Shine On: A Tribute to Pete Ham (liner notes)


Look at every existing photograph of Peter William Ham and you’ll see it – a deep sadness behind the eyes, a sense of longing for something as intangible as the wind, a gossamer dream, always in his thoughts but just beyond his grasp.

It’s a face that declares, with its world-weary gaze, that he knows there’s something better out there. It says, as Brian Wilson once declared, “I just wasn’t made for these times.”

That feeling runs through Pete Ham’s music, too, even the high-octane rockers and sublimely melodious love songs. As a key component of the Welsh/English band Badfinger, he gave us nearly 100 songs that reached for the skies, even as they explored the depths of the soul.

He was a rare bird, was Pete Ham. And when he left this world, on April 24, 1975, just three days before his 28th birthday, he left a hole as big as his Swansea-sized heart.

The musicians who’ve come together to salute this lost genius chose the songs they wanted to cover, as Pete Ham, along with the legacy of Badfinger, continues to move and inspire every generation.

“The more I learned about Badfinger,” says longtime Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch, who contributed to three of the Shine On tracks, “the more upset it made me, because they were so rich with promise. It’s not just a cautionary tale – it’s truly heartbreaking.”

As part of the Speaker Wars, with vocalist Jon Christopher Davis, Lynch turns “No Matter What” – Badfinger’s power pop anthem – into a gently swaying, country-rocking declaration of devotion.

And a second version of the song, with Davis and Indian vocalist Susmita Datta, re-imagines it as a psychedelic Hindustani dream.

With ex-Georgia Satellite Dan Baird, Lynch put together The Chefs; the band contributed a raucous rave-up version of “I Can’t Take It,” one of the few full-tilt rave-ups in the Ham catalog.

“That stuff was so infectious and fabulous, so obviously good,” Lynch says. “I never saw them live, but at the time when you heard those songs, you knew they were a cut above. The vocals were just so emotional. They weren’t showbiz. ‘Day After Day’ ripped my heart out.”

That song, perhaps Pete’s most indelible gift to the world, is interpreted on Shine On by singer/songwriter Shelby Lynne, who masterfully found the emotional core and gave it a blistering body that brings to mind nothing less than Dusty Springfield alongside the 1960s Wall of Sound.

That sort of inside-out happens time and again on this collection, from the sweet heartbreak of Mary Lou Lord’s bared-nerves take on “Baby Blue” to Amy Rigby’s spellbinding “Midnight Caller,” from Melanie’s heartbroken “Without You” (written by Pete with his Badfinger bandmate Tom Evans) to the love-has-no-limits rendition of “We’re For the Dark” by Mary Karlzen.

Each of the artists on Shine On – a true labor of love – would agree. We are all the better for however briefly sharing the planet with him.

Bill DeYoung

June 2022