Peter Asher had a number one song "A World Without Love" with the British pop duo "Peter and Gordon". After a string of hits in the 1960's with the duo, Peter went on to manage the A&R department for the Beatles record label "Apple". It was there where he signed, discovered and started taking charge of James Taylor's career. Peter went on to a successful career as a producer for artists such as: Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Neil Diamond, Diana Ross, Cher, and many others. Peter has produced twelve Grammy winning recordings as well as receiving two awards himself for "Producer of the Year" in 1977 and 1989.
R.V.B. - Hello Mr. Asher. This is Rob from Long Island New York. How are you today?
P.A. - Ok
R.V.B. - Thank you very much for talking with me. I presume you're an early bird.
P.A. - Yes I am. I'm always up around 5 or 6 every day.
R.V.B. - Do you get a lot of business done in the morning?
P.A. - Usually - Yes.
R.V.B. - I see. Do you mind if I ask you some questions about your great career?
P.A. - Carry on.
R.V.B. – Alright, so when you were a little child, what was the first music that you were exposed to?
P.A. - Oh Gosh… you know my mother was a classical musician. She played in a lot of orchestras, and she was oboe professor at Royal Academy of Music. So I grew up in a classical background. That would have been Bach and Mozart and Telemann, you know - particularly oboe music - but classical music in general.
R.V.B. - Did you take lessons as a child?
P.A. - I did. I took piano lessons. I was very bad at them... I didn't practice. I didn't keep them up. I wish I had like everyone does, but I was just too lazy and not good enough.
R.V.B. - What other things did you like to do as a kid? What did you do for fun?
P.A. – Oh, that's a good question. I don't know, I think music was a big part of it, I mean I listened to music a lot. I was never into sports really, so I suppose reading and music and things like that. I hung out with my friends obviously like everybody else.
P.A. – Yes. I mean we are getting into a later period, but yeah - certainly. We would compare records and at a certain point you all watched "Top of the Pops" and the big TV shows to see what new music was out and so on. Absolutely yes.
R.V.B. - How old were you when you got your first guitar?
P.A. - I suppose I would have been about twelve or thirteen perhaps.. I'm not sure. I wish I knew. I remember my first guitar. It was a very cheap one and I don't even know what brand it was.
R.V.B. - Did you just get it up at the local music store?
P.A. - Yes, I think somewhere on Denmark Street... which is like 48th Street in New York, or it used to be, where all the music shops are. I think we got one there?
R.V.B. - Was it an acoustic guitar or an electric?
P.A. - Acoustic
R.V.B. - Did you take lessons on the guitar or did you learn by ear from your previous backround?
P.A. - I think my friend Andrew Irvine showed me a few chords. We had a book. Everyone generally used the same book - actually by a British guitar player called Bert Weeden. He had a guitar book of chords that I discovered later was the same one the Beatles used as well. A lot of us used to have that same book. I noticed we all thought about it because Bert Weeden died not that long ago. We all owed him a debt because he had what was considered to be the best guitar learning book. I learned a lot out of that book. I only learned the basic chords and again I didn't take the trouble to get good or learn all the augmented and diminished and extra fancy chords... except kinda by accident sometimes.
R.V.B. – Yes, we have a book in the states over here called Mel Bay. I don't know if you ever heard of it?
P.A. - Yes. It's the same thing. The English version of that was by this guy Bert Weeden... who was on television I think - playing something or other.
R.V.B. – So, I guess as a teenager you started playing around with other people? Is that where you met Gordon?
P.A. - I played with my friend Andrew Irvine. He's actually still around, he's a folk singer who lives in Ireland. He played bass in a jazz group for a while, but very badly. I played upright bass but again my harmonic knowledge was minimal so I was faking it a lot of the time. I got away with it. I played in a so - called Dixieland jazz band and tried my best to at least get those chords right... but as I say, I was nowhere up to a bebop chords and stuff. Basic Dixieland songs I could manage. Sometimes he and I formed a Skiffle group at the time when everyone had skiffle groups, which was generally two guitars and a washtub bass.
R.V.B. - Right, like in the folk period so to speak.
P.A - Yes. That skiffle thing was a very specific British craze. You've probably read John Lennon had a skiffle group as well. It was based around American folk music, Yes.
R.V.B. - So you met your friend Gordon in school?
R.V.B. - Did he play guitar also?
P.A. - Yes
R.V.B. - At the beginning did you guys write your own songs or did you do cover songs?
