Badfinger's Joey Molland makes a solo album with a little help from his Beatle-y friends
Julian Lennon, son of John, sang background vocals. Steve Holley, formerly of Paul McCartney's Wings, played drums. Micky Dolenz, formerly of the Prefab Four (aka the Monkees), added vocal harmonies. Mark Hudson, who produced nine albums for Ringo Starr, helmed the project.
No wonder Joey Molland's just-released "Be True to Yourself" sounds like the most Beatlicious album of the year.
"I wasn't expecting to make a record," said singer-guitarist Molland, a true Liverpudlian rock star who has lived in the Twin Cities for more than 35 years. "I am getting old. I'm 73. I can make records in basements, but a full-blown record with a full-blown crew with Mark Hudson producing is something I wasn't really expecting."
On Molland's sixth solo album and first in seven years, there are echoes of John, Paul, George and sometimes even Ringo.
"I had all the same influences: Irving Berlin and Cole Porter all the way to the early rock 'n' roll and the advent of R&B. Chuck Berry, Elvis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley & and the Comets," Molland said last week. "I learned to play all that stuff in Liverpool. And I had the Beatles on top of it."
Those influences led Molland to join Badfinger just as the British band -- the first group signed to the Beatles' Apple Records -- had released the McCartney-penned and -produced "Come and Get It" in 1969. That hit and the ensuing "No Matter What" and "Day After Day" made a splash, but over the years, Badfinger had a streak of bad breaks. An unscrupulous manager underpaid the band, one co-founder committed suicide in 1975, another longtime member hanged himself in '83, and two versions of the band existed simultaneously.
One good thing happened to Molland on a Badfinger U.S. tour in 1970. After a gig in Fargo, the lads spent three days in Minneapolis visiting their agents at Variety Artists. Molland met his future wife, Kathie, bonding over a long dinner at the old Nankin restaurant in downtown Minneapolis.
"I wanted to be married and have kids," said Molland, who lives in Hopkins, his late wife's hometown. "My brothers all got married before me. My mum and dad were married forever. Kathie and I were married for 37 years."
Molland has dealt with the death of dear ones at a young age, including his wife in 2009.
"I still get moments when it hurts," Molland said. "We all suffer through that. It's part of life, isn't it?"
However, the suicides of Badfinger mates Pete Ham and Tommy Evans have long perplexed Molland.
"The decisions they made, I find it difficult to understand. I can't imagine anything devastating me that much" to commit suicide.
Molland finds attending church on Sundays "helps me stay positive. I have my sons. I have a good life going on. I'm not a millionaire or anything."
No, he's an ordinary Joey, except he relies on friends, family and Uber for transportation because he doesn't have a driver's license.
"He's as down to earth as a guy could get. I've never seen him pull the 'I'm a rock star' card ever under any circumstances," said Minneapolis musician Gregg Inhofer, who has known Molland since the '70s and has played in Joey Molland's Badfinger for the past few years. "He's just a regular guy. Onstage, he's 14; so I get to be 13. He's still got that feeling that we had when we were kids, that excitement."
Even though he does occasional gigs as Joey Molland's Badfinger, the guitarist-singer spent a few months last year on an all-star tour with Todd Rundgren, Christopher Cross and others performing the Beatles' "White Album." That's where Molland got to know the Monkees' Dolenz.
"He's a heck of a performer. He puts himself like an actor into a rock 'n' roll song," Molland observed.
The Monkee volunteered to sing on Molland's record. "We wanted that high falsetto voice that he has," the Minnesotan said.
On that "White Album" tour, Molland also connected with Jason Scheff, the bassist and a lead singer of the long-standing group Chicago. He's all over Molland's new album.
At a Beatles fest years ago, Molland met Hudson, who has not only worked with Ringo but with Aerosmith (he co-wrote "Livin' on the Edge"), Ozzy Osbourne, Bon Jovi, Cher and his family group, the Hudson Brothers.
"Mark always wants to get up and sing the high harmonies on 'No Matter What'?" Molland pointed out. "We've become good friends, and I've tried to get him to produce a record for me, and he eventually agreed."
Hudson helmed the pre-pandemic recording sessions at studios in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. The songs offer a balance of optimism (the '60-evoking "Better Tomorrow," the dancehall-infused "Shine" and the Rundgren-esque "Heaven") and unhappiness (the power pop "I Don't Wanna Be Done With You," the Traveling Wilburys-echoing "All I Do Is Cry").
The centerpiece is the title track, a hopeful tune for our times that sounds like a dream meeting of Brian Wilson and the Beatles "looking for truth in love."
"I've had that song for a long, long time. I wrote the melody 30, 35 years ago," Molland said. "But I never had the lyrics except for the first verse."
Then a few years ago, he had an unprecedented heart-to-heart with his eldest brother, some 20 years his senior.
"We sat down and had a long conversation in his kitchen. He was a very responsible guy, took care of his wife and kids, never got into any trouble. Then I went home and I wrote the words."
Molland's Beatles cred includes playing on solo albums by George Harrison ("All Things Must Pass") and John Lennon ("Imagine").
"John was a normal guy. He didn't have an entourage," Molland recalled. "John sat on this stool and directed the session.
"I loved the way he pushed the limits. I loved his ear for melody."
In the studio, Harrison sat with the musicians and taught them the songs. "Like with 'Beware of Darkness,' he'd sing it to you and you were supposed to pick up the chords. You'd learn the song quickly. We'd have a bit of a laugh, too."
In 1999, Molland met Julian Lennon at the Mall of America, where the Beatles' scion was promoting a self-released album.
"I talked to him a little bit about music and having played with his dad," Molland reminisced. "Great guy, very sociable. Not exclusive or a recluse."
So Molland enlisted Lennon to record background vocals on his new project.
"And he volunteered some photographs if we wanted them for the album," Molland said.
The photos ended up on the front and back cover -- silhouettes of a man standing on a sun-splashed rocky shore.
Who's the man?
"I'm not sure," Molland.
Where were the photos taken?
"I'm not sure about that, either," he said.
Maybe it's nowhere man, with the Beatles world at Molland's command.
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