By Jane Spietz
WHERE: Turner Hall, Milwaukee
WHEN: Friday, February 28, 2014
Badfinger is a Wales-based rock band that was signed by Apple Records in 1968, with the Beatles’ personal seal of approval, as The Iveys. The band’s name was changed the following year to Badfinger, at the same time current singer/guitarist/songwriter Joey Molland signed on. “Come And Get It”––written and produced by Paul McCartney––was Badfinger’s first big hit. Other noteworthy Badfinger tunes include “No Matter What,” “Day After Day,” and “Baby Blue.” The latter song has been revived as a hit following its inclusion in the soundtrack of the finale of the mega hit TV series Breaking Bad.
Despite frequent comparisons to the Beatles’ sound, Badfinger has been a successful band in its own right. Tragedy haunted the band after founding members Pete Ham and Tom Evans took their own lives. Fortunately, Badfinger continues to perform to this day. Badfinger’s current lineup includes Joey Molland, Steve Wozny (keyboards/vocals), Mike Ricciardi (drums), and Mark Healey (bass/vocals). Joey’s latest solo album, Return to Memphis, was released in December and has been well received.
Recently Joey Molland called me from his home in Minnesota to discuss all things Badfinger, Beatles, Breaking Bad, and “Baby Blue.”
JS: Joey, tell us how Badfinger came to be signed by Apple Studios.
JM: The Beatles’ roadie was a man named Mal Evans. He was a good friend of ours. Mal saw the Iveys, which was the original name of the band, play at the Marquis in London. He went back and talked to the guys about the band and that they should check them out. Mal started to bring tapes of songs to the Beatles to listen to. Eventually the Beatles signed them. That’s how it all came together.
JS: How did Badfinger come to record Paul McCartney’s “Come and Get It?”
JM: Paul wrote “Come and Get It” for Ringo’s movie, The Magic Christian. He decided to give that to Badfinger and produce it as a single. That became history because it became a great big hit record. What happened was that Paul had come over with a tape of the song that he had made. He said, “If you learn this just like this, I’ll produce it, and it’ll be your first hit record.” (Laughs) So they were obviously very excited about it. He was as good as his word. He came back a week later after they had rehearsed the song. He took them in the studio and produced it. It came out great and was a huge hit for the band.
JS: Members of Badfinger performed on John Lennon’s Imagine, and George Harrison’s The Concert for Bangladesh and All Things Must Pass. There were other musical collaborations between the two bands as well. What was it like to work with the Beatles?
JM: I played on all of those records you mentioned. They were great to work with, very easy to work with. With George, it was almost like he’d joined the band, or you had joined his band when you were working with him. He treated everybody the same. He was a real sweetheart. He knew exactly what he wanted. So he was lovely. It was a great experience working on his record, because we got to meet all of the big stars of the day who’d come down to play with him. Eric Clapton would show up, and Ringo, of course, came, Billy Preston would come on over. A lot of other people that we’d known from touring. Peter Frampton. We got to see all of these people working in the studio and how they did it. It was great. We went to John Lennon’s house. They would call up and invite you to come. It wasn’t like a royal command performance. It was like your mates calling you to say, “Hey, do you fancy coming over tonight to do a bit of recording?” It was really nice to go there to work with them and discover they were very real people. Very normal, levelheaded people. Of course the music, the songs were fabulous. And the experience that we had with the Beatles in the studio was fantastic.
JS: How did the members of Badfinger feel about sometimes being referred to as the new John, Paul, George and Ringo?
JM: Yeah, it got a bit uncomfortable. It wasn’t as prevalent as people talk about. It wasn’t every day, but we did get those questions. Magazines like Rolling Stone said things like that about us. It was kind of embarrassing for us, really. You know, being told this is what the Beatles would be like if they got their crap together. Going on like that––what are they talking about? It was a little bit tedious. We did our best to ignore it. The Beatles always said they didn’t pick Badfinger because we sounded like them, but rather because they thought the band was talented and was the kind of band they were looking for, for their label.
