6/15: Peter Asher, Somebody You Know

British Invasion hitmaker, Grammy winning producer and legendary record man Peter Asher visits McLoone’s Supper Club at the Asbury Park boardwalk on June 17, for a session of songs and stories keyed to the “Masters of Music” series.  (photo by Keith Putney)  

His hits from way back in the days of the British Invasion included “Nobody I Know” — but really, Peter Asher is Somebody You Know, whether you know it or not.

To even begin to address the All and awesome Everything of Peter Asher, it probably helps to note all of the things he is NOT — for instance, he’s not this Peter Asher, nor is he that Peter Asher.

He is also arguably NOT the direct inspiration for the bespectacled, red-mopped, Brit-toothed figure of Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery. Which of course means that he arguably kind of IS.

There is NO truth to the rumor that he dated Paul McCartney (that was Peter’s sister, actress Jane Asher), nor that he broke up Marianne Faithfull‘s marriage by introducing her to Mick Jagger (really, that was going to happen anyway). And PLEASE don’t propagate the whole thing about his being indirectly responsible for the breakup of The Beatles (he was merely co-owner of a gallery where John Lennon was first made aware of an artist named Yoko Ono).

The truth is that in a world of “Fifth Beatles,” this native Londoner and former child actor was among the most trusted associates of the Liverpuddlian Lads — as a member of chartbusting duo Peter and Gordon, whose many Lennon-McCartney penned hits included the Pops-topper “A World Without Love;” as a budding producer who was present at the creation of some truly iconic recordings; and as an early executive for Apple Records, in which capacity he signed, produced and championed a fully fucked-up but undeniably talented young American by the name of James Taylor.

Quitting the Apple Corps and following Taylor back to the States, Asher became the manager of “Sweet Baby James” through the singer’s most seminal period (including the filming of the effinGREAT Two-Lane Blacktop) — reinventing himself in the process into one of the ultimate go-to guys of the L.A. music scene; a sought-after producer (for artists ranging from Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt and John David Souther, to Diana Ross, Neil Diamond and Cher, to 10,000 Maniacs, Wilson Phillips and Morrissey), personal representative (for, among many others, Pamela Anderson), co-founder of the legendary nightspot The Roxy Theatre, and senior V.P. of Sony Music.

When Peter Asher takes the stage of Tim McLoone’s Supper Club on Sunday, June 17 — as the latest guest of honor in the “Masters of Music” series, produced by Sammy Boyd and hosted by McLoone — he’ll be incorporating elements of his touring show “Peter Asher: A Musical Memoir of the 60s and Beyond.” And, as a man with three Grammys (including two Producer of the Year awards and one for a Robin Williams comedy LP) plus more than sixty precious-metal albums to his credit, he’ll be attempting to squeeze several lifetimes’ worth of anecdotes and insights into the songs-and-stories format that’s been a popular attraction at the sophisticated space-age saucer.

Most of all, this genuine Master of Music (whose daughter Victoria is a member of L.A. band Cobra Starship) comes to Asbury Park not as a one-hit wonder running on memories of glory days, but as an affable showbiz colossus who continues to produce records and tribute shows, preside over Sanctuary Artist Management — and maintain an ongoing collaboration with prolific film composer Hans Zimmer, with whom he supervised the music for the 2012 Academy Awards telecast. UpperWETside was hiply humbled to speak to Peter Asher in advance of his return to the Asbury boards, where he and Gordon Waller appeared at nearby Convention Hall in the summer of 1964.

International Man of Mystery: Peter Asher with (clockwise from top left) discovery James Taylor; sister’s boyfriend Paul McCartney; chart-topping partner Gordon Waller; a couple of Georges and a John at Abbey Road.

upperWETside: Well, we don’t know if you’ve seen pictures of the Supper Club where you’ll be appearing in Asbury Park, but we think that the 1960s “doo-wop” style flying saucer architecture will be a suitably mod setting for your visit. Could we expect to see at least portions of what you’ve been doing in your MUSICAL MEMOIR presentation, or will this be kind of off the cuff?

PETER ASHER: It’ll include some of what I’ve been doing in the program; singing and stuff; storytelling, multimedia, and conversation on the fly. Beyond that I don’t know; what do some of the other guests do when they appear there?

I would say that some of them seem to have come very prepared, whereas others play it entirely fast and loose…

I am looking forward to being there in Asbury Park. As for the show, I change it a bit every night. Half the fun of doing this sort of thing is to hang around after the show and meet everyone, so you could say that the show tends to extend beyond its running time…with me, one question and answer could easily take up a whole hour. And I respond very well to hecklers!

Surely you don’t expect to be ambushed by that one guy who still thinks you broke up the Beatles?