P.A. – Immediately? No - we did cover songs. I was more of a folkie and he was a bit more of a rock and roller. So he would teach me an Eddie Cochran song, or a Buddy Holly song, or something, and I would teach him "Five Hundred Miles" or "Freight Train" ... folkie things. We coincided... we overlapped admiration and love for The Everly Brothers. We did a lot of their songs.
R.V.B. - How old were you when you met him?
P.A. - I was twelve or thirteen when I went to Westminster.
R.V.B. - Did you play at school dances?
P.A. - We did - as a duo. We used to play at parties and stuff initially for nothing, and we were happy to do so. One time, we had a little instrumental group too. We did a Shadows tune. We entered a Shadows tune into the school chamber music competition which caused quite a fuss, but it fulfilled the rules of what chamber music was... instrumental compositions for a small group, and we got away with that. We got honorable mention in the chamber music competition playing "Apache", I think - which was a big Shadows hit in the UK. Yes, Gordon and I as a duo used to play at parties and then eventually we offered some outside actual gigs. We would end up at a pub where we could play at lunchtime where we could get a pound each and a pint of beer and free food.
R.V.B. - How long did you pay dues like that before things really started to happen?
P.A. - About four years - which seemed like an incredibly long time at that age. Now, four years is just a blink of an eye.
R.V.B. - How did you get your big break? How did you get signed?
P.A. - We finally got a date at a place called "The Pickwick Club", which was a nighttime kind of eating and drinking club in London. Gordon was still at school, so he had to sneak out of a wall to get there. It was kind of a hip place in London where the young actors of the day among others would hang out. The young cool actors of the day. People like Terence Stamp, Albert Finney and Michael Caine when they were young and beautiful. It was there we were approached by an A&R guy for EMI records. A guy by the name of Norman Newell. He asked us to come and do an audition tape at EMI studios. It was a chance we jumped at. We did that audition tape and he gave us a record deal.
R.V.B. - That's nice. So you went into the studio pretty much right after that? How long did it take you to make your first record?
P.A. - They set a date... well at the time you didn't cut an album right away. You cut a few songs, so we were just in there for one day. We cut like four songs on that first session. They set a date to do the sessions maybe three or four weeks after we signed the record deal. It all happened pretty quickly.
R.V.B. - Did they release the songs right away?
P.A. - Yes... I mean what happened next was we added an additional song. They wanted us to do five songs - “Five Hundred Miles” and some of the folk tunes that they had heard... that Norman had heard us sing at the Pickwick club. They also said if you want to add any songs to the list yourself... if you know of any songs at that point we get to the story of how I came about the song "A World Without Love". We ended up adding that to the list of songs for the session. By the time the session was over, it was clear to everyone that that's the one that should be released as a single - and it was.
P.A. - Yes.
R.V.B. - How did they go about handing you the song? Did you say, "Hey, we need a song" or...
P.A. - No, we had the song already. Paul - you know, after he and Jane were running around... Paul ended up living in our house for a couple of years, off and on when he wasn't out on the road... which they were a lot. Our parents had sort of taken pity after him, and offered him a guest room at the time, at the house because he was hanging around a lot. He and I were sharing the top floor at the house. So I had heard a lot of songs in progress and so on. One of them was "World Without Love", which he explained to me wasn't finished. It had no bridge. The Beatles weren't going to record it because John didn't think it was right. I think they offered it to Billy J. Kramer or somebody else. So it was kind of an orphan song but I liked it. So then, cut to when we got our record deal... when we signed the deal and got a date. I went back to Paul and said "If that song is still looking for a home, we would love to sing it" and he said fine you can have it. So he gave us the song, and just in time for the recording session, wrote the bridge as well. So we added it to the list. It was really, as I say, a homeless song that we kind of gave a home to and very fortunate for us it was there, because it turned out to be a number one record.
R.V.B. – Well, I have to say something that the vocals were impeccable on that song... beautiful, beautiful harmony.
P.A. - Thank you. I mean - I love singing harmony... I still do it. Most of the records I still get to produce to this day, given the chance , I'll put harmony parts on everything. (haha) So I enjoy doing that... yes.
R.V.B. – Now, did you do that with minimal overdubbing?
P.A. - Yes. I mean we probably overdubbed the vocal. I'm sure we did. It was all done on 4 track of course. It's limited on the amount of overdubbing you could do. I think the instrumental track was entirely live. The organ and guitar solo was live as far as I can remember. So we probably got a live track to sing along in our heads and put the vocal on after where we both sing at once.
R.V.B. - Did EMI throw the other musicians together for you or were they your buddies also?
P.A. – No. They were studio musicians hired by the record company.
R.V.B. - Did you and Gordon played the guitar parts on it?
