Interview: Joey Molland (Badfinger, George Harrison, John Lennon, solo)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: May 2014. We had the great honour to talk with a very talented guitarist: Joey Molland. He is the final remaining original member of Badfinger, an excellent ‘70s power pop band, signed to The Beatles’ label, Apple Records. Paul McCartney wrote and produced the band’s first single, “Come and Get It”. Joey participated in George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” and “The Concert for Bangladesh” albums and played acoustic guitar in John Lennon‘s “Jealous Guy” and “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier, Mama” from his “Imagine” LP. His latest solo album is called “Return to Memphis”. Read below the very interesting things he told us:


Your latest album is called “Return to Memphis”. Is this a return to your early rock ’n’ roll influences?

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Yes, in a sense it is. I started after hearing Elvis Presley. He came out of Memphis, on Sun Records.


Are you satisfied with the feedback you got so far from fans and press for “Return to Memphis” album?

Yes, I am. I’m really pleased with the reaction. I’m hoping a few people go out and buy it (laughs).


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Do you think that the female backing vocals on “Return to Memphis” album add an extra “colour” to the album?

Oh, yes. Definitely!


Are you planning more tour dates?

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Yes, I am. I’m doing right now, yeah. I will be playing throughout the year with my Badfinger concert band and I will be doing some “Return to Memphis” shows as well too, a little bit later in the year.


Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” was played during the closing scene of Breaking Bad’s final episode. Were you surprised when you heard the song on the TV?

Oh, very much so! I didn’t know anything about since the day that they are going use it. So, yes it was a great surprise and of course it was a great success for us too.


Did you expect that the song “Without You” (1970) would be a huge hit by Harry Nilsson (#1 on the US and British pop charts in 1971)?

No way! When we recorded it in the early 1970 on the “No Dice” album, a week later we forgot about it really. It was until Harry had recorded it and he actually played it to us in 1971, and we didn’t know anything about it. Yes, it was another fantastic surprise.


George Harrison started the production on “Straight Up” (1971) but he left because of the “Concert for Bangladesh” and Todd Rundgren completed the sessions. I ‘ve read that you had some problems with Todd Rundgren. What really happened?

Yes, as you say George went to do the Bangladesh concert, so he asked Todd to carry on with the production for us and Todd was a different kind of person than George was. It was kind of tough doing the record with him. I mean he was rude to us, obnoxious, criticizing our playing, just outright rude. So, it wasn’t a very pleasant experience at all. On the other hand, of course Todd did make a great record for us, did a fantastic job producing it. It was hard to know how to be with him. I ‘ve seen him several times since then and it’s hard to know how to react with him, because he did a great job but he was so rude doing it.


Do you think that the signing with Stan Polley (New York businessman and manager of Badfinger since November 1970) was the biggest mistake that the band ever did?

Yes (laughs). Yes, I do. It turned out that Polley was not a businessman in a sense that we needed him and he just completely took advantage of us. We were very naïve about the whole business thing and of course Polley just took advantage of us.


Badfinger released “Wish You Were Here” album in 1974. Pink Floyd released their “Wish You Were Here” album in 1975. Did they steal your title?

I suppose they did (laughs)! But it’s ok. At the point, we used to get things stolen from us, so it was ok.


How difficult was for you to overcome the suicide of Pete Ham (vocals/guitar/keyboards) in 1975?

Of course it was very difficult. It was very difficult to understand this. It was something we never expected to happen. I was living in Los Angeles, the band had already broken up. I thought those guys were going on with their future. In fact, they made a new record, they did “Head First” album (ed: recorded in 1974, released in 2000). So, I was really amazed when that happened. I really was. I was very sad. I don’t really know what else to say about it. It was such a shock. Even now, it’s still hard to understand it.


Do you like the term “power pop” as far as Badfinger?

Yes, it seems to describe very good the music that we played. Because it was pop and it was powerful. Before that the pop music was very manufactured sounded and I think that thing changed a bit with us. We sounded a lot more natural playing and singing the songs rather than the big production jobs that people were doing at that time.


