If there’s anyone who knows about love, loss, and perseverance, it’s Joey Molland. As a member of popular ’70s group Badfinger, Molland reached rock star heights of fame at a breakneck pace. But seemingly just as quickly, he watched it fall apart in a tumultuous chain of events. This could have easily made him bitter — but instead, Molland is reflective and grateful for his experiences. His passion for music is palpable, as is his love of life.
In light of his appearance at the 2017 New York Metro Fest for Beatles Fans, REBEAT spoke with Molland from his home in Minneapolis about his musical beginnings, his history with Badfinger, and his plans for the present.
REBEAT: Let’s start at the very beginning. How did you first become interested in music?
Joey Molland: You know, this is going to sound fantastical, but I remember it really well: I was sitting in the kitchen at my mom and dad’s house listening to the radio. I was 11-years-old, just waiting to go out and play with my mates. And the guy on the radio announced, “Here’s a new record from Elvis Presley,” and he played “Blue Suede Shoes.”
For some reason it really struck me — to this day I don’t know why. I went straight into the front parlor and got my brother’s guitar out. Of course I couldn’t play the guitar yet, but I started to teach myself right away. So I’ve gotta say, Elvis Presley and “Blue Suede Shoes” turned me on to playing the guitar and listening to music. ‘Cause I wasn’t listening to music at all! You know, I was a young boy and I was doing all the normal things that little boys did.
But that song just knocked me out. From that day forward, I played the guitar every day. My brother had a load of records and I started listening to them: Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, some classical guitar players [like] Andrés Segovia, people like that… and I literally learned to play from those records. When I first started, though, I never thought it’d turn into a career. I didn’t have some dream about being Elvis. But I began to love it.
So where did you take it from there? Did you start looking to join local bands?
Well, a few years later, when I was 15, I started to work. I got a job on the docks, and then I was an office boy. Our boss would give us these luncheon vouchers and we’d go and have lunch in town on our break. One of the places I discovered through this was the Cavern. I used to go there at lunchtime and I’d see the bands playing — and they were great, you know. The Beatles used to play sometimes. They were frighteningly good to me as a young boy. [laughs] That’s how I really got turned on to seeing the bands — but they’d make me really nervous, cause they seemed to be able to play rings around the level I was at.
Then one day, while I was in town, I bumped into a fellow named Pete Wiggins. He’d seen me playing when I was 12 or 13 on the corners in Liverpool, and he knew me by name. He asked if I still played guitar, and I told him I did. He said, “Well, do you have a guitar?” And I did, I had a Gibson. So he asked if I wanted to play with his band that night, a band called the Profiles. I told him I could only play Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly. And he said, “Well, that’s good! Just come down, would you? And bring your guitar.”
So I did — I played with them that night — and he paid me a pound. He asked if I could come back the next day. So I went back the next day, and he paid me another pound. And I went back the next day, and he paid me another pound. Three pounds was more than I made all week working at the dock. I started to feel wealthy! [laughs] Of course, I used to give my mom the money, so she was happy about it, too. ‘Cause we didn’t have any money, you know, we were really kind of poor. So one thing led to another and I joined that band.
Then I started going out with this drummer guy to a place called the Blue Angel, and I used to play with a band there called the Masterminds. Then when their guitar player was leaving, they asked me to join.
Then how did you get involved with Badfinger?
You know, the way life goes… I joined one band, which led to another band, which led to another band and another band — and then, all of a sudden, I was on my way to London to audition for the Iveys.
Their bass player, Ron Griffiths, had decided to leave the band at this point, so they began to audition people. But Tommy Evans, the guitar player in the Iveys, decided that he was going to play bass instead — so now, they were actually looking for a guitar player. Not knowing this, Billy Kinsley, a friend of mine and the former bass player for the Merseybeats, went ’round to audition to be their bass player. When the band told him they were seeking a guitar player, Billy said, “You should check this guy out. His name’s Joey Molland, he’s from Liverpool. He’s really good, get him!” So they got in touch with me in Liverpool, and they asked me to come down and audition. It was 1969, and I was 22. I auditioned and I got the job — and that day, they changed their name to Badfinger.
Why’d the group change their name? And how was ‘Badfinger’ chosen?
To cut a long story short, they first went by the Panthers, and they were a rhythm and blues and rock ’n’ roll band. Later they changed their name to the Iveys and became more of a pop band. Right around the time they got to London, they started to look for a new name. They were fed up with the Iveys. Plus, there was another band around at the time called the Ivy League who were having big hit records, and people would get the two confused. They wanted a more rock ’n’ roll name, wanted to get back to their roots.
