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I’m Still Standing: Joey Molland Transcends Badfinger’s Tragic Past With Latest Album, ‘Be True to Yourself’
Welcome to the second installment of Rock Cellar’s newest column, I’m Still Standing. Each month, we’ll visit with a veteran artist that you may not previously have known is still producing vibrant, new music and pursuing other creative projects, when applicable. We’ll talk about the past, sure, but our focus will be the present — and the future. Last month we talked with Steve Hackett of Genesis. This month we spend time with Joey Molland.
Badfinger was one of many bands, from the Bee Gees to the Knack to Oasis, to be labeled the “next Beatles.” It’s not hard to see why. The band — guitarist Pete Ham, drummer Mike Gibbins, bassist Tom Evans and guitarist Joey Molland — signed with Apple Records and scored a Top 10 hit in 1970 with “Come and Get It,” written and produced by Paul McCartney. Band members would perform on records by John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
The infectious hits came in rapid succession for Badfinger: 1970’s “No Matter What,” 1971’s “Day After Day,” produced by Harrison and 1972’s “Baby Blue.” “Without You,” written by Ham and Evans, became a No. 1 hit for Harry Nilsson in 1970 and in 1994 for Mariah Carey. When “Baby Blue” was used in the soundtrack of Breaking Bad‘s finale in 2013, the song shot up the charts four decades after its release.
A series of tragedies and misfortune soon cut short Badfinger’s rapid ascent. Bad management decisions left the members broke, which contributed to Ham taking his own life in 1975. Molland quit Badfinger, returned, and left again; he and Evans recorded two albums, Airwaves and Say No More, under the Badfinger name. Evans committed suicide in 1983; Gibbins died of a brain aneurysm in 2006.
Over the years, Molland performed on Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and The Concert for Bangladesh and Lennon’s Imagine. Molland continues to play with his band, Joey Molland’s Badfinger, and performs songs on tour from the Beatles’ White Album with stars like Todd Rundgren, Micky Dolenz and Jason Scheff of Chicago.
Molland has recorded a number of well-received solo albums since his first, 1984’s After the Pearl, and on Oct. 16, he’ll release Be True to Yourself, produced by Mark Hudson. The LP is power-pop at its finest with an unmistakable hint of Badfinger.
Dolenz, Scheff, Julian Lennon, Christopher Cross and Wings’ drummer Steve Holley make guest appearances. It’s Molland’s first album since 2013’s Return to Memphis.
We spoke with Molland from his home in Minneapolis, where he eagerly awaits the opportunity to tour again.
Rock Cellar: Badfinger was such a successful band. Why did you quit?
Joey Molland: It was all getting cocked up. The managers were just bending us, taking all the money, and the band, after a year we stopped discussing it and started to argue about it. The band wasn’t going to do anything. Pete and I decided it wasn’t worth staying. I loved being in the band but we were working really hard for five years and didn’t have any money at all. I mean, no money. Not some money. We didn’t have any money at all.
So that was enough for me. There was nothing we could do, nothing I could do by myself. We’d all signed a contract and the only way to get away from it was to get out of the contract with them. And I decided to leave. That’s all.
Rock Cellar: What was going on in your life then?
Joey Molland: It was really hard to make a living. I couldn’t get gigs as Joey Molland. It was really, really difficult. I worked a couple of day jobs in LA. I got a job as a carpet layer; a friend of mine owned the company and so I did that for a little bit. And then I was a carpenter for a little bit. Then I met a couple of guys and we gradually got back into it. And then Tommy came over and we did the Airwaves album.
Rock Cellar: After his death, you were the remaining member of Badfinger and launched your solo career. Then in 2013 tens of millions of people heard “Baby Blue” when it was used in the finale of Breaking Bad. Did you know it was going to be used?
Joey Molland: No, I didn’t know anything. Those songs are all being sold now mostly by the Ham estate, Peter’s songs, and so they really don’t tell me much about what’s going on with those guys. They don’t tell me anything and so I didn’t know.
