The Good with the Badfinger

A Houston producer pays loving tribute to an enduring -- if cursed -- band

Badfinger could be the most star-crossed band in the history of rock and roll. During their time on the planet as the sometimes plastic, more often authentic, scions of the Beatles, misfortune smiled upon the British foursome all too often. For a group with connections that couldn't have been more charmed (they were a Fab Four pet project), a lot went horribly wrong. There were excellent releases that failed commercially, major record company reamings, financial collapse, a bitter dissolution, menial post-fame careers and two eerily similar suicides -- all of which combine for a sob story of near-mythic proportions.

Pondering the tragedy that beset the band is, in part, what molded Houston producer Darrell Clingman into the Badfinger fanatic he is today: How can a group be so cursed, so stricken by bad luck, and yet make music that's the embodiment of neither of those things? The contrast between public impressions and private reality makes for an intoxicating mythos, to say the least.

Some might call Clingman's Badfinger hang-up a morbid obsession, but it's more than that. Ultimately, he insists, the group's fine melodies -- best experienced in the early-'70s classics "Come and Get It," "Baby Blue," "Day After Day" and "No Matter What" -- linger long after the shock value of the band's biography wears thin. To prove his point, Clingman, co-owner of Third Stone Studios, spent nine months and a majority of his savings assembling Come and Get It -- A Tribute to Badfinger, which he's just released on his new label, Copper Records. Although Clingman's creative partner at Third Stone has always been producer Anders Johansson, Copper Records is strictly a solo venture.

"To tell you the truth, I'm flat broke right now," says Clingman from his office in Third Stone's latest location on Westpark Drive just off 59. The studio's exterior shell, a weathered concrete slab in the early stages of beautification, is a bit of an eyesore right now, for which Clingman briefly apologizes before returning the discussion to Come and Get It, a compilation that features both better-known and obscure Badfinger tunes performed by a mixed bag of better-known and obscure acts from around the country. The reason for the CD, Clingman says, was simple: "I can't stand going into record stores and not finding anything [released locally] that I like. It sounds cliched, but this is a labor of love."

Come and Get It was also labor, period. Working the phones like a champ, Clingman was able to recruit 22 artists for Copper's first project, and he managed to convince everyone involved -- including Midwest/ INDI, one of the nation's largest independent distributors -- that he was both well-intentioned and legitimate.

"I've got to tell you straight up, it was a bitch," he says. "My big secret was that I tried to go right to the artists, not the labels or management, because by the time my request got through to the bands, I knew it probably would have been too late."

The few bigger acts that Clingman was able to land were paid up-front for their efforts -- usually out of his own pocket. The little guys volunteered out of reverence for Badfinger, for the exposure and for possible royalties somewhere down the line. All the tracks were presented in finished form to Clingman, who sent the music to Austin for digital mastering and handled the disc's song order, liner notes and packaging.

The CD's most prized catch is Adrian Belew, who leads off the collection with a straightforward guitar treatment of the Paul McCartney-penned "Come and Get It," Badfinger's first single and one of its three Top Ten hits. "I paid Adrian a lot of money to get the other bands to join in," Clingman says, though he won't reveal how much. "He's what I like to call my 'loss leader' on the album."

Belew's version of "Come and Get It" -- on which he acts as producer and plays all the instruments -- is a charming, if unrevelatory, six-string interpretation of a song originally intended for piano. Its most amusing quirk is the inclusion of a signature lick from the Beatles's "And Your Bird Can Sing," which pops up unexpectedly toward the end.

"I was trying to sort of electric-guitarify the original," says Belew. "For a long time I've had the demo tape of McCartney's version, and I read that he had just gone into the studio and did it in one day as a demo for Badfinger. Their version is almost identical. So I listened to both versions, and I went in and also did my version in one day."

The little Beatles reference, says Belew, was his way of putting his stamp on a tune that would be poorly served by too much fiddling. "Badfinger's songs are what they are," he says. "Rather than change the content, what I could do was add a tag on that wasn't on the original song. It's something that might have been."

Actually, "something that might have been" is a telling phrase for Badfinger in general. Originally formed in 1968 as the Iveys, Badfinger was nudged along by its primary influence, the Beatles, who signed the band to their budding Apple label in 1970. Out of that privileged association came a handful of hit singles and four full-length efforts. The group also backed various ex-Beatles on solo recordings and tours; you can hear them, for instance, on John Lennon's Imagine and George Harrison's All Things Must Pass.

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