[Apple Corps executive] Neil Aspinall suggested “Badfinger.” And so he told Bill [Collins, Badfinger’s manager], and Bill told the band, and the band really liked it. So Badfinger it was! This was right before “Come and Get It” came out. They’d already recorded that before I joined — but there is a great story behind it.
When they were still known as the Iveys, they made a pop record called “Maybe Tomorrow.” They were signed to Apple Records at this point, and everyone was thinking it was going to be Apple’s next big hit. And it was kind of popular in Italy and a few other places — but it wasn’t a hit in England, so it was deemed a flop.
Before he’d left the band, the bass player, Ron, was doing an interview about the Iveys’ involvement with Apple. At this point, the band had been with Apple for about a year. Ron was asked in the interview, “What has come from you working with the Beatles for the year?” And he said, “Well, honestly, it hasn’t done us much good!” or something to that effect. I think he was trying to make a joke, really. But then it got quoted in the English music paper: “Working with the Beatles doesn’t do the Iveys much good.”
Paul McCartney saw the headline — and he didn’t like it, I don’t think. Now he’d just written “Come and Get It” for Ringo’s new movie, The Magic Christian. He took the cassette of the demo he’d made and drove to the Iveys’ house. He knocked on the door, they answered, and there on the porch was Paul McCartney! He told them that if they learned this song — “Come and Get It” — just as he’s done it on the tape, he’d come ’round in about a week or so and they’d go to the studio and record it. This, he said, would be their first hit. That’s what he told them — and that’s what they told me.
So sure enough, in two weeks, they’d learned the song just like Paul and they were back in the studio to make the record. He had them do it, I think, around 20 times. And he had them all sing it — Ron Griffith, Tommy Evans, and Pete Ham — all of them sang it. In the end, he picked Tommy as the vocalist, and the other guys did the harmonies. They recorded that, as well as a song they wrote in the studio called “Rock of All Ages.” Paul wrote it with them, I think. Then I got thrown into the mix, and we had a big hit record all of a sudden. It’s kind of funny, I didn’t have anything to do with it really! [laughs]
But what a crazy time to join the band! Talk about perfect timing.
Yeah, it was an incredible turn of events. You know, Ron’s goof-off saying that the Beatles hadn’t really helped them all that much… then suddenly, he’s left the band, they’d made the record, Paul had produced it, and then I got the job!
So it seems that Badfinger had somewhat of a relationship with Paul, since he was involved with writing the single and with production. What were your relationships like with the rest of the Beatles?
Well, we didn’t really see Paul after that. [laughs] For the next four years, we did a lot of playing, a lot of writing, and a lot of recording. We all grew up. We did a lot of things, but overall we had normal lives… I met a girl in America, Kathie Wiggins, and we got married. We were married for 39 years, when she passed away in 2009. And we raised a couple of sons.
Getting back to the question, though, we didn’t have a very close relationship with the Beatles, per se. But we did do a lot of work with George Harrison.
Yeah, absolutely — you all played on All Things Must Pass and at the Concert for Bangladesh, right?
We did, yes. Plus, George produced a little more than half of our second Badfinger album, Straight Up. “Day After Day” was one of the singles he produced, and he played guitar on it, too. A really nice man, great guitar player, singer, arranger — really knew his way around the studio. Of course, we were in awe of him — you know, he’d made all those fantastic records with the Beatles. And through him, we got to play with all the rest of the big stars: Eric Clapton, Ringo, Billy Preston, Alan White, all sorts of people like that. We got to meet them all, and they were all really sweet people, we found. Eric was very mild-mannered, you know, a quiet guy. They didn’t go for big ego-trippers; it just wasn’t the scene. It was really exciting for a young guy, three or four years of playing around the world in big concerts. It was fantastic — we seemed to go from strength to strength, really.
It all sounds so ideal up to this point. Where did things go south?
At one point we met a manager by the name Stan Polley. He was a businessman. So we started letting him handle all our money — but he handled it right into his bank account. [laughs] So he cleaned us out. By 1974, we were getting somewhat suspicious about it. The records were on the radio all over the world, and we were doing 120 shows a year, at least.We knew we were making money at that point. But we never saw any of it.
I tried to buy a house. I was married, as were Tommy and Mike, and Pete had a girlfriend. And you know, there was no money… we couldn’t do these things that were basic things. We weren’t trying to buy mansions or anything; we tried to buy normal houses. And we weren’t rockstars in the sense that we went out and bought Ferraris or whatever — although Tommy did get a Porsche. [laughs] But really, we were quite modest in our spending.
So by the end of 1974, the movement was afoot to get a new manager. But Pete, God bless him, didn’t want to leave the manager. He trusted him, and didn’t believe that the money was mishandled. But people in the music business knew this guy was scamming us, and they told us to get out. They were advising us. Of course, this led to arguments within the band.