I saw it that night. It was a great surprise. I was recording the show for my son because I didn’t watch Breaking Bad, so I was really surprised, I had no idea. I didn’t recognize the tape that they used. It had some kind of weird echoes on it so I don’t know if they remixed it or something. I still thought it was a great thing and it was a great thing for Peter.
Rock Cellar: Did its use lead to new attention to Badfinger and its music?
Joey Molland: It did for a very short while. The record was a hit record again. And the next month or maybe a little longer than that the gigs were all completely sold out. That was the big difference. We got a little bit of money later on. I don’t know actually how much we got because it just came in mixed up with other royalties. We did OK out of it. Everybody was talking to me about it.
We noticed that the audiences at the shows were really mixed. We’d always had a bit of a mixed audience in terms of age groups but it was really mixed now. Because the majority of the newcomers were the younger people. They’d never really heard Badfinger. But they came, that was one of their favorite shows. They really enjoyed that and they thought it was great.
Rock Cellar: Later that year you released Return to Memphis. Why did you choose Memphis as a place to record?
Joey Molland: Growing up, the first record I ever really liked was “Blue Suede Shoes,” which was recorded in Memphis. And then all my life I was hearing about Memphis and I was buying Stax records and things like that. I just wanted to go somewhere and make a different record. All the records I’d made had been kind of Beatles records or Badfinger records. Because that’s my style of music, the style of music I write.
So I wanted to go somewhere and just make a different-sounding record. I was hoping it would turn out a bit better than the Memphis records but it was just kind of a thing on my end, I just wanted to do something different.
Rock Cellar: In 2015 you recorded “Sweet Tuesday Morning,” from Badfinger’s Straight Up, with Ladies First members Savannah King and Mary Ramsey of 10,000 Maniacs. How did that come about?
Joey Molland: I’d done a little bit of work with them and with John Lombardo maybe 10, 12 years ago. They were going to do “Sweet Tuesday Morning” as a charity release for WhyHunger. So they asked me, did I want to come out, maybe play on it. So I did.
Rock Cellar: In 2019 you performed music on tour from the Beatles’ White Album with an all-star cast: Todd Rundgren, Micky Dolenz, Christopher Cross and Jason Scheff. How did that come about and what was the tour like?
Joey Molland: It was put on by a promoter in New York City I’d done several tours for in the past. And then he had the idea of it, about doing a tour based around the White Album. He figured I’d be an ideal guy. I’ve played with the Beatles, I was from Liverpool, and I could bring a little bit of that character to the show. And sure enough, they got me in it. The show was very successful, I was happy to say. I got to sing a few songs, play on a bunch. It was great, of course, touring with Christopher Cross, who was lovely and Todd Rundgren, we had some fun. He’d get up and sing “Baby Blue” and stuff like that.
It was an enjoyable time as these tours usually are if you’ve got any kind of social character to you. All of a sudden you’re hanging around with these guys, major stars usually, and so it’s great to get to know them a little bit. You become friends. I really enjoyed it.
Rock Cellar: Will the tour continue when the pandemic dies down?
Joey Molland: We’ll be going out late next spring, I believe we’re going to go out and do either the White Album or we’re going to do an Abbey Road tour. We’ll be going out with the same lineup and the same band, so I’m looking forward to it. We were supposed to do 60 gigs with that band this year with that tour. It was a real drag to lose it all, all the work, but it’s one of those things.
Rock Cellar: When you do those tours, do you do the album in order as it was recorded?
Joey Molland: We didn’t with the White Album because there was so much music. The producer, I suppose, picked the songs and we sorted those songs into some kind of order and we just played them. It wasn’t in the order of the album. I think the White Album had 30 songs, so we would have been there all night! We might do that with Abbey Road because it’s got about 12 songs. I know there’s a medley on side two which has a bunch of songs in it too but I think basically it’s 12 tracks. So you’ve got time to fit that in the show.
Rock Cellar: You’ve said you didn’t have the best relationship with Todd, who finished producing the Straight Up album in 1971 after George Harrison left. Did things change?