P.A. - I don't think we did on that particular record. There are no acoustic guitars if you listen. I think it's just the electric guitar with a guy called Vic Flick. The two guitar players were Vic Flick and Big Jim Sullivan. Both of them are legendary session players. The drummer and the bass player whose names I tragically don't recall - and a keyboard player - that was it.
R.V.B. - So after the success of that song I'm sure you were in big demand. Is that when you started touring a lot?
P.A. - Yes. The first thing that happened was... you know I was at the university at the time.... I was at Kings College London University studying philosophy. I had left school and gone to the university. So in England your not allowed to leave the university and go back... where you can in America. You're supposed to stick to it, and finish it. I had to go see the head of the philosophy department and explain this weird thing that had happened, that we had a number one record all over the world, and they were trying to get us to go to America, and this is an opportunity I really didn't want to miss. To his credit, he finally agreed to give me a one year's leave of absence from my studies... assuming I would come back with in that year and resume my degree. Practically of course, I'm still on the one year's leave of absence.
R.V.B. - (hahaha)
P.A. - So yes, that's when they wanted us to go to America and all that stuff. Then we came back from our first trip, you know the second single "Nobody I know"... Paul had already written and finished and delivered because in the songwriters tradition, if you have a big hit you don't want to risk somebody else getting the follow up. You want to make sure you have it, and they took themselves seriously as songwriters. He made certain he had his second single ready to go... which he did.
R.V.B. - So you went to tour America right away? You didn't tour around locally?
P.A. - We did both. We were jumping back and forth. The first time we went to America it was the Worlds' fair. I don't know what year it was? You know with that geosphere. You can still see when you drive to and from the airport. That globie thing.
R.V.B. - That's about forty five minutes from where I am. I'm further out on the island.
P.A. - Oh right, well that thing... we played a gig at that thing. That was our first trip to New York - whenever the World's fair was.
R.V.B. - Did you tour the entire United States? Did you make it to California?
P.A. - Yes we did. I don't know if we made it there on the first trip. I think so... I mean it's all a bit of blur. We certainly played California a lot.
R.V.B. - Did you get the same kind of Beatlemania reception? Did you play in front of crazed girls?
P.A. - Yes,Yes... the girls would scream and chase us, and try and tear our clothes off and all that stuff. It was great... Really fun, but obviously on a vastly scaled down scale compared to the Beatles. I think seeing all the news footage of what happened to the Beatles sort of gave the girls instructions on how (haha) it was supposed to work. How to behave at concerts by British invasion bands, and they continue to do so across the board, but obviously the Beatles were ninety percent of the story.
R.V.B. - Right... So you did your tours and you stayed together with Gordon for three years or so - and how many records did you put out?
P.A. - I think we had about eight top ten records in America, I think, and about the same in the UK but not always the same ones. We had a couple of hits that were only hits in one or the other. I'm not sure how many records all together but I think we had about eight hits. It's all in the book somewhere. I'm terrible at this statistical stuff.
R.V.B. - I see you went on to start your producing career and your management career... I guess your first step was going to work for Apple.
P.A. - Well yes... I had already decided to be a record producer actually. I loved the studio from the first day we spent in there. Once I figured out what a producer did, I knew that's something I wanted to do and thought I could do. So I actually started producing before I was at Apple. The first record I ever produced was... a friend of mine asked me. He had seen me in the studio doing our stuff and asked me if I would produce a record of him. That was Paul Jones who was the lead singer of Manfred Mann. You know "Do Wa Diddy" and all those great Manfred Mann records. He was doing a solo album and asked me if I would do some tracks with him. So I owe him a debt of gratitude because that was the first record I ever produced. I think Paul McCartney had seen me working as a producer and actually played on some things for me so I think that was probably something that influenced him. So when he was starting Apple, he first of all asked me if I would produce some things for Apple, and later on asked me if I would be head of A&R for the label. So that's how it all happened. Then while I was at Apple, of course I continued to produce.
P.A. - They were always taking submissions. They had ads - "Send us your tapes" and we got thousands and thousands of them. I had four or five people listening to everything that came in for me and finding anything that was even half decent. Then I would listen to it and if there was anything that I thought was half decent and we would ultimately play at an A&R meeting which I had weekly, with as many Beatles that would attend. We actually never found anything through those sent in tapes at all, which was kind of depressing. So we didn't sign any of the unsolicited submissions. The acts we signed were acts that were brought in by somebody or other. I mean Paul McCartney saw Mary Hopkins on Television and decided we should sign her. George Harrison had his friend Jackie Lomax come in and signed him and so on. Of course the act that I found and brought in specifically was James Taylor.
R.V.B. - How did you go about finding him?
