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Rock n Roll Suicide: Pete Ham & Tom Evans of Badfinger can’t take it anymore

March 5, 2012

Pete Ham poses with what's left of himself after Badfinger's manager took his cut

Pete Ham and Tom Evans must have thought they hit the jackpot when The Beatles’ Apple Records signed their band in 1968. First, they released an album as The Iveys, but by 1970, they would be christened Badfinger and under that moniker they would go on to be the most successful act on the Apple Records roster. Ironically, the name Badfinger came from the working title “Bad Finger Boogie” which would later become known as The Beatles’ kumbaya classic “With a Little Help from My Friends.” Unfortunately, as Badfinger would painfully discover, in the record business, so often the people who claim to be your friends are really just vermin waiting for the opportunity to take you for everything you’ve got.

Badfinger’s first hit was Paul McCartney’s “Come and Get It.” If there ever was a rock n roll cautionary tale, it is this song. The lyrics now sadly serve as the epitaph for the band’s two creative forces Pete Ham and Tom Evans, both of whom thought killing themselves was the only way to escape the misery caused by the indentured servitude they endured due to a particularly cruel rock n roll contract.

“If you want it, here it is /  Come and get it / Make your mind up fast / If you want it, anytime / I can get it / But you better hurry cause it may not last.” It was almost as if this band made a deal with Devil and the Devil was Paul McCartney, who as the good Beatle, couldn’t help but be completely honest when he laid of his Faustian bargain.

Well, no one can say that Badfinger weren’t warned about the pitfalls of being rock stars. Of course, practically no one walks away when given the opportunity to seize the ring of fame and riches. However, while Pete Ham and Tom Evans certainly got famous, they never got rich.

In a few short years, Apple Records had turned Badfinger into stars. Poised to take advantage of all the world was offering them, the band demoted the manager who had brought them to Apple and hired the seemingly more worldly Stan Polley in 1970. Opportunities abounded for the breaking band and Polley supposedly had the acumen and contacts to broker the kind of mammoth deals that would allow Badfinger to seize the moment and secure its members’ financial future.

Sure enough, in 1970 and 1971 all went as planned. Badfinger was on top of the world. Their albums Straight Up and No Dice were rocking the charts. In addition to “Come and Get It,” they scored with “No Matter What,” “Day After Day,” and “Baby Blue.” The Ham/Evans-penned Badfinger ballad, “Without You,” hit number one for Harry Nilsson. Their members backed George Harrison on All Things Must Pass and did session work on John Lennon’s Imagine. The success must have been intoxicating and the future promised to be more of the same Not only were they poised to be the next Beatles, they had The Beatles’ stamp of approval.

Stan Polley: Stone Cold Weasel

Despite – or more accurately, because of  – the financial machinations orchestrated by their manager, the members of the band were seeing little money from their efforts. The same, of course, could not be said for Stan Polley. He was rolling in the cash. As revealed in Dan Matovina’s book Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger, a financial statement prepared by Polley’s accountants for the period from December 8, 1970 to October, 31 1971, showed Polley’s income from the band: “Salaries and advances to client, $8,339 (Joey Molland), $6,861 (Mike Gibbins), $6,211 (Tom Evans), $5,959 (Pete Ham). Net corporation profit, $24,569. Management commission, $75,744 (Stan Polley).” According to Matovina’s website: “When prompted, he [Stan Polley] had often bragged that anyone under his wing would be so broken emotionally and financially that if they challenged him, they’d never even attempt to sue him. And he wasn’t averse to flashing a gun or joking about taking out someone’s eyeballs.“

After touring relentlessly through 1972, the band needed to deliver an album, but in Apple’s eyes nothing suitable came out of the self-produced sessions. Another producer was brought in and the result was Ass, which many thought was an apt description. Tellingly, the cover features a donkey with a big juicy carrot being dangled out in front of him. Apple had issues with the album, so the band bolted for Warner before it was released.

The exodus must have seemed like it was for the best. At this point, Apple was flailing. The label was a case study in dysfunction, so it would have appeared to be a fine trick when, under Polley’s direction, Badfinger landed a $3 million deal with Warner. Apple soon after went into bankruptcy, tying up much of the band’s publishing royalties for years. But now with their new deal, Badfinger was finally going to get paid.

