Badfinger’s Joey Molland on working with the Beatles and dealing with the fallout of suicide


By Steve Newton

Remember that neat movie from 1970, The Magic Christian, which starred Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr and was a cutting farce on the lengths people would go to to get money? And remember that film’s nifty theme song, “Come and Get It”, which sounded like the Beatles but was actually a little-known band from Swansea, Wales called Badfinger? And remember that group’s other big ’70s hits “No Matter What”, “Day After Day”, and “Baby Blue”?

Well, whether you can recall all that stuff or not, the opportunity to have your memory well jogged by a dose of ’70s British power-pop will arise this Tuesday and Wednesday (December 15 and 16), when the latest incarnation of Badfinger plays the Commodore.

Joey Molland, the lead singer and sole original member of the band, called the Straight from Minnesota last week and explained what it was like to start up a band in the shadow of the Fab Four.

“Well we did do the same thing pretty much,” he admits. “I mean, John Lennon’s’ been quoted as saying ‘If you want to see the Beatles, go see Badfinger.’ I don’t think we were actually copying them, but they were obviously a big influence on us.

“But more to the point on that score would be that I was raised like three blocks from John Lennon, you know, and when he had Chuck Berry on the radio, I had Chuck Berry on the radio. So most of the pop bands in those days had the same influences. It was all Tamla/Motown and R&B stuff, and rock and roll–your Little Richard numbers. So I think that had a lot more to do with what we sounded like than the Beatles did, and workin’ with them and all.”

Badfinger’s first connection with the Beatles came after they sent three demo tapes to Apple Records, whereupon George Harrison signed them to the label and took them under his wing. Then Paul McCartney gave them a nice little shove by writing “Come and Get It” for them.

Although Badfinger soon had their own hits, and top-selling albums (they’ve sold 14 million worldwide), the initial help the Beatles gave them was repaid when Badfinger members played on the Beatles’ solo albums. They played virtually all the acoustic guitars on Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and did the guitar work on two tracks from John Lennon’s Imagine LP. Molland and his bandmates also took part in the forerunner of Bob Geldof’s Live Aid, Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh. According to Joey, that was a once-in-a-lifetime show.

“It was a charity gig, so nobody got paid or anything, but it was great. The backup band was a 23-piece–they had an entire horn section, with Jim Horn and those Muscle Shoals People. And there were people like Leon Russell, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Ringo, Jim Keltner–all sorts of great players. It was a knockout.”

Nowadays Joey Molland lives in Minnesota with his American wife and two kids. (“There’s a lot of good soul bands here,” he says. “It’s a good place to be.”) About a year ago he put the current Badfinger outfit together, and they started out playing pretty much anywhere they could get booked. “Over the past year we’ve built up a good reputation as a live band,” claims Molland, “so we’re starting to get nicer gigs, and promoters are gettin’ behind us. It’s gettin’ real positive now.”

Today’s lineup features former Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley, who used to play with Molland in a group called Natural Gas back in ’76. Rounding out the group are bassist Mark Healey from Wisconsin and guitarist Randy Henderson from Minnesota (whose previous credits include work with Bonnie Bramlett). “[Henderson] is a great slide player,” boasts Molland, “a knockout lad.”

The group plans to go into the studio in February to make its first album since 1981’s Say No More. They’ve got a deal with a new label out of Florida called World Records, with none other than ace knob-twiddler Jack Douglas set up as a producer. It’ll be Douglas’s first album project since Lennon’s Double Fantasy.

Though things are looking good for Molland’s career these days, Badfinger has not gotten by without its share of tragedies. Original singer/guitarist Pete Ham committed suicide in 1975, and then another founding member, bassist Tom Evans, did the same in ’82. Molland’s good friend Mal Evans, the Beatles’ road manager, was shot by L.A. police when he was there to help Joey on the Natural Gas project. So it hasn’t all been wine, women, and song. But Molland has come through it all in one piece.

“It gets a little weird sometimes,” he admits. “But it’s never been part of my psyche to think in [suicidal] terms, and I still don’t understand why those people did it really. I felt bad about it, for the guys and their families and everything, but I can’t live there, you know. I’ve got to move along. You’ve got to keep on going.”

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