P.A. - It's a short story. The key figure in the story is Danny Kortchmar... the guitar player. Danny Kortchmar played in a band called the King Bees, which accompanied Peter and Gordon on several American tours. In the course of that, Danny and I became good friends, and long after Peter and I weren't touring, Danny and I remained friends... remained in touch. He was subsequently in a band called the Flying Machine with his childhood friend James Taylor. They'd known each other since they were about fourteen. The Flying Machine was a band in New York. They'd broken up and James decided to come to London. Danny gave him my phone number and said, “Look, this is my friend in London. You should give him a call". So he called me up. He came over and played me some songs... I loved them. I said, “Look, I just got this new job. I'm head of A&R for a brand new record label. Would you like a record deal?" He said "Yes" and we signed him.
R.V.B. - Very cool. Did you own the art gallery where John and Yoko met?
P.A. - I started a company called Indigo with two friends of mine, Barry Miles and John Dunbar. We had a book shop and an art gallery... and yes, it was at the opening of Yoko's exhibition in our art gallery. I invited John down. You know, I invited several friends - but one of them, John - came down. That was just a company - as such - called Indigo.
R.V.B. - So you decided to pick up shop and leave England and come to America at that point?
P.A. – Yes, because Apple was getting weird. They brought in this guy Alan Klein, whom I knew by reputation and didn't think he was gonna be any good for the company - and he wasn't. So I recommended to James that we leave Apple. I resigned when Alan Klein came in. He would have fired me anyway I'm sure... but I resigned. I agreed that I would become James’ manager and bet my career on his, because I believed in him very strongly. So I came to America and organized a new record contract for James and set up plans to make our second album - which we did - and that was "Sweet Baby James".
R.V.B. - Nice. You went right to the west coast to set up shop?
P.A. - Well... not exactly. I actually stopped in New York. My friend Ron Cass, who had been running Apple Records had been fired by Alan Klein as expected. He had then become head of MGM Records in New York, so he asked me if I wanted to be head of A&R at MGM... which I was for about four weeks. He brought me over to New York and I started working at MGM Records because I needed some money to support myself. Then Kirk Kerkorian took over at MGM Records and made Mike Curb the head of it and he fired everybody - including me - which was fine. I had already gotten my travel to New York already paid so it was all good. That's when I came out to California and got ready to make James' album.
R.V.B. – Yeah - I mean that's a pretty big step to move out to a new country, but apparently it paid off.
P.A. - I knew America, of course. I'd been there lots of times with Gordon - but yes - I was certain it was the right thing to do. I believed in James that much.
R.V.B. - How did your family feel about it? Your brothers and sisters?
P.A. - I got two sisters. They knew obviously I was going back and forth anyway so they were fine with it and my parents.
R.V.B. - Did your parents and your sisters remain in England?
P.A. - Yes
P.A. – No, I just had James. That was it. I had set up an office in my house and proceeded to work on James' career. His first Warner Brothers album and get his career going... finding him gigs and so on. That was all. I didn't sign anybody else. Not for a couple of years. Then I signed Linda Ronstadt, but initially it was all about James.
R.V.B. - Well you did a great job because he turned out to be a great singer/songwriter.
P.A. - Yep
R.V.B. - Now when you started getting involved with Linda... did she already have a couple of albums under her belt?
P.A. - She had done the Stone Pony thing and she was - I guess - halfway through her first solo album. The Stone Ponies had a big hit with "Different Drum".
R.V.B. – Right. Now, I heard that she used some of the Eagles as session musicians.
P.A. - As her band... not session musicians. When I first saw her at the Bitter End in New York... I think Henley and Frey and Randy Meisner, were in her band.
R.V.B. - How did you lure them in to your productions ?
P.A. - The Eagles never recorded with her. It was just part of her brilliance that her band of musicians that ended up becoming the Eagles. I just went down to see her at the Bitter End and thought she was terrific. She was looking for management, and for somebody to help her finish the album she was in the middle of. So gradually, I ended up taking over both management and production of Linda. I started off as a producer helping her in the studio and then I ended taking over management as well. She was in the habit of being managed by her current boyfriend, which didn't always work out terribly well. So I took over that role.
R.V.B. - Did you assemble the musicians that worked on her albums?
P.A. - Yes... I mean we consulted on everything. The songs and the musicians - but yes, in many cases they were my choices. You know I assembled a band to play on James' first album. I had particularly gone out and looked for musicians. And I found this drummer Russ Kunkle, who hadn't done studio work before, but I found him fantastic. He ended up playing on a lot of Linda records as well. I think it was Linda who finally introduced me to Andrew Gold... who was a key figure in a lot of early Linda recordings. He was a brilliant musician. It was a mixture some I found... some she recommended. She knew lots of people in L.A. ... obviously more than I did.