Stan Polley toasted them as millionaires. An escrow account was set up for their advance and the band got back in the studio. Their new album Badfinger was quickly composed, but poorly reviewed. The intended title, For Love or Money, was jettisoned, apparently being a little too on the nose. Further complicating matters and confusing Badfinger’s audience, Apple unleashed Ass on the world a few weeks before their Warner debut.

It was not the new beginning the band was hoping for, but they would try again. Those sessions resulted in Wish You Were Here, inspiring their best reviews in two years. Badfinger had every reason to believe they were on their way back to the top of the charts.

Instead, it all fell apart. Some $600,000 “disappeared” from the escrow account and as a result Warner pulled its support for Wish You Were Here a few weeks after its release. Naturally, Stan Polley, who had been fingered during Senate-investigation hearings in 1971 as an intermediary between unnamed crime figures and a New York Supreme Court judge, had a pretty good idea where those funds went.

While Stan Polley lived high on the hog, the band members were impoverished, in debt and devastated. And it looked like that was the way it was always going to be. Yet, still, they recorded another album. Warner, however, decided not to release it and in 1975 the label cancelled Badfinger’s contract.

Pete Ham couldn’t take anymore. He was depressed and putting cigarettes out on his arms. The 27 year-old rock star saw no way out. He’d been on the treadmill of fame for six years and he didn’t have a dime to show for it. As bleak as it may have looked, he did have a daughter on the way. Tragically, though, that wasn’t enough to sustain him. On April 23, 1975, he hung himself in the garage of his new Surrey home. His suicide note read, “I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better … P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.”

[It gets worse after the jump.]

Tom Evans as an Ivey, before it all spun out of control

The band dissolved and Tom Evans would join The Dodgers who were signed to Island Records. That gig didn’t last long. He was fired for insulting comments made to the band’s management. (Hard to imagine where he might have picked up the bad attitude.) He was out of the music business in 1977 and made a living by insulating pipes and driving a taxi. Yet still the stage beckoned and the early 1980s found Evans reforming a version of Badfinger, an idea that also occurred to his former bandmate Joey Molland. Causing much chaos and consternation, the competing Badfingers battled it out for bookings. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

On November 19, 1983, Evans and Molland argued on the phone regarding past Badfinger income lingering in the ethers of an Apple spreadsheet. It must have seemed like they’d had the discussion a thousand times before. Apparently, Molland was also pressuring Evans to share his “Without You” songwriting royalties, which had become a relatively steady source of income (and would become a bonanza when Mariah Carey scored huge with a cover in 1994). It was the one bankable nugget left from the past and Molland, former manager Collins and Gibbins all wanted a piece. The amazing part about this particular episode is that Stan Polley hadn’t already stolen the publishing copyright for himself.

Shortly after the conversation, Tom Evans hung himself from a willow tree behind his home in Richmond, England. There was no note, but obviously the lingering results of Badfinger’s financial woes has sucked the life from him. If that wasn’t enough, he also suffered under the stress of a pending $5 million lawsuit in the US stemming from yet another management deal gone wrong. And,of course, he was never able to get over the suicide of his friend and writing partner, Pete Ham. His wife has been quoted as saying,  “Tommy said ‘I want to be where Pete is. It’s a better place than down here’ ….”

The Iveys first hit was “Maybe Tomorrow,” but there would be no more tomorrows for Tom Evans. See him sing it. It’s amazing:

Of all the rock n roll suicides, I can’t think of any others that are directly linked to bad management. Considering how many scum-sucking managers there are out there, it’s quite surprising. Leonard Cohen’s manager took him for all had while he was becoming a Buddhist monk. Billy Joel’s brother-in-law manager fleeced him for $30 million. In the early days of the Grateful Dead, they were ripped off by their manager Lenny Hart … and he was their drummer’s dad. All of these artists have somehow persevered. Pete Ham and Tom Evans could have, too. If only they had heeded the words of “Take It All,” the opener of 1971’s Straight Up maybe everything would have turned out differently.

Any day, the sun will shine on you
Makes it silly to take it bad
Take it good, take it glad, take it all
I don’t need it at all
I don’t want it at all
No, no, no.

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40 Comments leave one →
  1. amanda permalink
    January 7, 2013 1:34 am

    thanks for the article. It is hard to find any insight on this tragedy unless you have the hundreds to buy Dan Matovina’s book. As for Pete and Tom, I hope for their sake, they found a happier place, but more likely…peace.