Well, I’m still not owning up to any of that!

Although I’m sure you’re fully prepared to field a lot of questions about the Fab Four…given how, with each passing generation, the lore and legend of the Beatles has transitioned into more of an Olympian mythology. It’s like you walked among the gods, yet you knew these guys as mates and colleagues and people who sought your counsel…

Really, while I knew the Beatles as people and as friends, I also knew each of them as spectacularly talented individuals. it’s absolutely true when they say that NOBODY will ever know what it was like to be in The Beatles.

The superhuman aspects of The Beatles still apply. Nobody who worked with them, or got to know them, was immune to that magic.

Walk us through a crucial part of your history if you will. We all know Peter Asher the pop star, and we know the record man that you would become…the producer, the manager, the label executive who experienced the music business from every conceivable angle. At what point does one segue into the other? Where did the performer become the guy behind the scenes?

Paul had originally come to me with his idea for what would become Apple; he asked me what I thought about it, and I eventually drifted into the job as head of A&R for the label when it came about.

He knew that I loved being in the studio — the technology; the ways in which it all comes together. I love working with great musicians; the whole creative process…I loved it from the moment that Gordon and I did our first record. So I was headed consciously in that direction.

Paul Jones, a wonderful singer who you may remember as the vocalist for Manfred Mann on the old hits, was the first one to ask me to produce his record…so for the first session I did, I wasn’t taking any chances. I brought in what you could call a stellar band…Nicky Hopkins on keyboards, Paul Samwell-Smith from the Yardbirds on bass. I had Jeff Beck on guitar…and Paul McCartney playing drums!

Sounds like you had all of London at your Beck and call (no pun intended)…your “little black book” must have been the size of the Oxford Unabridged. Yet within a few short years you were the go-to L.A. producer; as much a part of the fabric of the West Coast music industry as you were in the UK. Did you ever envision yourself in that position?

I always saw myself moving to the United States…and really, when I made my move I was betting on James; acting upon my belief in his music.

Most Englishmen who come to L.A. just fall in love with it…I first experienced Los Angeles as a young pop star with a Number One record…life, of course, could not have been sweeter.

For all of the satisfaction your performing career gave you, by the middle of the 1970s you had left that whole public persona behind, and built a completely different and even more influential name for yourself from the ground up. Like a lot of people, I give you much of the credit for developing the whole California sound; you were able to build upon this sense of where things were heading, during a time when the singer-songwriter model was beginning to supplant the band template…

I have to say that I wasn’t thinking about what people were looking for at any given time….it’s best that way, and I tended to work with people like James, who I believed in strongly. I think that most all of their work stands the test of time.

This was also a time, of course, when only those people who had a recording deal were brought to the fans’ attention. Whatever the companies decided to put out was what got heard on the radio, written about in magazines, seen on the concert tours. So I was always interested in the complete aspects of the music business…management, production, the creative end.

I have to ask then about your take, as a major industry figure who’s spanned these various eras, on the enormous sea changes in the ways that music is recorded and purchased and distributed? Do you think that the FAN holds the controls now, in a way that would have been unthinkable about 25 years ago?

The access that fans have to their favorite artists, the fact that they can communicate directly and have an impact, has multiplied in so many ways. But in the end, it’s always been about word of mouth…nowadays ‘word of mouth’ could mean that you’re sending your favorite tracks to a couple of million friends, but I still tend to wait for someone to tell me what to listen to.

An example of that is Rodrigo y Gabriela, who I took an interest in…somebody, I believe it was Hans, said you have to hear them…and when I did, I said ‘Holy shit! This is just amazing.’

You know, somebody who tours around with a Musical Memoir sort of show could be said to be resting on his laurels, keeping himself busy on the nostalgia circuit…but with you it’s merely one project out of many that you’re involved with at any given time. Kind of a way for you to pause for a moment and let the rest of us catch up, before you charge ahead to the next thing.

Things like the Buddy Holly tributes and the Peter & Gordon songs obviously come from a very heartfelt place, but you’re also that rare veteran who’s made peace with music as it exists in 2012; the technology that goes into it and the challenges of getting it noticed…

I remain very much involved in music and movies…I can never stop working. Tomorrow I go to New York to work on Madagascar 3.

There is a lot of discussion about the effect that aspects of technology have had the business….it can be both used and misused with ease. I love how technology now lets us move notes around, and do anything we want in recording. Other aspects of technology have made it much harder to make a living in the music business…but the good news is that music is more important in people’s lives than it’s ever been.

Tickets for the June 17 “Masters of Music” event are priced between $15 and $40 (show only; dinner menu also available) and can be reserved by calling (732)774-1155 or visiting http://www.timmcloonessupperclub.com.


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