Joey Molland: It was awful in the old days. He was arrogant, a big-headed guy is what we thought of him. I could say it a lot worse than that but you know what I mean. He was rude, he was actually big time about himself, how great he was. He’d be great at times but we just weren’t used to that. We weren’t used to people blowin’ their own trumpet around us.
Even the Beatles weren’t like that. They didn’t walk around blowin’ their own trumpets, they were very normal guys. Eric Clapton was a normal guy and Jimmy Page was a normal guy. It went weird. And he was plain weird. He was really arrogant. And he’s still like that today. He was very aware of his own brilliance.
Rock Cellar: How did what you learned from working with musicians like the Beatles contribute to your music today?
Joey Molland: I learned to keep it simple. I learned patience and I learned to be direct with people. George was very direct when we did his things. He came right over to us, sat with us, played the song, explained what he wanted and generally that was a straight rhythm. He didn’t like you going jigga-jigga-jing when jing-jing-jing would suffice.
George had us singing on one mic and doing all our harmonies on the same mic. So we’d sing three-part harmonies together. And as you do that you learn to sing three-part harmony and you learn to sing it together. So you start and end on the same beat. You learn to balance yourself. It’s not an engineer doing the balancing, you’re doing it yourself. People all singing around the same mic, I really enjoyed that. And we were all pretty good with singing harmony so it worked out nicely. All those little things we learned to do.
And take the time working out the parts, which was a thing we did anyway. We used to learn songs in the studio from scratch. We didn’t do pre-production rehearsals. We’d actually learn the songs brand new. And so those riffs that you hear on those records are brand new riffs. The guitar solos are brand new guitar solos. It just worked like that for us.
Rock Cellar: Let’s talk about your new album, Be True to Yourself. It’s your first album since 2013. Why the wait?
Joey Molland: I wanted to get a producer. I wanted to find a producer to produce me a record. I hadn’t worked with one since I think the Badfinger album Say No More. It was the last one that Tommy did with me and that was the last time I really had a producer. From then on I produced all the records myself. And that probably is one of the reasons for the lack of success!
I really wanted to work with a good producer. That was the idea and that’s what I wanted. I met Mark Hudson over those ten years. We got to be good friends. And singing a bit together and playing a bit together. And eventually he said to me, “Do you want to make a record?” “Well, yes I do,” I said. I sent him a bunch of songs, like 35 or 40 songs and he picked out a dozen and we ended up using 10 of those.
Mark was very helpful with lyrics and it just worked out great. He’s such a great producer. I learned a lot from him about producing. The focus of it. Which is a thing that never occurred to me before. The focus is when a producer hears music and then goes for it. He sees an end to it and if we started, he knows what we started with and then he will focus the parts to lead where he wants to go with it.
Really remarkable, the way of hearing it. And he was incredible. I think he did a great job for us.
Rock Cellar: How did the contributors work with you on the album?
Joey Molland: Mark called Julian [Lennon] and asked him, actually I think he was talking about making records with him. He told him we were doing a Joey Molland record and Julian was thankfully kind of enthused about that. And Mark asked him, “Would you like to come and sing some harmony?” “Yeah, I’d love to do that,” he said, and the next thing you know he was in the studio with us singing harmonies.
He’s a lovely guy, of course, very nice, very open, learned his parts. He sings on the songs he likes and it was a great experience for me. And I think he enjoyed it and I think essentially the songs will get a little bit of success.
I met Micky [Dolenz] on that White Album tour and I’d played some of my rock vocal tracks on the bus while we were on the tour. And he and Jason Scheff both said they’d like to come and sing on it. So while we were doing it I got in touch with them and invited them down and they both came. This was out in LA, I was doing the lead vocals and it was great. These guys are pros, they can sing harmony, and so they just came in and put themselves down.
The record turned out really well. The reviews are great, what people are saying about us, it’s stunning. We’ve got our fingers crossed that we might have some success with it. Just fun and games. Lovely.
January 20, 2021