Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Diamond and Diana Ross certainly know who he is.
They’re just a few of the very successful musicians whose careers have been touched by Peter Asher, who will perform in the Sportsmen’s Tavern Saturday night.
Back in the 1960s, Asher was Peter of Peter & Gordon, a popular British pop duo that sold millions of records in England and the United States.
What was it like being in the thick of the British Invasion, when British bands essentially took over the American music industry?
“It was amazing,” said Asher, 68, who recently spoke to Gusto from his home in Malibu, Calif., while getting ready for a recording session with comic/bluegrass musician Steve Martin.
“First of all, we looked to America as the source of all our musical inspiration. I was a big jazz fan. Being in the British Invasion allowed us to go to America,” Asher said.
He and his musical partner, the late Gordon Waller, traveled by bus on a tour sponsored by impresario Dick Clark, playing shows with Tom Jones, the Shirelles, the Drifters and other ’60s artists. They also appeared on the Ed Sullivan TV show.
During concerts, “we’d be running around the stage, doing our thing ... Girls were screaming and they would rush the stage,” he said. “You could hardly hear anything at all.”
Peter & Gordon had some very big hits, including three songs written by Asher’s good friend, McCartney. For about two years, when the Beatles weren’t on the road, McCartney lived in the Asher family home in London. McCartney for a time was engaged to Asher’s sister, Jane Asher, a well-known British actress.
“Paul and I both lived on the upper floor of my parents’ home,” Asher said. “He was a friend, and the Beatles’ fame was rocketing. I could see he was a musical genius. He picked up things amazingly well.”
In those days, Asher was also friendly with a lot of other big rock stars, including Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.
McCartney wrote three big hit songs for Peter & Gordon. The third song he wrote for them, “Woman,” was listed on the record label as being written by “Bernard Webb.”
“Paul wanted to see if people were just buying our records because they knew we had songs written by a Beatle, or if they would also buy our record if they thought the songwriter was an unknown,” Asher said.
“Woman” was another big hit.
Later, the Beatles hired Asher to work as a record producer and talent scout for their new company, Apple Records. Asher found a shy but talented young American named James Taylor, whom the Beatles liked very much. With Asher producing, Taylor recorded one album in England for Apple. Then, he and Asher traveled back to America to seek their fortunes.
It was a leap of faith for Asher to leave his London home and move to America as Taylor’s manager and producer.
“I believed very strongly that [Taylor] was one of the best people I’d ever heard,” Asher said. “The first minute I heard him sing in my flat, I almost fainted.”
With Peter & Gordon no longer recording or performing together, Asher became one of the hottest record producers in America. He had major hits with Taylor, Ronstadt and others, winning three Grammy awards. He’s also worked with Diamond, Ross, Bonnie Raitt, Carole King, Kenny Loggins, Cher and 10,000 Maniacs, to name a few.
What are his favorites among the records he produced? Asher said he’s especially proud of his albums with Taylor, particularly “Mud Slide Slim,” and Ronstadt, including perhaps her biggest hit, “You’re No Good” from 1974.
Asher has done extensive work on movie scores, and has served as a top music industry executive, as former president of Sanctuary Records and former senior vice president of Sony Music Entertainment.
All the success was wonderful and no doubt put plenty of cash in his wallet, but Asher missed something – performing live in front of audiences.
About eight years ago, he reunited with Waller for a charity concert, and over the next few years, Peter & Gordon would occasionally hit the road again, having fun and drawing good reviews. But Waller died of a heart attack in 2009.
“I really enjoyed performing with Gordon, and after he died, I realized I still wanted to do it,” Asher said.
So for the past several years, Asher has occasionally hit the road with the same band that once backed him and Waller.
Asher does more than just sing at his concerts. He also shows video clips and tells stories about the people he’s known and worked with in the past.
Will he ever write a book about it all?
“No, I won’t,” Asher said. “I do this instead.”