I had the great pleasure of seeing/hearing/meeting Peter Asher at the late great Johnny D’s in Somerville in the summer of 2012 when he led an interesting and funny multi-media overview of his life and career. It included film, loads of 1960’s vintage Swingin’ London Beatle era anecdotes about the band and Paul McCartney,( his sister Jane’s long-time boyfriend.) There were also great stories around Peter’s successful duo, Peter & Gordon. He fed his muse that evening by playing many of their songs with a backup band. Finally, being a central figure in the 70’s California scene (Linda Ronstadt’s producer/manager, as well as James Taylor’s producer.) He also managed Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King. It was truly one of the most enjoyable evenings of my life…
Peter L. Asher CBE (born 22 June 1944) is a British guitarist, singer, manager and record producer. He first came to prominence in the 1960s as a member of the pop music vocal duo Peter and Gordon, before going on to a successful career as a manager and record producer.
Peter Asher: I recently found the demo Paul McCartney had made for me of “A World Without Love.” Once you find something and put it in the show, it’s everywhere the next day, there’re no secrets. We play that now, and I found that about six months ago. I thought the reel–to-reel tape had gone, but I found a DAT transfer, which I had done at the time when DATs were going to be the future, that still hasn’t quite happened (laughs). I have added in a couple of poster and photos that I found very recently. In fact, I was just mentioning that we found this poster of us and the Rolling Stones when we toured together, we were co-headlining. They were closing, but we were billed equally. I threw that in somewhere, found a way to fit that into the narrative.
I heard a story that you were coming downstairs in your house and a couple Beatles were sitting at your piano, having written a rather famous song. Is that true?
Peter Asher: No, I came downstairs at their request. In our house, Paul [McCartney] was living in our family home for a couple of years when they weren’t on the road. He and I shared the top floor where the guest room and my bedroom were. In the basement, there was a little music room where my mother gave oboe lessons. She taught at the Royal Academy of Music up the road, where she was an oboe professor and she also gave private lessons at home. To digress for a second, one of the interesting facts is that long before I had anything to do with the Beatles or had anything to do with anything, one of my mother’s pupils, whom she taught the oboe, was George Martin. Just weird, couldn’t make that stuff up.
Anyway, Paul would sometime use the music room when my mother wasn’t teaching there. It had a small upright piano, a music stand and a sofa. One afternoon early on, shortly after he moved in, John [Lennon] came over and they were down there together for a couple of hours. No guitars, sitting at the piano, side by side, and Paul stuck his head out the door and called upstairs and asked me if I wanted to come down. He had the song they finished. So I came down and sat on the sofa, opposite the upright piano, and they played “I Want to Hold Your Hand” for the first time, and they asked me what I thought. “What did you think?” I said it was very good!
It does sound a bit pretentious because it’s only rock and roll, but there actually is something extraordinary about being present at the moment of the creation of great art. Your first reaction is you want to hear it again because it is just so incredibly good. You do wonder if you are losing your mind or if it’s about the best song you ever heard or both, but it was. At that point I was 20.
Do you remember the first time you heard Taylor perform?
Peter Asher: The first time I heard him sing I was totally knocked out, because here was someone who looked like he was just going to be an ordinary strumming folkie [but] he played the guitar with the skill of a classical guitarist. He had been listening to Segovia and Julian Bream as well as pop music. Even though he had an almost folkie-ish flavor to his voice, his phrasing owed more to Sam Cooke and Ray Charles. He played classical guitar, but with sort of jazz voicing as well as all the folkie [suspended] chords and stuff. Then he wrote these incredible songs. I was extremely impressed and still am.
Asher was born at the Central Middlesex Hospital. When he was eight years old, he began working as a child actor, and appeared in the film The Planter’s Wife, and the stage play Isn’t Life Wonderful. At the age of ten, Peter played the appealing central juvenile part in the 1954 film version of Isn’t Life Wonderful, along with stars Cecil Parker and Donald Wolfitt. He also appeared in the ITV series, The Adventures of Robin Hood. He is a member of Mensa (as am I). While attending the independent Westminster School as a day boy, he first met fellow pupil Gordon Waller (1945–2009), and they began playing and singing together as a duo in coffee bars. In 1962, they began working formally as Peter and Gordon. Their first (and biggest) hit was the 1964 Paul McCartney song “A World Without Love.”