Were Badfinger a good live act?

I think so. I think by 1972-3 we were beginning to find out ourselves in a live sense and music was going through that change into the “jammy” music of the ‘70s. The band was really good and that inspired the BBC live (ed:“BBC in concert 1972-3”) had just come out.


What do you remember the most of George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” recordings?

Just the experience as a whole, really. Working with all these great musicians: Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, George of course. All these in the studio together at the same time playing those back tracks. It was a wonderful memory. It was just fantastic. We had a few moments talking to George about the songs, just about life in general. He was always very open about that stuff. It was just a great experience. Very exciting for me, I was very young. You know, working with one of The Beatles. Of course, that was really incredible.


How was it like to work with Phil Spector (the inventor of “Wall of Sound” production technique) on “All Things Must Pass” and “Imagine” albums?

Phil was pretty far from us. We didn’t really get to talk to him at all. He was really drunk when he was producing the record. And the fact that he was drunk, was an influence on the sound that came out. My experience with Phil is really limited in a personal sense.


Did you enjoy “The Concert for Bangladesh” (1 August 1971) at Madison Square Garden?

Yes, again it was a very exciting project for us. We went to New York and we rehearsed at the Steinway Building in New York City along with George, Ringo, Billy Preston and all the great artists came in at their time. We did all the rehearsal and on the Saturday we did the final rehearsal at Madison Square Garden and Bob Dylan showed up. That day was a fantastic experience. There were maybe 50 musicians at The Bangladesh Concert and all of them were really famous people: Songwriters, singers, guitar players, bass players, all you name it were there. And everybody wanted to play, all these guitar players wanted to play their stuff (laughs). It was fantastic, it was very exciting and then the Dylan part of the concert was coming together, it was tremendous. It was just great. We were like a bunch of kids at the circus, just really enjoying ourselves doing our job of course. What a thrill to be involved in a show like that!


How did it happen to play in “Jealous Guy” and “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier” from John Lennon’s “Imagine” album (1971)?

Well, we were at home one day in London, my wife Kathy and I, and Tommy Evans (ed: vocals, bass, guitars; committed suicide in 1983) was at the house as well. And the phone rang and it was John Lennon’s driver and roadie, Joe, and he said that John was recording that night and we could come down and play some guitar for it. Of course we said: “Yeah, yeah!” (laughs). That night he sent his car out for us and we went down to his house. I think about it later: Because George was recording on the sessions with him and Phil Spector was doing the production, they decided to have a couple of the Badfinger guys come in and play the guitar like we did on the George album, just to give a little bit feel on it. And I think at that time, George and Phil put the idea to John’s head and John thought it was a cool idea. I think John always liked that band and there were actually rumours towards the end of the Apple days, that maybe John would be interested in producing us.


Did you feel a bit nervous recording the “Imagine” album at John Lennon’s Tittenhurst Park home?

Absolutely yes! Any time you were on a John Lennon album, you were a bit nervous. I was myself nervous, you know. Yes, it was a very nervy thing for us, but we knew we were there just to do a job and we would do the job and everything would be ok. John liked us. He would say: “This is good”. It was great but it was a very nervy thing, yeah.


Badfinger were signed to The Beatles’ Apple Records. Had you realised that The Beatles were breaking up when you joined Badfinger in November 1969?

Not really. For me as such a big Beatle fan, I was really excited to be around all of that, all of a sudden. I heard things like everybody else in the press, in and around the office staff. Things weren’t really happy among The Beatles anymore but still we refused to believe that they were breaking up. It didn’t seem possible that The Beatles would break up. But of course they did and broke our hearts when they did it. I wasn’t really thinking about them breaking up, I thought about what was going on.


Before Badfinger you played with Gary Walker (ex-The Walker Brothers). How helpful was the period of time for your later career?

