The Tragedy of Pete Ham

Watching Vinyl brings me to the reality of an industry that is too oppressive for creative artists like the Badfinger, particularly Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Vinyl is a fictitious TV series with Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese collaborating for it; but it mirrors whatever was happening in the industry then. Has it gotten any better? You have to be in the industry as artist or manager to determine the answer to that.

I came across inadvertently this half-an-hour documentary about Pete Ham while looking for Ray Charles Georgia On My Mind and held on to it. A tragedy that may yet happen again even after some 40 years later I believe. Good Anton Newcombe of BJM did not succumb to it after descending to heroin addiction and having been left behind by rival band, The Dandy Warhols.

From youtube writeup:

“Over the next three years, surviving members struggled to rebuild their personal and professional lives against a backdrop of lawsuits. The albums Airwaves (1978) and Say No More (1981) floundered, as Molland and Evans see-sawed between cooperation and struggle in attempts to revive and capitalise on the Badfinger legacy. Having seen Ham’s body after Ham’s wife had called him, Evans reportedly never got over his friend’s suicide, and was quoted as saying in darker moments, “I wanna be where he is.” On 19 November 1983, Evans also took his own life by hanging.

(Badfinger’s Without You was their biggest hit)

“After receiving an invitation from Collins, Beatles’ roadie/assistant Mal Evans and Apple Records’ A&R head Peter Asher saw them perform at the Marquee Club, London, on 25 January 1968. Afterward, Evans consistently pushed their demo tapes to every Beatle until he gained approval from all four to sign the group. The demos were accomplished using a mono “sound-on-sound” tape recorder: two individual tracks bouncing each overdub on top of the last. Mal Evans’ support ultimately led to their signing with Apple on 23 July 1968 — the first non-Beatle recording artists on the label. Each of The Iveys’ members were also signed to Apple Corps’ publishing contracts.

(But it was Harry Nilsson’s version of Without You that gave it international spin)

“The group’s first single, “Maybe Tomorrow”, was released worldwide on 15 November 1968. It reached the Top Ten in several European countries and Japan, but only number 67 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and failed to chart in the UK. The US manager of Apple Records, Ken Mansfield, ordered 400,000 copies of the single—considered to be a bold move at the time in the music business—and pushed for automatic airplay and reviews from newspapers, which he secured. Nevertheless, Mansfield remembered the problems: “We had a great group. We had a great record. We were missing just one thing … the ability to go out and pick up people, and convince them to put their money on the counter” A second Tom Evans composition, “Storm in a Teacup”, was included on an Apple EP promoting Wall’s Ice Cream, along with songs by Apple artists such as James Taylor, Mary Hopkin and Jackie Lomax. The chart success of “Maybe Tomorrow” in Europe and Japan led to a follow-up single release in those markets in July 1969: Griffiths’ “Dear Angie”. An LP titled Maybe Tomorrow was released only in Italy, Germany and Japan. This was thought to be the work of Apple Corps’ president, Allen Klein, as an Apple Corps’ press officer, Tony Bramwell, remembered: “He [Klein] was saying, ‘We’re not going to issue any more records until I sort out this mess’

(Now the George Harrison-produced Day After Day)

Ham’s suicide and a break-up

“With their current album suddenly withdrawn and their follow-up rejected, Badfinger spent the early months of 1975 trying to figure out how to proceed under the unclear legal situation. Salaries were no longer arriving and panic set in, especially for Ham, who had recently bought a £30,000 house in Woking, Surrey, and whose girlfriend was expecting a child. According to Jackson, the band tried to continue without Polley’s involvement by contacting booking agents and prospective managers throughout London, but they were routinely declined because of their restrictive contracts with Polley and impending legal actions. Ham reportedly tried on many occasions to contact Polley by telephone during the early months of 1975, but was never able to reach him.”


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