By this time, we were no longer with Apple. So we signed with Warner Brothers, and our first record came out for them in 1974. It did okay, but it didn’t do very well. The next record, however — Wish You Were
Here — came out to great reviews, great excitement, and was actually selling very well. But then Warner Brothers discovered that a huge escrow account had been gotten into somehow, and that all the money was gone. This money was hundreds of thousands of dollars in advances that we were supposed to get as we released our albums. They found out that Polley had somehow gotten into the account, and they pulled the record from the stores and filed a lawsuit against the band, suing us for the missing money.
One thing led to another, and we were sitting in this office in London when this phone call came through. Warner Brothers didn’t want to sue Badfinger, it turned out. They were waiting to see if we could sort it out; if we could get rid of this manager guy, they’d keep us on their label. Pete just wouldn’t believe it, and he got up and left the band. Meanwhile, here we were in this office, talking to an agent about possibly doing a tour! We started looking for another band member after that, and we found this fellow Bob Jackson to play the keyboards.
While we were rehearsing for this tour, Pete came back — but he still couldn’t bring himself to leave Polley. And I asked, “Well, what are we gonna do?” Pete said that we could keep Bob in the band and go out as a five-piece, and keep Polley as our manager. He really believed something else had to be wrong. I told the band, then, that I’d do this tour with them, but that I’d have to leave at the end of it. I just couldn’t do all of that work for nothing. I still didn’t have a house. It was unbelievable. But curiously enough, though we knew we’d lost a lot of money, we never really looked at it in detail. It was always as though it had all happened to somebody else.
So we did the tour of England, and then I left Badfinger. I sold my equipment — except for the original guitar I had when I joined the band — and had enough money to fly Kath and I to America. We had $700 when we landed. For a couple of years, we lived in Los Angeles. I got a job as a carpenter, then I had a job installing carpets. I too whatever jobs I could to make money — for my wife, and for our kids. They were the focus, really.
How did you make your way back into music?
A little later on, I’d gotten a band together, but we needed a bass player. So I called up Tommy Evans, who’d just had a job in London lagging pipes and stuff like that. This is what happened to Badfinger after all the fame and glory! [laughs]
Anyway, Tommy came over and played bass with our band. We made some demos and went to Elektra/Asylum [Records], and they loved it. They literally stopped the tape after two songs and asked us, “What do you want?” Next thing you know, we had $100,000 dollars. Funny how that goes: sometimes you have a bit of money, sometimes you’re flat broke.
Coincidentally, sometime in that all of that, I met Mark Lapidos [founder of The Fest for Beatles Fans], and I was invited to appear as a guest at a Beatles Fest. The first one I think was in LA. But unfortunately, I was in a meeting with Mark discussing the details and I got a call from Kathie saying that my mother had passed away. And so of course, I left the meeting and flew to England immediately to be with my brothers and look after my dad. But over the years, I’ve done a few of the Fest [for Beatles Fans]. And I’ll be at the upcoming Fest in New Jersey!
Yes! It’s your first time at the New York Metro Fest in six years. Are you excited to be back?
Yeah, I am! It’s going to be great — we always have a good time there. I love New York, the New York area, New Jersey… they seem to be big Badfinger fans up there! [laughs] I’ve had many great times in New York. We still play there from time to time, too, when we tour as Joey Molland’s Badfinger.
You mentioned that you’re still actively touring and playing shows with your band. Plus, you released a solo album, Return to Memphis, in 2013. Do you have any plans to get back in the studio in the near future?
In terms of Return to Memphis, I just really wanted to do something different than the kind of music I’d been doing for years. And while it may have been a bit of a mistake [laughs] it was a great experience for me, to do something new.
But it’s funny you should mention recording, actually — one of the things I’ll be doing at the Fest is giving a CD of demos to [producer and musician] Mark Hudson. He’ll be producing my next record. We’ve already done a couple of songs, which sound incredible, and I’m really looking forward to recording more. Hopefully it can be out later this year or early next year, depending on our schedules.
Do you have a preference between being in the studio or touring? Though I know they’re two totally different things.
They are, but I really enjoy both. Playing live is great fun because of the people. The live experience is here today, gone tomorrow, you know? And I love that about it. Whereas a record’s forever! So that’s a completely different world. Sometimes it’s a real thrill when a particular song that you particularly like turns out particularly well on an album. It might not be the big hit record that you’d hoped it would be, but it still turns out really well, and you feel like you’ve done something worthwhile; something that you can maybe listen to down the road a little bit and really enjoy.
Be sure to catch Joey Molland at the 2017 NY Metro Fest For Beatles Fans.