Looking ever the pop star, the legendary Peter Asher stepped onto the stage at the Malibu Playhouse Wednesday evening dressed in silver shoes and a sparkly jacket for the first Malibu Arts Commission Salon event of 2017. Since bursting onto the music scene some 50-odd years ago as the bespectacled half of the guitar duo Peter and Gordon, Asher has been a huge part of the music world as a performer, manager, record executive and megahit record producer — his fingerprints have touched modern music from ’60s singer-songwriters to Pharrell Williams.
Asher presented his one-man show (with backing band) “Peter Asher — A Memoir of the ’60s & Beyond.” Starting out as a child actor in his native England, he told how the British Invasion of the ’60s was inspired by American culture and music. Even his own duo, Peter and Gordon, which propelled him to fame with partner Gordon Waller, took inspiration from the legendary Everly Brothers. While still teenagers, Peter and Gordon’s hit “A World Without Love” became the second American No. 1 of the British Invasion after the Beatles. It was written by Asher’s friend Paul McCartney, who was then dating Asher’s younger sister Jane. McCartney actually lived at the Asher household in London for a few years as the Beatles’ fame grew.
Asher recalled a special musical moment that took place at his childhood home, when fellow Beatle John Lennon came to visit McCartney at the Asher household. The two disappeared to the basement music room, which contained a piano but no guitars. John and Paul had spent the afternoon penning “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and called Asher down to hear it for the first time. “It was the best song I’d heard in my whole life,” he told the audience.
Asher also recounted the part he played in introducing John Lennon to Yoko Ono. When he co-owned the Indica art gallery in London, artist Yoko Ono was invited to exhibit her work and Lennon was invited to a pre-show reception. Well, the rest is history.
Asher went on to work for the Beatles’ Apple Records as the head of artists and repertoire. It was there his career would take a turn when he signed James Taylor to the label. Asher had already produced a few records, inspired by the work of George Martin, whom he observed while sitting in on many Beatles sessions. Asher went on to not only produce Taylor’s early groundbreaking albums but to serve as his business manager, taking inspiration from Beatles manager Brian Epstein, whom he called “a hero.” Asher went on to produce and/or manage many other giants in the business, including Linda Rondstadt, Diana Ross, Neil Diamond and Cher. He’s won three Grammys — two for producer of the year and one as the producer for 2002’s best spoken comedy album featuring Robin Williams. Asher was appointed Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 2015 for his services to the British music industry.
“Peter is a great talent. Not only is he a great musician — he has this incredibly instinctive ability to see other great talents,” journalist Ivor Davis, who wrote a book about covering the Beatles on tour, remarked. “The fact that Peter moved from England to America to nurture the talented James Taylor shows that he has the ability to see brilliance in music when many people don’t. I have a great deal of admiration for Peter.”
Asher said his motto as a manager is “absolute belief in the artist.” As a producer, Asher told The Malibu Times, “sometimes you choose the song, the arrangement, depending — you may hire musicians. The theatrical skills include all of that.” Drawing on his wide range of talents, Asher recently produced last year’s Steve Martin and Edie Brickell Broadway collaboration, Bright Star.
What’s music to Asher’s ears? Life in Malibu.
“You wake up to the sound of the ocean,” Asher remarked. “We live right on the beach and love it. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Even though everything rusts and you have to change guitar strings everyday, which is a pain in the ass, it’s worth it.”
Seeing footage of the Peter and Gordon-era Asher with Buddy Holly-style eyeglasses, one is reminded of another British ‘60s-era icon. As Asher confirmed, it is generally believed that the look of the Austin Powers character drew primary inspiration from him.
For more information on the Malibu Salon series, visit malibuartsandculture.org.