Sunday, June 28, 2009

Beatle People: Pete Ham

Peter William Ham (27 April 1947 – 24 April 1975) was a Welsh singer, songwriter and guitarist, best known as the leader of the group Badfinger.

Early life

Ham was born in Swansea, South Wales. He formed a local rock group called The Panthers around 1961. This group would undergo several name and lineup changes before it became The Iveys in 1965. The band was relocated to London by The Mojos manager, Bill Collins, in 1966, and they continued to perform for three years throughout the United Kingdom. As it was, Pete Ham especially took to songwriting, as a Revox was made available by Collins to encourage him. Ray Davies of The Kinks took initial interest in producing the group. In 1968, The Iveys came to the attention of Mal Evans (The Beatles personal assistant) and were eventually signed to the Beatles' Apple label after approval from all four Beatles who were most impressed by dozens of home demos highlighting the band's songwriting abilities.

In Badfinger

The Iveys changed their name to Badfinger with the single release of "Come And Get It," a composition written by Paul McCartney, and it became a worldwide Top Ten hit. Ham had initially protested using a non-original to promote the band, as he had gained confidence in the group's compositions, but he was quickly convinced of the springboard effect of having a likely hit single. His own creative perseverance paid off eventually, as his "No Matter What" composition became another Top Ten worldwide smash after its release in late 1970 . He followed up writing two more worldwide hits in "Day After Day" and "Baby Blue." But the peak of his craft came with his co-written composition "Without You" - a worldwide #1 as covered by Harry Nilsson. The song has since become one of the all-time ballad standards covered by hundreds of singers from many genres. An Ivor Novello award for Song Of The Year was granted in 1973 along with Grammy nominations. In 1972, Ham's group Badfinger was picked up by Warner Bros. Records, as the Apple label was crumbling and it seemed the band was primed for major recognition.

During the band's tenure at Apple, Ham also performed guitar and vocal session work for ex-Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr, notably on "All Things Must Pass" and the single "It Don't Come Easy." Ham was uncredited on other sessions as well. Ham's personality was universally described as soft-spoken, a kind disposition, a bit of a clown at a party, extremely giving and humble. He was cited for his hard-working nature.


During the Warner Bros. Records era from 1973-75, Badfinger became embroiled in many internal, financial and managerial problems and their music languished. By 1975, with no income coming in and his business manager non-communicative, Ham's spirit became broken and he hanged himself in the garage of his Surrey home. He was discovered by his girlfriend in his garage the very next morning. His blood alcohol was .27%. He was 27 years old. He left behind a pregnant girlfriend Anne (his daughter Petera Ham was born one month after his death); Anne had a son, Blair, from a previous relationship. Ham's suicide note was accusatory toward Badfinger's business manager, Stan Polley. It read: "Anne, I love you. Blair, I love you. I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better. Pete. P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me." Many of Polley's artist-clients also accused him of corruption over the years. More than a decade after Ham's death, Polley pleaded Nolo contendere to unrelated embezzlement and money laundering charges, but no collection of restitution was ever made. Ham's death was brushed under the rug, as no Beatles made public comment, nor did Apple Corps Ltd nor Warner Bros. Records come out with any official notice of his death.


Ham is often credited as being one of the earliest purveyors of the power pop genre, but his most widespread effect in popular music is the ballad "Without You," written with Badfinger bandmate Tom Evans (who also later committed suicide). Two collections of Ham's home demo recordings have been posthumously released: 1997's 7 Park Avenue and 1999's Golders Green.


(with Badfinger, except where noted)

* Maybe Tomorrow (1969 with "The Iveys")
* Magic Christian Music (1970)
* No Dice (1970)
* Straight Up (1971)
* Ass (1973)
* Badfinger (1974)
* Wish You Were Here (1974)
* 7 Park Avenue (1997 as "Pete Ham")
* Golders Green (1999 as "Pete Ham")
* Head First (2000)

Ham also appeared as a guest artist on

* The Concert For Bangla Desh (the concert, the album, and the film)
* All Things Must Pass by George Harrison (album)
* "It Don't Come Easy" by Ringo Starr (single)

Compositions of note

* "No Matter What" (Billboard charting #8, by Badfinger)
* "Without You" (Billboard charting #1 by Harry Nilsson, #3 by Mariah Carey, #28 by Clay Aiken).
* "Day After Day " (Billboard charting #4, Cashbox charting #1, both by Badfinger)
* "Baby Blue" (Billboard charting #14 by Badfinger)


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