    • September 28, 2014 10:37 pm

      Worse with last 45yrs of pop. Gave my dad vinnyCatalano over 100 hits starting in 1973 most were giant iconic songs. Due to Dads moms issues mainly sex. I got no cred nothing but used cars for 22 yrs about 5. Also made his other kids famous. I have a knack for tv/film. I didn’t know they were his kids 6 of them. Oh yeah his blood. I get tortured now. No car 6 years. Like in 1982 I moved to Fla a memory block. Not knowing why ever would I move near these parents. No car help 6 years. Never married or had kids. Copyright hard!!! Good luck

  2. Norm Bellis permalink
    June 4, 2013 1:35 am

    I was Tom’s bandmate in Liverpool band The Calderstones. We were inseparable in those days. Everything was about music, music, music – and music. So many good memories. I was, still am a bass player. Taught Tom a few basics when we were room sharing in 1969 at 7 Park Avenue. He and Pete asked me to join the band after Ron left, but Bill Collins was resilient to this idea. One day I’ll tell all. It’s 30 years since Tom passed on. Seems much less. His and Pete’s memory will always endure. Never forgotten.

    • Nick permalink
      December 22, 2013 8:03 pm

      Norm,

      Is there any way I may contact you? I have a few questions. I’m a 29 year old fan from the USA that just discovered this band, and I’m quite appalled at the tragic outcome of such beautifully minded young men. As a musician myself, I’m quite enamored with their vocal harmonies and wonderfully crafted love songs. I’d like to send you an email and have a chat. Is that okay?

      Cheers,

      Nick

      • Norm Bellis permalink
        January 6, 2014 10:09 am

        Hi Nick,
        Good to hear from a fellow muso. Yes by all means get in touch. My email is spirit_13 (at) outlook.com
        Best
        Norm
        (44)787 984 1771

    • September 18, 2014 4:16 am

      Norm, I would love to know the truth about one of the best band I have ever heard?,,,Tiki

  3. Norm Bellis permalink
    June 4, 2013 1:37 am

    Just realised – Tom’s birthday is tomorrow, June 5th. And mine June 6th! Happy one, Tom.

    • Pete Kane permalink
      June 20, 2013 10:48 pm

      And mine on June 9th

  4. Pete Kane permalink
    June 8, 2013 4:09 am

    New Tom very well I was the one of the people he was insulating pipes with.

  5. Woody permalink
    June 11, 2013 1:50 pm

    What comes around, goes around…..I’m sure Stan Polley got his!

  6. Aimee'li permalink
    September 8, 2013 9:46 am

    Absolutely love them! It is so unfortunate. But their music with forever live. One thing Stan Polley could never take from them!

  7. Eddie permalink
    October 3, 2013 7:25 am

    Ironic to learn about the money woes and suicide of Tom and Pete and the song Baby Blue being used as the finale of Breaking Bad about a man earning millions.

  8. October 3, 2013 4:05 pm

    I woke up this morning with an urge to hear “Baby Blue”, got on you tube and started in! Drifted to the Raspberries, among others, then 10 hours later found myself back on Badfinger and doing some research. Found this article, which is Fantastic by the way, then found myself very saddened and pissed off. Why are there so many unfortunate and stunning stories about these scumbag managers? Can’t they just treat the people, that got them there in the first place, with some respect, and be content with their portion of the proceeds, which I might add is usually a more then adequate sum!!!

    So sad, but as stated already, Polly scum can’t take away their music and all the great feelings that Badfinger gave millions of people like myself!

    • Norm permalink
      October 11, 2013 7:39 am

      Tom was my bandmate / writing partner for four years in the Liverpool days. I never forget. Unreal it’s 30 years this month. Listen out for Spirit 13 “That’s Why Angels Cry”, due out in February. Believe me, he was on my shoulder throughout writing the album with Jacky. It’s going to be hard hitting. Norm

  9. Sheri permalink
    October 27, 2013 11:20 pm

    ever since breaking bad finale i am thinking about and so happy listening to baby blue from the 70s so saddened by the scum sucking ass that drove 2 so talented music lovers from us , and the song without you is like thee best

  10. December 29, 2013 6:56 am

    great music

  11. Phil permalink
    January 21, 2014 1:38 am

    Very sad outcome for such promising musicians. Their music reminds me of my high school days either listening to their LP’s or 8-track tapes, especially with 4 wheels under you and the windows rolled down. This is some of the best music out there and in my opinion much of today’s music doesn’t even come close!

