Paul McCartney described Badfinger’s Without You as the “killer song of all time,” words that would become tragically prophetic.
The British band Badfinger was on its way to becoming the next Beatles, but they got ripped off by a crooked American manager who got rich while the musicians became impoverished. And in the end, two of them hanged themselves.
Remembering Pete Ham, the creative force behind the band, who committed suicide on April 24, 1975, at the age of 27 — making him a member of “Forever 27 Club.”
“He was so gifted,” said American record producer Dan Matovina. “It came not just from talent but from hard work and perseverance, a belief in himself that great effort could bring fulfillment and success.”
Success for their manager, Stan Polley, but at the expense of financial ruin and shocking tragedy for the musicians.
The band signed with The Beatles’ label, Apple Records and Pete Ham wrote the hits No Matter What, Baby Blue, and the million seller Day After Day.
Baby Blue was chosen for the soundtrack of the final episode of the TV megahit Breaking Bad — the demise of anti-hero Walter White — one of the most famous finales in TV history, watched by 10-million viewers.
Pete Ham co-wrote Without You with bassist Tommy Evans. The song would become a major hit for Harry Nilsson in 1972, and Mariah Carey in 1994, plus scores of other singers over the years. In 1972, Without You was awarded the Ivor Novello award for song of the year.
WARNER BROTHERS RECORDS
The band left Apple Records in 1971 and signed with Warner Brothers Records. Polley manipulated a contract that gave him most of the band’s earnings. The band members became little more than paid employees.
Polley received a $250,000 advance from Warner which was supposed to be accessible to both Warner and the band, but Polley didn’t tell the band about the advance. It wasn’t long before the money — and Polley — disappeared.
“I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better. Pete. PS. Stan Polley is a souless bastard. I will take him with me.”
The band fell apart. Two of the original members, Joey Molland and Tom Evans set up rival Badfinger bands. Evans was the victim of more mismanagement and was sued for $5-million.
On November 19, 1983, seven years after Pete’s death from which he had never recovered, Tom had an argument with Molland on the phone about the royalties from Without You.
Knowing he was financially ruined, Tommy went into the garden behind his home in Richmond, England, and hanged himself from a tree.
There was no note, but his wife related: “Tommy said I want to be where Pete is. It’s a better place than down here.”
POLLEY LIVED TO 87
In 1991, Polley pleaded no contest to charges of misappropriating funds and money laundering in a $200,000 swindle involving an engineering firm. He was placed on probation for five years.
He died in California on July 20, 2009 — outliving Pete Ham and Tom Evans by 34 years and 26 years. He is not known to have expressed any remorse for destroying the lives — literarily — of the talented musicians.