JS: Who has made the greatest impression on you and your music during your career?
JM: I would have to say it’s the Beatles. Although before them, I liked my Chuck Berry, Elvis, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran and all the rock ’n’ roll greats. Some of the English stars as well, like Tommy Steele and Joe Brown.
JS: I have been really been getting into your new album, Return to Memphis, released in December. Tell us about it.
JM: It’s gotten some good reviews. I went to Memphis about three years ago and did a session for a friend of mine, Carl Wise, at Royal Studios. It was an amazing experience for me. This beautiful kind of old theater building that had been converted into a recording studio many years ago. I don’t think it had changed very much since then. They said that Sam and Dave actually helped build the place. Al Green recorded all of his hits there. The Staples recorded there. Ann Peebles recorded there. B.B. King. Loads and loads of great artists. I actually met Bobby Blue Bland at the theater. The idea of going to Memphis was a radical idea for me. I decided not to play with any musicians that I knew and not really to have a bunch of guest stars come in and make like a super Badfinger record. So I worked with all Memphis people. I knew I’d get something different out of it, and that’s what I got. I am very happy about the record. It was a great experience for me. The basic musical style is of the record is R & B. The record was pretty honest, straightforward, pretty naked. In all my music from day one, there’s been an R & B element. Even in the old Badfinger records you can hear it. One of the reasons they got me in the band, they told me later on, is because of the groove that I could play. Maybe it’s like I’m coming full circle in a sense. Right now I’m just on the edge of me seat to see if we’re going to sell any and if anybody going to play it anywhere! (Laughs)
JS: How did you react to the news that “Baby Blue” would be featured in the soundtrack in the finale of the hit TV series Breaking Bad?
JM: I knew nothing about it. The first I heard about it was right after it happened. I was actually recording the show on my dish thing for my son. Then I got the phone call. ‘Hey, they just used the song in the show!’ So I put it on and played it, and sure enough it was “Baby Blue”! (Laughs) I was quite astounded. And then the phone started to ring. And just ring and ring and ring! NBC News wanted to talk to me, and CNN called. It was like it was back then. All of a sudden we had a hit record again. The next day it was number one on iTunes. It stayed like that. And then it was number one in Australia, and then number one in Spain. It was like having a big hit record all over the world all over again! It felt weird because we hadn’t done anything. (Laughs) It was unbelievable. They just took one of our old records and it became a hit again. It was phenomenal. We’ve been selling out everywhere we’ve gone since that TV show. It’s been really good, obviously, for us and our audiences. Everybody keeps thinking that I’ve gotten really rich, and of course nothing’s changed in that regard. (Laughs) We’ll get some royalties down the road, in three to six months from now. And then we’ll see what happens. But in the meantime, it did bring the band’s name and music to the consciousness of this generation, I think.
JS: It’s a huge hit download now! Has the Breaking Bad exposure sparked interest in other Badfinger classics?
JM: We’ll see what happens in time, but it hasn’t right now, in terms of them getting a lot more radio play. They talk about it, because of the Breaking Bad thing. It’s great.
JS: I’m so looking forward to Badfinger’s show in Milwaukee on February 28. What can the audience expect to experience that evening?
JM: The four-piece band that’s coming to Milwaukee is great. This is a band that’s been together for many years. We play those Badfinger songs. We know them inside out. There’s a nice relaxed feeling about the show, and a bit of entertainment in it. We’re not exactly a cabaret band. I don’t think you could ever say that about us. It’ll be like a rock show with a real family atmosphere. It’s going to be fun. We’ll probably do a couple of new songs that we’ve learned off of my new record. We do all of the hits and some of the acoustic songs. The lineup is guitar-based, piano and drums. We all sing, so the harmonies are really quite good. We try and do a good Badfinger show for people. We’d like to thank the fans for their support of Badfinger and me over the years. They’ve been great.
Jane Spietz is a community activist and social worker who loves music.