Peter Asher: 50 years of rock ‘n’ roll

The Malibu resident will host a “one-of-a-kind multimedia experience,” featuring legendary moments from his legendary life of music.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Thirty-year Malibu Colony resident Peter Asher could afford to sit back, rest on his laurels and head into a retirement polishing his two Producer of the Year Grammy Award statuettes and fielding the occasional call from a pop music journalist, looking for a misty memory of early rock ‘n’ roll days.

But, no, the iconic record producer, talent manager, half of the Sixties British pop sensation Peter and Gordon, and repository for some of the best behind-the-curtain tales of vintage musical folklore, is taking it on the road. Asher next week is launching what he terms “an intimate evening” with “Peter Asher: A Musical Memoir of the ’60s and Beyond.”

Opening at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano this Sunday and following that with a performance at The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Asher will take audiences through a Top 40 tour of the legendary moments from his legendary life, starting with Paul McCartney before he became Sir Paul to Carole King and James Taylor at the Troubadour, 40 years after the fact.

It all came about after Asher and the late Gordon Waller (he died in 2009) reunited for a performance to benefit Dave Clark Five member Mike Smith in 2005.

“I was doubtful that anyone would want to see a couple of old fat guys singing these songs,” Asher said from the balcony of his Italian villa-style home overlooking the beach. “But we saw people crying in the audience. ‘This was the song we fell in love to…’ or whatever.”

They had put together video clips and photos of a fresh-faced Peter and Gordon duo to accompany the performance, and the show was a smash. Five years later and following the death of one half the group, Asher figured that there was more storytelling to do.

“I actually wondered if I would ever sing these songs again,” Asher said. “But we put together a great band and a hodgepodge of stories and songs. I even sing a duet with Gordon on a video clip like Natalie Cole did with her father.”

Fifty years ago, Asher was gigging local pubs in London with Waller. His sister Jane was dating Paul McCartney, who would sometimes give Asher unrecorded Lennon-McCartney songs, including their eventual smash hit “A World Without Love.” Peter and Gordon were part of the early ’60s British Invasion, which included The Beatles, Dusty Springfield, The Animals and The Rolling Stones.

“There was no rivalry with The Beatles,” Asher said. “We did knock them off the number one position on the U.S. charts, briefly, but it was with a McCartney song. Paul’s a genius. We would never even have made a record if it weren’t for him giving us ‘World Without Love.’”

But, despite a “great” working relationship, Peter and Gordon disbanded in 1968 and Asher worked the talent department at the nascent Apple Records. It was there that old buddy (and star singer/songwriter) Danny Kortchmar sent one of his band mates from the by then defunct New York group, Flying Machine, to meet Asher.

“James Taylor showed up and played for me, and I was literally looking around the room, thinking, ‘Am I the only one who hears this?’” Asher recalled. “I knew he was a major star. He sang like Sam Cooke and Ray Charles, and played like a classical guitarist, with intricate chord progressions. But because he had long hair, everyone labeled him just a folk singer.”

Asher produced Taylor’s eponymous debut album-Apple’s first release by a non-British artist-before returning with Taylor to the U.S. and producing the 1970 Grammy Album of the Year nominee “Sweet Baby James,” employing a little-known pianist/songwriter named Carole King.

“We hired Carole to open for one of James’ shows and told her she could sing one of her own songs,” Asher said. “She did ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ at sound check and James asked if he could do it.”

Asher’s ear proved to be unerring. He played a huge role in shaping the rock sound of the next 30 years, eventually producing artists like Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther, Bonnie Raitt, Cher, 10,000 Maniacs, Diana Ross, Neil Diamond, Olivia Newton-John, Ringo Starr, Randy Newman, Kenny Loggins, Sarah Brightman, Wilson Phillips and even an expletive-laced Robin Williams in the Grammy-winning “Live 2002.”

He was named senior vice president of Sony Music Entertainment in 1995 and eventually helped friend Simon Renshaw found Strategic Artist Management, an entertainment management firm that looks beyond music.

When asked to name the best songwriter he’s ever heard, you can practically see Asher pulling open a giant mental file cabinet devoted to modern musical lexicon.

“Well, beyond Lennon/McCartney, there’s Elvis Costello, Carole King, Jimmy Webb,” Asher said. “Early on, there’s Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart. Even Buddy Holly on the opposite end of the scale; simple, yet perfect.”

Asher isn’t finished discovering talent-his daughter Victoria plays with the pop-punk band Cobra Starship-and he says he is ready to embrace his road show persona again, in a performance geared toward a little bit of nostalgia, a great deal of insider stories and a gamut of multimedia rock ‘n’ roll that shaped a couple of generations.

“A 200-seat theater clearly involves communication with an audience,” Asher said. “And there’s still a lot to say.”

“Peter Asher: A Musical Memoir of the ’60s and Beyond” plays The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. (tickets are available through Ticketmaster) and The Grammy Museum Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. (tickets are available through Ticketmaster and online at

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