Asher later read philosophy at King’s College London. Asher is the son of Dr Richard Asher and Margaret Eliot, and the older brother of actress and businesswoman, Jane Asher, and radio actress, Clare Asher. Jane Asher was, in the mid-1960s, the girlfriend of Paul McCartney. Through this connection, Asher and Waller were often given unrecorded Lennon-McCartney songs to perform.In 1965, he was best man when singer Marianne Faithfull married John Dunbar in Cambridge
Peter & James
After Peter and Gordon disbanded in 1968, Asher took charge of the A&R department at the Beatles’ Apple Records label, where he signed a then-unknown James Taylor and agreed to produce the singer-songwriter’s debut solo album. The album was not a success, but Asher was so convinced that Taylor held great potential that he resigned his post at Apple to move to the United States and work as Taylor’s manager. Asher produced Paul Jones’ rendition of the Bee Gees’ “And the Sun Will Shine” which was released as a single (only in the UK). He also produced a number of Taylor’s recordings from 1970 to 1985, including Sweet Baby James, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, JT and Flag.
In the early 1970s Asher also managed the country rock band, Country, which recorded for Atlantic Records through its subsidiary Clean Records, featuring Michael Fondiler and Tom Snow, who has since become a songwriter. For a time, Asher also managed James Taylor’s sister Kate Taylor. When she decided to leave the business, she recommended him to Linda Ronstadt at which point Asher became Ronstadt’s manager. Asher achieved his greatest success producing a long string of multi-platinum albums for James Taylor, and for Linda Ronstadt, including Heart Like a Wheel, Simple Dreams,Living in the USA, What’s New, Canciones De Mi Padre and Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind.
The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood was opened on 23 September 1973 by Elmer Valentine and Lou Adler along with original partners David Geffen, Elliot Roberts and Peter Asher.
Asher also played a role in shaping the Californian rock sound prominent during the 1970s, producing records for Ronstadt, J. D. Souther, Andrew Gold and Bonnie Raitt. In 1976, Asher and Waller reformed for the annual New York “Beatlefest” and played a few other dates. In the 1980s, Asher also worked on hit albums for artists as diverse as Cher and 10,000 Maniacs.
In February 1995, Asher was named Senior Vice-President, Sony Music Entertainment. At the beginning of 2002, Asher left Sony and returned full-time to the management of artists’ careers as co-President of Sanctuary Artist Management. In January 2005 he was named President, the position he held until September 2006, when he resigned. In 2007 Asher joined forces with his friend Simon Renshaw (who manages the Dixie Chicks) at the company Simon founded, Strategic Artist Management. Strategic has grown into a dominant force in the entertainment industry, now managing artists in many fields of endeavour beyond just music – one of Asher’s clients is Pamela Anderson. Asher also reunited with James Taylor as the producer of the Live at the Troubadour reunion album recorded in 2007, with Carole King and Taylor’s original band.
During 2005 and 2006, Peter and Gordon reformed for occasional concerts. However, Waller died in 2009 and in its obituary, The Times observed that “Waller was thought more handsome than the slightly nerdish looking Asher”.
Peter Asher or Austin Powers?
Asher had been quoted as saying that actor Mike Myers has said he had patterned his Austin Powers character after Asher’s appearance, although Elizabeth Hurley, who co-starred in Austin Powers, claimed that the original model was broadcaster Simon Dee.
In 2011 Asher was the executive producer of the Listen to Me: Buddy Holly compilation album and also music supervisor, producer, and co-host of the Buddy Holly: Listen to Me; The Ultimate Buddy Party PBS Pledge Special. Performed and filmed in front of a live audience the Buddy Holly tribute concert aired as PBS Pledge Special in December 2011 and May and June 2012. The Special received the highest 2012 Silver Telly Award in the Category of TV Programs, Segments, or Promotional Pieces.
Asher was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to the British music industry.
Albert Lee and Peter
Recently, Peter Asher has been playing shows as part of a duo with Albert Lee that showcases songs from both their careers.
Asher had a short-lived relationship with singer Millie Small, also known as Millie, who sang “My Boy Lollipop”, which was never back-to-back on the Hot 100 with “A World Without Love”, though both were together on that chart many weeks.
He was married twice, first to Betty Doster. In 1983 he married his second wife, Wendy Worth. Their daughter, Victoria Asher, was born in 1984. She is the keytarist in the American synthpop/punk band Cobra Starship.
After living in Los Angeles for many years, Asher and his wife relocated with their daughter to New York in the mid-1990s.