BY ELLIOT STEPHEN COHEN
“A few catchy records and a lot of fun,” is how 69 year-old Peter Asher, who will be joining fellow “Brit Invasioners” Donovan and Billy J. Kramer for an event billed as “Celebrating 50 Years Of The Beatles In The U.S.A.,” modestly assesses his career with his late partner Gordon Waller.
Actually, the hugely popular duo of Peter and Gordon racked up quite an impressive list of ‘60s hit recordings, including “World Without Love,” “Nobody I Know,” “I Don’t Want To See You Again,” “True Love Ways,” “I Go To Pieces,” and “Lady Godiva.”
If that’s not enough, Asher, only 24 in 1968 when Paul McCartney hired him to head Apple Records’ A&R department, later went on to become one of the music business’ most successful producers and managers, helming the multi-platinum careers of James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. Other production credits of his include working with Bonnie Raitt, Diana Ross, Cher, Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, Steve Martin, Edie Brickell, and the group 10,000 Maniacs.
The twelve-time Grammy Award winning producer also currently tours with a one-man show entitled, “Peter Asher - A Musical Memoir Of The ‘60s And Beyond.” His latest recording project, a 40th anniversary tribute album celebrating Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” will be released in March.
Examiner: How did you first meet Paul McCartney who, of course, wrote Peter and Gordon’s first hit “World Without Love?”
Asher: My sister Jane was and is an actress who was fairly well known in Britain in the ‘60s. She also used to appear on a (television) show called “Juke Box Jury,” where they rated new records. Her opinions were usually quite articulate and interesting. So, it was in that context that Jane was invited to go see this new band that was causing a lot of fuss with girls positively screaming over them. That’s how she first met The Beatles who, she thought, were fantastic. She liked them; they liked her, especially Paul McCartney who eventually became her boyfriend.
Examiner: So, this is how you and McCartney got to become friends and professional associates.
Asher : Yes. My parents took pity on Paul because he was always hanging around our house, like he had no place to go. They offered him the guest room to stay in when The Beatles weren’t on the road. We shared the room, and when he discovered that I also played the guitar, though not as well as him, mind you, and had similar record collections, we became friends. I got to hear a number of his orphan songs in progress. One of them was “World Without Love,” which didn’t even have a bridge at the time.
Examiner: Had Paul written the song for The Beatles to record?
Asher: I’m not sure, but they and (producer) George Martin felt it wasn’t right for them. So, fast forward; about six months later, Gordon and I had secured a record deal with EMI Records. I think they considered us a kind-of folkie act. We used to do a lot of American folk things like “500 Miles,” which they wanted us to record for our first single, because it hadn’t been a hit in the UK. However, they also said, “Look, if you know of any other song that might be more suitable, please feel free to tell us.” I remembered Paul’s song and asked him if we could record it. It was still sitting on the shelf, unused and unfinished. So, I prevailed upon Paul to write a bridge, which he did. A week before our first session, Gordon and I learned the finished song. It was released as our first single, went to number one all over the place and, of course, changed my life.
Examiner: After The Beatles opened the floodgates for lots of other British acts like Peter and Gordon, what memories do you have of those wild days in the mid-’60s, with lots of screaming girls who wanted to tear you apart?
Asher: Oh, it was fabulous! What do you think? (Laughs) For our very first American gig, we arrived in New York to play at The World’s Fair. There was a stage set up with a body of water, like a moat between us and the audience. As soon as one of the girls jumped in, the others followed, and kind-of waded toward us. Imagine, being chased by hordes of wet teenage girls. It was very exciting. Gordon and I couldn’t believe what was happening!
Examiner: Was your first trip to Manhattan anything like you and Gordon had pictured it?
Asher: We were just so excited to be in America. We had dreamed of America our whole lives. Back home, I’d had a poster of New York on my wall. When I got there, I went out and bought copies of Downbeat (magazine) and circled all of the jazz clubs I wanted to visit.
Examiner: On those early American tours, you shared bills with The Rolling Stones.
Asher: Yes, we toured with them and Millie Small. Freddie and The Dreamers were actually the shows’ headliners.
Examiner:..And you did some Dick Clark Caravan of Stars tours, which must have been hard work for little money, eating terrible fast food and sleeping on cramped buses.
Asher: Yup, it was great! I actually got to sit next to a Shirelle on the bus. For God’s sake, how exciting is that! We did one tour with them, The Drifters, Jackie DeShannon and Tom Jones. We were the headliners because we’d already had two hits out, and Tom Jones first record, “It’s Not Unusual” was just released. It was a great tour.
Examiner: Being that Chad and Jeremy, another British singing duo also featuring one tall, good looking guy and a bespectacled partner who both played acoustic guitars, were you and Gordon sometimes mistaken for them?
Asher: Yes, there was a lot of confusion, but more vice versa. They did a lot of acting on shows like “Batman,” “The Patty Duke Show,” I forget what others.
Examiner: There was an episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” where they were called The Redcoats.
Asher: Yes, that’s right. So, we would get congratulated by people who thought they saw us on these shows. We’d have to say, “No, that wasn’t us.” We had different careers, although we did “Ed Sullivan” and they didn’t. It wasn’t until many year later when we were both on the road doing some gigs that I had worked out a sort-of four-part arrangement of “Bye, Bye, Love.” People could see us all together onstage and prove once and for all that we were, in fact, two separate and distinct entities. As you said, it was quite a coincidence that both duos had a tall, handsome guy singing the lower parts, and a short, nerdy-looking guy with glasses doing the high parts,
Examiner: Why did you and Gordon break up after 1968?
Asher: We actually didn’t, oddly enough, at least in the formal sense. We never said, “That’s it. We’re not singing together any more.” We never had any “Everly Brothers not speaking to each other phase.” We just became busy doing other things. Gordon wanted to make records on his own. I wanted to produce records, which was something I was very interested in doing from the first day I was in a recording studio. We just decided to take a hiatus which, ironically, lasted 38 years.
Examiner: What prompted your reunion?
Asher: It actually happened in 2005 when there was a big benefit show at (Manhattan’s) B.B. King’s for Mike Smith (the former Dave Clark Five singer who became paralyzed from a serious accident). Paul Shaffer was the musical director. It was his invitation, commitment and enthusiasm for the project that persuaded me and Gordon to do it. It turned out to be more fun than I could have expected. The audience loved it. We still sounded like us. So, after the show we thought, “What the hell? If people want to pay us to sing, we’ll do more shows.” It was so much better than when we performed in the ‘60s, when the sound systems were absolutely horrible. With the new technology, we could actually hear ourselves singing, and the audiences could hear us properly.
Examiner: You’ve had a fantastic career in the music business for the past 50 years. However, if Paul McCartney hadn’t written Peter and Gordon’s first few hits, do think your own success would have happened anyway?
Asher: Well, we’ll never know. I would have certainly had a different career, that’s for sure. I mean, to open your career with a number-one worldwide smash was amazing. I certainly owe Paul McCartney a huge debt of gratitude. Of course, having him write our first hits was a massive stroke of good fortune, as was meeting James Taylor, and all of the good things that have happened to me in my life. I’m confident I would have had some kind of career, but if it hadn’t started the way it did, I might have never left university, and who knows what I would I would have ended up doing.
Those are interesting questions that only Dr. Who can answer!