Dec 8th 2010
by Melinda Newman
Rock 'n' roll could have looked very different if not for Peter Asher.
To be sure, there are the obvious roles the Grammy winner played in
musical history: as part of British invasion duo Peter and Gordon, as
the Apple A&R executive who signed and nurtured James Taylor and as
producer of such acts as Linda Ronstadt (who he also managed), 10,000
Maniacs, Diana Ross, Cher, Neil Diamond and countless others.
But as he revealed in his multimedia show, 'Peter Asher: A Musical
Memoir of the '60s and Beyond,' at Los Angeles' Grammy Museum on
Tuesday night, some of his behind-the-scenes activities had just as
great an impact.
Asher, who grew up a privileged child in London, met Paul McCartney
through his younger sister Jane, who was dating the Beatle. McCartney
would lodge at the Asher home in London when not on tour and even
wrote Peter and Gordon's first hit, 'World Without Love.'
Peter and Gordon had success on both sides of the Atlantic, coming to
America to appear on both 'The Ed Sullivan Show' and 'The Jackie
Gleason Show.' "We'd never seen 'The Honeymooners' in London," said
Asher, recalling that Gleason struck him as "this drunken a-----e
being obnoxious to everyone. I later saw 'The Honeymooners' and
realized he was a genius."
Asher expanded into other ventures as Peter and Gordon's light
started to dim, including partnering with Barry Miles and John Dunbar
in a London art gallery and a book shop. The Indica Gallery decided
to support a young artist named Yoko Ono by putting on an exhibit,
attended by none other than John Lennon, who met Ono and was smitten.
"According to some pessimistic Beatles fans, I'm responsible for the
breakup of the Beatles," Asher said. He comes down squarely on Team
Yoko, discarding the persistent belief by some that she caused Lennon
to leave the group. "I don't believe that,' he said. "He was so happy
with her. They were incredibly in love."
But, he admits, just as he was responsible for leading one couple to
marriage, he helped lead to another to split. The best man at partner
Dunbar's wedding to Marianne Faithfull, Asher invited the husband and
wife to a party for the Rolling Stones, thrown by their manager
Andrew Loog Oldham. Oldham asked Faithful if she could sing, he said
yes, and on, the spot, he decided to sign her. He later introduced
her to Mick Jagger and Dunbar found himself a single man as Faithfull
ran off with the Rolling Stones frontman. "I'm the full-service best
man from hell," Asher joked.
Asher, who interspersed his stories with performances of songs by
Peter and Gordon, said he is frequently asked if he knew he was
witness to many pivotal moments in rock history. His answer is always
no, aside from one notable exception when he knew he was in the
exactly right place at the exactly right time.
"Paul and I were sharing the top floor at [Asher's parents' house on]
Wimpole St. There was a basement music room Paul would use to write
in. There was a black upright piano in there," Asher recalled. "One
particular afternoon, John came over. They were down there for about
an hour and a half. They called me down and asked if I wanted to hear
what they'd written. They sat side by side on the piano [and played
me] a very early version of 'I Want to Hold Your Hand.' I felt it was
a great artistic moment."
Asher tells Spinner that he would love to take the show on the road.
In the meantime, he's busy recording a tribute to Buddy Holly, whose
music Gordon Waller introduced him to all those years ago. Guests on
the album include Stevie Nicks, Lyle Lovett, the Fray and Cobra
Starship. Asher didn't have to go far to find Cobra Starship -- his
daughter Victoria is the band's keytarist.