It was very helpful, very influential on me. It was Gary who encouraged me to write songs. We toured all over the world playing to people all over the place. There would be a lot of confidence actually to do what I did. Of course it gave me a year and a half just learning to write songs and working on them. I usually get ideas to songs in taxi cabs and write down lyrics on bits of paper and stuff. And it all started because I knew we needed songs for the Gary Walker band. I had never written songs before, so it was very influential on me in that sense.


In 1975, you formed Natural Gas with Jerry Shirley (Humble Pie). Why this band lasted for so short time?

We came to America and went on tour and unfortunately for all of us, we got involved in some drugs and I think that was the main factor. That’s the reason we got out of control and the band broke up about a year and a half later. It had nothing to do with the personalities in the band, I really put that all down to the drugs.


I believe that Badfinger should be inducted into Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. What’s your opinion about this?

It’s very difficult for me to imagine that. We always thought of ourselves as a little rock band, not like the Hall of Fame people like Elvis Presley and The Beatles, Little Richard, giant stars like that.  We never thought of ourselves in that sense. Of course if it happens, it would be a great honour. I would consider it as a great honour for the band. It would be a lovely recognition for the talent, especially of Pete and Tommy.


What kind of music are you listening to at the moment?

Pretty much the same as I ‘ve always listened to. The best music that I can find. I’m listening to a little bit jazz even going back to Thelonious Monk and stuff like that. I’m listening to as much as cooler rockers I can. It’s very difficult with the radio in America: they play music and you never get to hear the name of the artist doing it. They don’t tell you who it is. I’m not a big rap music fan, although I do appreciate some of it. I like hip-hop music but I’m a rock ’n’ roller, a really rhythm ‘n’ blues guy at heart.


Are you happy with the triumphant return of the vinyl?

I like the idea of vinyl making a bit of a return. It seems that more people are buying vinyl because vinyl has something of the beauty of the analog sound. The analog sound I always think to myself that is 1-beat music: It starts and then the beat carries on and then finishes. Whereas digital music is made of thousands of beats, millions of beats. I can’t really feel that there is enough space between in those beats. So, the music sounds a bit different. I do love the analog sound and I still have my record player and I still have all my vinyl albums from England when I was young.


Can you tell us some of your favourite albums?

Sure, yeah! “Ogden’ Nut Gone Flake” (1968) by The Small Faces, “Mountain Climbing!” (ed: Mountain-1970), the early Beatles records like “Beatles for Sale”, that kind of stuff. A lot of things like: “Delaney & Bonnie Live”, Dave Mason records, Tim Hardin, the songwriter. It’s a very broad spectrum the stuff I listened to, really. John, The Band, all of these records I still love them dearly. They are just superb. Steve Miller! Steve Miller’s “Number 5” (1970) in particular.


Do you miss Liverpool?

Yes, I do. I was living in London when the band broke up in 1974 and I have been living in London for about 5-6 years at that point. I didn’t really know anybody, I had a few friends that I’d meet in London but still all my friends, all my real friends were in Liverpool. My family was in Liverpool. I was back in Liverpool, in last September-October 2013. I got to think that: I live in Shorewood. It’s such a great city, it’s such great people . If I had been living in Liverpool, I don’t know if I had actually moved to America. I love America, don’t get me wrong and I love living here, but I don’t know if I lived in Liverpool whether I had left to go anywhere else.


Have you ever played at The Cavern Club?

Yes, I do! I go back there once every two years and play a couple of concerts. Last October I did the George Harrison concert at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool and I played a rock ’n’ roll set then, too. I love being there. I love playing The Cavern across as well.


Do you have any musical ambition left?

Yes, I have. I want to keep making records. I want to keep writing songs. I just want to tour, to play as many places. I have never played in Greece. I have never played in any of the European countries other than: I have played a little in Spain, a little in Holland, a couple of shows in France and a couple of shows in Germany. That’s all that I have played in Europe. So, I would love to go back and tour.


Thank you very much. I’m a huge fan of Badfinger and my favourite song is “It’s Over”.

Oh, it’s a great song, yeah. It’s great. It’s one of Tommy’s best, I think.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Joey Molland for his time and to Billy James for his valuable help.

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