    • Rita permalink
      August 22, 2014 8:52 am

      You are so right Phil! That music was classic and so real and genuine. Loved this band so sad:(( Greedy managers suck the life out of great musicians!

  12. Margarita erdahl permalink
    June 2, 2014 2:46 pm

    Stan Polly, I am sure u r in HELL , Pete didn’t take u with, a soul like his would not end up there. Only soulless bastards end up there.Hope u feel the pain OVER & OVER & OVER AGAIN.

  13. Margarita erdahl permalink
    June 2, 2014 2:51 pm

    AND AS 4 TOM, he’s with PETE, OVER & OVER & OVER …………………BASTARD………….

  14. Ron permalink
    October 1, 2014 2:28 pm

    Great article, great music what a tragic ending.

  15. Hykie permalink
    November 19, 2014 8:44 pm

    One of the sadist rock and roll stories ever told. Need to see this in a move.

  16. December 5, 2014 4:58 pm

    My friend and fellow musician/singer ‘Nick’ met and opened for Badfinger in 1971. Their band hung out with Badfinger for a few hours afterwards and thought they were all nice guys… He has a picture of them all together, relaxing and talking..

  17. Hykie permalink
    December 9, 2014 3:35 pm

    This band left us all too soon. I would love to see a movie made of what really transpired from their humble beginnings to the horrible ending and show the thievery of Stan Polly and others along the way.

    • January 10, 2015 12:53 am

      Hi there, I understand why you feel the way you do, but if they made a movie of this sad tale it would just be another pile of cash they miss out on and it would open up old wounds for a lot of people me included.

      • Hyrum.Turnbeaugh@Ferguson.com permalink
        January 13, 2015 4:33 pm

        I hear what you’re saying. But I think this story should be told on the big screen. And the money made from this movie should go to suicide care or some type of donation like that. This way the right people would benefit from this sad sad story. Just my thoughts.

        Sent from my iPhone

  18. Sparks13 permalink
    December 14, 2014 4:50 am

    And may Polley be burning in hell.

  19. Hykie permalink
    January 14, 2015 9:37 am

    I hear what you’re saying. But I think this story should be told on the big screen. Also the money made from this movie should go to suicide care or some type of donation like that. This way the right people would benefit from this sad, sad story. Just my thoughts…

  20. William Jones permalink
    September 10, 2015 7:17 am

    it really sad to hear those two guys not around anymore and I like badfinger and their music are great, when I heard a very sad news about pete ham and mark evans who’s lost life over by that evil and creedy manager stan polley and I’m sure that mr.polley already paid his price to bloody hell and burn forever rest in peace pete and mark will never forget as long be free forever..

  21. Vanessa Barton permalink
    October 31, 2015 2:33 pm

    We lived next door to Tommy for 13 years up to the day he died, it broke our family’s hearts, as a child then, I didn’t really realise how famous he was, he was just Tommy to us and we were always round his house, my family always welcome, he taught me how to play the guitar, and it was my Dad that took him to work with him with the thermal insulation , he was such a kind person, and was so so sad when he died! Only now being older do I realise what all the angry phone calls were all about! Thank you for your article.

  22. David Bagdon permalink
    November 18, 2015 1:08 pm

    Stan polly,
    Worst f’ ning scum on Earth.I hope you die a very slow and painfull death.And yes he’s Sharon Osborn’s Father.What does that tell you.Scum sucking run’s in that family.Just like the f’ing Bush family.

    • Hykie permalink
      November 21, 2015 10:56 am

      Wow did not know Stan Polly that evil a-hole was Sharon Osbourne’s dad. The acorn doesn’t fall too far from the tree does it.

  23. David Bagdon permalink
    December 14, 2015 3:33 pm

    Still LOVE BADFINGER..My heart breaks reading how that Scum Polly did them.God bless thier family’s.
    David

  24. Hykie permalink
    December 15, 2015 8:36 am

    Again, I think this would make a great movie and the profits could be used to help people with depression and that would be a good thing. Also a great way to show the world how money greedy people (like Stan Polly what a F’n loser) did things back then and also display how the nuts (like his awful daughter Sharon Osbourne) didn’t fall to far from the tree.

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