in the record business, so they settled on using the moniker again. Elektra Records signed them and ponied up $100,000 right off the bat.
The band got underway in what was to be a lengthy recording session. Tom Evans was still quite disturbed about the loss of his friend Pete. “One night we sat in the kitchen in the house and Tommy and I, for some reason, started singing a song from “No Dice,” Joe Tansin related to Sean Siever. “It was “Midnight Caller,” the Pete Ham song. I knew the song. I was playing the piano and I started singing a little and Tommy got all choked up. At that point, I really didn’t talk about it or ask him about it very much.”
Midway through recording their new album, “Airwaves,” personality clashes forced Kenny Harck out of the band. Joey and Tom rang up their old drummer chum, Mike Gibbins. As Joe Tansin wryly pointed out in his interview with Siever, “…We had painters, carpet layers, and plumbers. Between all the members of Badfinger we could have actually started our own contracting company. We could have built houses if the “Airwaves” record would have failed.” Mike lasted only a few sessions and was sent back home.
In essence, after it was issued in March of 1979, “Airwaves” did flop. By September, Elektra dropped Badfinger from their roster. A small label in Miami, Florida named Radio Records was getting underway in early 1980, when they offered Joey and Tom $15,000 to record an album for them. Rounding out the pair with three other musicians, the subsequent record, “Say No More,” was released in January of 1981. A single called “Hold On” managed to climb up to number 56 on the Billboard chart, but the whole effort was soon forgotten, and Badfinger disassembled once again.
Joey formed his own Badfinger band, while Tom, Bob Jackson, and Mike Gibbins toured in their own outfit. Both groups fared poorly on the road. The Badfinger group with Tom in it captured its finest moment playing on commercial breaks for a Milwaukee TV horror movie program called “Shock Theater.” From the Concert For Bangladesh to Shock Theater, Badfinger’s star had fallen very far. Tom had unfortunately assigned his publishing and recording royalties to the Milwaukee promoter on his Badfinger songs extending back to his earliest recordings. This agreement would plague Tom’s conscience for the ensuing years.
Around this time, Bill Collins, Joey Molland, and Mike Gibbons were suing Tom Evans to gain a chunk in his and Pete’s writer’s share on the often-covered tune “Without You.” A Minnesota promoter enticed Tom into a disastrous endeavor, with a band called Goodfinger. Joey found slammed doors when he tried touring as Joey Molland and the Spare Parts. Soon Tom was being sued by the former Milwaukee promoter for reneging on gigs for Badfinger and on those royalty payments he had signed over. Tom’s bank account was practically dry. Tom’s drinking worsened.
Drastic mood swings had always been a staple of Tom Evans’ life. Joe Tansin told Sean Siever, “He had a strange personality. There were two sides to him. One side he was a really quiet, introverted guy. The other side, after the booze, he was a complete maniac. Tommy could stand up and take his clothes off and start screaming and singing at the top of his lungs in the middle of a restaurant…He would be testing you all the time to see what you were made out of.” But Tansin continued, “Tommy was a real down-to-earth guy. You know, working class, down-to-earth, no-bulls*** guy. And he had this ability to see through bulls***. Tommy was very unpretentious…He was very under-confident of himself and his abilities. He was modest. And I admired that in him. Because he was truly one of the most talented people I’d ever known and met.”
He was still wrestling over his friend Pete’s death. “Tommy would say, ‘One day, I’ll be up where Peter is. It’s a better place than down here,’ Tom’s wife Marianne told VH-1. During the months of October and November 1983, Tom would drunkenly call his friends, and ramble on, sometimes saying, “I can’t go on.” The night of November 18th found Tom once again on the phone, this time with his old bandmate Joey. The two had a heated argument over Badfinger’s tangled legal and monetary woes. As his wife and a friend came back from a pub, they heard him say, “I’ll be dead before I get the money!” Marianne told VH-1 that Tom’s demeanor suddenly changed. “He was really, really angry and suddenly he got into a happy mood again. Which was strange…a mood swing.”
Tom sat down with Marianne and her friend, and they sang songs. Marianne went to bed shortly after 1:00 that night. On the morning of November 19, 1983, six-year old Stephen Evans awoke and went into his parents’ bedroom, waking his mother. “He said, ‘Where’s Daddy?,’ Marianne related to VH-1. “And then he went outside and he saw his father and he said, ‘There’s a man hanging there, he looks like my Dad.” Tom Evans had hanged himself from a willow tree in the backyard. Like his friend 8½ years before, Tom was in too much anguish to carry on. This time, no suicide note was left behind.
Friend Rod Roach told author Dan Matovina, “Tom felt Pete had been his best friend in the world. But he also had some guilt about Pete’s death. It would come out when he was drunk. He would go to pieces. I think the way he chose to do it was a symbol, a symbol of his grief for Peter.”
Joey Molland, for one, was not very empathetic to the demise of his bandmates. He said in 1987, “It is weird, man, that they just opted out like that. It really pisses me off. Those guys had everything to live for. Both of them. No excuses at all. I’m still very angry at them for doing it.” Joey continues to this day to tour the States in gigs with a band under the name Badfinger.
For drummer Mike Gibbins, he tries to look past the heartache and ugly dealings to remember Badfinger for what it was…a group of talented, big-hearted musicians that crafted fantastic songs. “Most of it was good,” he told Sean Siever in 1998. “We didn’t fight all the time. We were like best of friends and all the rest of it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to make that music. We were an up-and-coming, functioning, well-adjusted bunch of people. And most of it was good. You can’t foresee people committing suicide and getting ripped off. We weren’t thinking that. We were on a major roll. Most of the memories are good memories. And the music speaks for itself. Leave it there.”
© 2000 Ned Truslow
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