R.V.B. - Now as part of her management, you arranged her concerts and her tours also?
P.A. - Yes
R.V.B. - So I guess there's a lot of interaction with venue owners and agents and that kind of thing?
P.A. - Promoters yeah, more than the venue owners.
R.V.B. - So apart from Linda and James, you have an impressive array of people you have worked with through the years. You have Cher, and you did some work with Ringo also?
P.A. - I did several tracks for Ringo for an album. He used various different producers on different tracks, but I did four or five tracks with him. These are people who I worked with as a producer and not management - yes. I worked on a couple of albums with Cher, and Diana Ross, and 10,000 Maniacs. I have had the privilege of working with a lot of remarkable people.
R.V.B. - Where were the studios located where you did all this work?
P.A. - Different ones in LA. We used Sound Factory a lot... Record One a lot... Ocean Way.
R.V.B. - Did you have a particular studio that you thought had a better sound for a particular artist or are they all the same?
P.A. - Record One was sort of a replica of The Sound Factory. The first Linda record we did at The Sound Factory. “Heart Like A Wheel” with Val Garay engineering. Then he built his own studio... Record One, and we did a lot of stuff there. Then later on, I worked with George Massenburg at a studio called The Complex. I moved around a bit.
R.V.B. - So how did it feel getting some Grammys under your belt?
P.A. – Oh, it's always nice to win. I mean one tries not to take awards too seriously, but obviously it's exciting when you win Grammys. I mean when the records you make win Grammys. It doesn't always mean YOU win one. Some of Linda's were the kind where the record won Grammys... not necessarily the producer gets one. It's being associated with a Grammy - winning recording and you know, the couple I won myself for producer of the year, obviously it's nice. I like winning.
R.V.B. - Do you have your statues on your mantle?
P.A. - I have three in my office on a shelf
R.V.B. - Congratulations. So what are you doing these days? What do you do to keep busy?
P.A. - Oh I've been extraordinarily busy. I most recently did the the Steve Martin and Edie Brickell album. Steve had written some banjo pieces, and Edie wrote these songs to go with them, and it's done very well. That album has been very successful, and they have been touring with it. We're actually turning it into a musical as well. A stage musical - which I'm the music supervisor of, and we're actually working on that. Steve Martin is an accomplished playwright as well. He wrote a script to go with it, which is really good. I did a lot of stuff with Hans Zimmer. I worked on the soundtrack on the last Superman album "Man of Steel". I produced that with Hans and "Madagascar 3", I did a lot of music for the score. I wrote the theme song with Dave Stewart. The love scene from Madagascar 3... a song called "Love always comes as a surprise". I ended up singing in the movie, which is unusual for me because I'm not a lead singer, but that was fun. I just completed last week a project with Elton John. It's the 40th anniversary upcoming any minute of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road". Elton had asked me if I would be interested in re-cutting half the songs from that album with current artists. I got to work with amazing people like Miguel and Hunter Hayes, Fallout Boy, lots of exciting artists of today. Rethinking, reimagining some of the great songs from "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road". Like Miguel doing "Bennie and the Jets" Ed Sheeran doing "Candle in the Wind". That was fun.. I had just finished that last week.
R.V.B. - That sounds nice. I can't wait for that to come out.
P.A. – Yep, so I'm staying busy.
R.V.B. - You go out and do a couple of shows on your own also, right?
P.A. - Yep. I just did the Grammy museum last weekend for a couple of shows -which actually - if I do say so myself - were a big success. It's this show I do that's a mixture of storytelling and multimedia. A lot of bits of media and photos, and various reminiscences. Plus, I have a great band, and we play some of the old songs and so on. It changes a little bit every night because believe it or not, I actually remember and think of new things as I tell the stories. So it's never quite the same thing twice, but I have a lot of fun doing it. The audiences seem to enjoy it. It's quite funny I think, and it is weird that people don't know what to expect. It sounds like it might be a boring history lesson, but with any luck it isn't. People generally find it entertaining I think.
R.V.B. - That's awesome. I saw on your tour dates on your website that you'll be in New York. I'll definitely make that show.
P.A. - It's The Cutting Room on November the 6th I believe.
R.V.B. - That's good - so you got a mini tour happening and you're a busy man. Congratulations on your success and your career.
P.A. - You're very kind.
R.V.B. - Thank you Peter and it's been a pleasure. Thank you very much for taking my call. Have a nice day.
P.A. – Ok, goodbye.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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