Remembering Pete Ham of Badfinger

Thursday, April 24, 2014
Remembering Pete Ham of Badfinger

Today marks the anniversary of the sad day that Pete Ham, one of the major creative forces in the band Badfinger, ended his life at only 27 years of age, but while the depressing saga of his band’s fortunes is well-documented, their music is still making a mark even now. For proof, one needs look no further than the last episode of Breaking Bad: the day after the series used “Baby Blue” – one of Ham’s compositions, lest we forget – to score its final scene, Billboard reported that the song had scored a 3,000% sales gain.

Born on April 27, 1947 in Swansea, Wales, Ham started his musical career in earnest in 1961 when he formed a rock group called the Panthers. Although the band’s lineup would change a bit, the Panthers ultimately transformed into the Iveys, signed to the Beatles’ label, Apple Records, and – just in time for the release of “Come and Get It,” written for them by Paul McCartney – changed their name to Badfinger.

Although Ham had been less than ecstatic about the idea of kicking off Badfinger’s career with a song written by someone outside of the band, the fact that “Come and Get It” turned into a top-10 hit helped change his tune a bit. More importantly, though, it raised Badfinger’s profile significantly and put them into a position where Ham’s own compositions could become hits, as turned out to be the case for “No Matter What,” “Day After Day,” and the aforementioned “Baby Blue.” In addition, “Without You,” which Ham co-wrote with bandmate Tom Evans, became a huge success when Harry Nilsson recorded it for his 1971 album, Nilsson Schmilsson.

Oh, and lest we forget, Paul McCartney wasn’t the only Beatle to appreciate Ham’s work: George Harrison also utilized him on his All Things Must Pass album, later performing an acoustic guitar duet with him on a cover of “Here Comes the Sun” during the Concert for Bangladesh.

Despite the chart success and the appreciation of their peers, Badfinger battled with money matters, most of which have been widely attributed to the financial wheeling and dealing of their manager, Stan Polley, most notably an escrow account he set up for the band’s advances, the whereabouts of which no one but Polley seemed to know despite the fact that Badfinger and Warner Publishing were supposed to have access to it as well. In addition, Ham was unhappy with other behind-the-scenes goings-on, even briefly leaving the band in late 1974 because he didn’t want Kathie Molland, wife of fellow Badfinger member Joey Molland, to manage the band. In the end, he returned to the band, in no small part because Warner Brothers had precious little interest in promoting a Ham-less Badfinger.

Things continued to grow worse for the band, further depressing Ham, but as you already know the end result, we’re not going to bum you out any further. (We will, however, recommend Dan Matovina’s book, Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger, which is an absolute must-read.) Instead, let’s just listen to some of Ham’s finest efforts as a songwriter and remember him fondly.