There was a reason Badfinger never became the next Beatles, as many (including The Beatles themselves) thought they were poised to be. But it certainly wasn't lack of musical talent – Badfinger's perfect pop songs were better than most anything we were hearing on the radio in the early 1970s, and they still sound darn near transcendent today.
Badfinger's early demise was in large part due to the suicide of their lead singer nearly four decades ago. Pete Ham was just 27 years old when he died on April 24, 1975, leaving behind a pregnant girlfriend (who gave birth to his daughter a month after his death) and a band that needed his influence and songwriting skill. But the band was having problems before 1975 – problems that were a big part of what drove Ham to despair.
Badfinger: Pete Ham, Tommy Evans, Mike Gibbons, Joey Molland.
(Photo by RB/Redferns)
Started in 1961 and originally known as The Iveys, Badfinger got the attention of The Beatles when roadie Mal Evans saw them play and loved what he heard. He brought their demo tapes to The Beatles, and they made the Iveys the first act other than The Beatles to be signed to Apple Records. Soon the band had a name change (“Badfinger” was suggested by Beatles’ road manager Neil Aspinall) and a lead single, "Come and Get It," written by none other than Paul McCartney. Badfinger seemingly couldn't lose.
So what, as the song goes, was the catch? Put simply, bad management. Though the band continued to write and record power pop gems that were ahead of their time, the songs didn't always make it to the public ear the way they should have, thanks to internal troubles at Apple Records. A new home at Warner Brothers along with new management for the band only worsened the situation. An escrow account that held the band's earnings dwindled until, one day, it disappeared without a trace. The band was broke, they couldn't tour, and their manager was no help… and then the label yanked their record and dropped the band. It was the final straw for Pete Ham.
Ham committed suicide on the same day he received a phone call telling him all his money was gone. With him alive, Badfinger had soldiered on despite the challenges they faced. After Ham's death, they tried to continue, releasing two more albums, but the soul of the band was gone. Their story is one of the saddest in all of rock 'n' roll – and the rock world has seen its share of sad stories.
But though Pete Ham died much too young and the band itself met an early demise, their musical legacy endures and rises above the band’s troubled times and ultimate destruction. Far from forgotten, Ham is being honored this week in his hometown of Swansea, Wales with a new historical marker and a concert in his honor. As for his fans across the pond, we can best remember Pete Ham by dusting off the old LPs and listening once again to the beauty he and Badfinger created.
Written by Linnea Crowther