Joey Molland's latest Badfinger will perform Sunday at The Kate
Ophelia, Young Werther and Jay Gatsby were standing around, talking.
"I was listening to my old Badfinger albums last night," Gatsby said. "That was just an incredible band, and it's a shame what happened to them."
"I know. There's so much heartbreak there!" Ophelia said.
"Sad. Very sad," Young Werther agreed. "If we went through what Badfinger did, I don't think any of us could take it."
Well, there's that.
In the annals of modern music, where such things seem a routine byproduct of the art form and its attendant lifestyle, it's hard to come up with more dismal story than that of the harshly unfortunate group Badfinger. In fact, as a textbook primer on Music Biz Tragedy, the saga of Badfinger vaults way beyond "cautionary" and into "holy crap!" territory.
As the prototypical power-pop band, Badfinger seemed destined for near-Beatles success. In fact, they were signed to the Fab Four's Apple Records label on the strength of their hyper-melodic, harmony-dripping tunes. Guitarist/singer Pete Ham became the most well-known of the act's composers, and his "Day After Day," "No Matter What," "Baby Blue" and "Midnight Caller" comprise an insanely competitive one-through-four run of compositions by any songwriter's standard.
But guitarist/vocalist Joey Molland, bassist/vocalist Tom Evans and drummer Mike Gibbins all contributed superb songs throughout the band's run, on consistently strong albums like "No Dice," "Straight Up," "Badfinger," "Magic Christian Music" and "Wish You Were Here."
A Ham/Evans collaboration, "Without You," became a #1 hit for Harry Nilsson and further increased the group's profile.
Unfortunately, as album sales climbed into the millions, the band switched labels and signed a management contract with a man named Stan Polley — acknowledged by history to be a true fraud — and the musicians ended up financially ruined. After years of growing disbelief and increasing desperation, Ham hanged himself in 1977; Evans did so a few years later.
Sporadically, Molland and Gibbins kept various Badfinger lineups on the road. Gibbins passed of natural causes in 2005 and Molland, who also releases solo material, still does the occasional Badfinger tour. In fact, after the significantly popular "Breaking Bad" television series ended its dramatic final episode with "Baby Blue," the song blasted to the top of the download/streaming charts — and a whole new generation was suddenly introduced to the sorcery of Badfinger.
Molland will be in Old Saybrook Saturday to perform "Baby Blue" and Badinger's entire "Straight Up" album as well as other seminal power pop tunes from their catalog. Earlier this week from his home in Minneapolis, Molland offered a few thoughts.
On the last time anyone asked something about Badfinger that he hasn't heard before:
(Laughing) I can't remember that happening for a long time. But give it a shot.
On the choice of "Baby Blue" for the "Breaking Bad" finale:
I didn't know it was going to happen, actually. That it was on the show was a complete shock. The phone started ringing the next day, and it was people from The New York Times or "Access Hollywood." Then I did an interview on TV for another of those Hollywood shows, and the guy started asking me about the series, and I had to say, "Well, I haven't actually watched it. I'd heard about it but I thought, "Hmm, it's about a guy who deals meth?" And I didn't see the greatness of that. People are dying all over the country from drugs. So I missed it.
Plus, the questions I DID get weren't about the song, but how great it was that overnight we got the number one download or whatever. Which is nice, but, you know, what about Pete's song or maybe the band?
On what the first post-"Breaking Bad" royalty check was like:
Well, again, it was Pete's song. Originally, we all shared royalties for each other's songs but, when a person dies, as Pete did, 20 years later the copyright reverts to the family. So I guess the show's reps had approached Pete's family. And good for them.
On whether the songs in the Badfinger catalog take on an element of melancholy with the passing of time and with Molland being the only surviving member:
I suppose there is a different texture to them. I think it surfaces most when I'm performing them onstage. If it's one of my songs, a strange thought might occur to me like, "Hey, I was going to throw that song away, and here we are all these years later. Sounds pretty good!" So I don't get melancholy about my material, but Pete's or Tom's ... I'll hear the lyrics in a different way or subtle things in the melodies that I didn't notice before. But the general feeling isn't sadness so much as appreciation for how good they were. How good WE were, I guess.
On "Straight Up" and the fact that Ham's "Baby Blue" and "Day After Day" got a lot of the focus on what was an incredibly strong record with contributions from everyone:
Pete was really developing as a songwriter, and he was so good. You wonder what he would have done on down the road. But I was just happy the guys picked some of my songs to be on that record, and whether they could have been hits didn't really come into it. Part of the fun of Badfinger was that any of us could write any type of song and, as long as we all liked it, we'd do it. The albums are evidence of the strength and diversity of that idea. I think maybe that's why people continue to like what we did.
On Molland's latest solo album, "Return to Memphis," and its sonic and lyrical homage to the titular city:
Memphis and the early rock of the American south were huge to me. Elvis made me start to play guitar. Literally. My brother had a guitar and, the first time I ever heard Elvis, I marched straight into the parlor, got my brother's guitar — and I just didn't leave the house. I played guitar.
So the "Memphis" album is sort of about that. We recorded the album in Memphis at Royal Studios, and it's funny. I walked into this incredibly historical studio, and someone said, "Are we going to make a Beatles/Badfinger-styled record?" And I said, "I've made Badfinger records. In fact, I made Beatles records when I was IN Badfinger," because, you know, that's what they wanted us to be. Not that anyone could be the Beatles. But I figured, why not try this time to be Elvis? You can't do that either, but we had fun.
Joey Molland Plays Badfinger's "Straight Up," 7 p.m. Sunday, The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, 300 Main St., Old Saybrook; $45-$48; (860) 510-0453.
Editor's Note: This version corrects the day of the performance. Badfinger will perform Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018.
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