Peter Asher's "A Musical Memoir Of the 60s And Beyond" At Feinstein's, Friday, May 6th, 2011
In 1964, Peter Asher was in his room on the top floor of the three story townhouse he lived in with his parents (successful physician and classical musician respectively) and sister, Jane Asher, when Paul called to him from the basement where Paul had been writing songs with John for an hour, hour on a half, on Asher's parents grand piano.
"Come down and listen to this, I want your opinion." Paul shouted. So Asher went down and John and Paul played "I Want To Hold Your Hand". for an audience for the first time, one of the most important songs in rock and roll history.
"I said, yeah, yeah, it's really good." Asher remembered just before the encore at his magical "A Musical Memoir Through The 60s And Beyond" at Feinstein's at the Lowes Regency on 61st and Park. "But I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I couldn't believe it was that good. I was in the right place at the right time".
Asher's story isn't simply one of serendipity, he absolutely made his own luck, but some of the places he was at was Zelig like in his looming in and around musical history.
Dressed in a sharp suit and with a four piece rock band behind him, Asher took us through an abbreviated and clearly edited for content trip thru his life, from meeting baritone Gordon Waller at very upper class toffs private high school Winchester (Asher used to sing in the choir at Winchester cathedral every morning) and forming a folk duo, to that very Friday afternoon, where he dropped off the soundtrack to "Pirates Of The Carribbean: On Stranger Tides", Asher got where he went to through being a musical watchman of immense abilities. American Idol should have such ears or chops.
Friday at Feinstein's found Asher mixing songs, stories and video. It is a two hour performance and if he has crib sheets I can't see em and he never falters. His delivery is excellent and his stories are thrilling without being either self-serving to himself, obsequious to his famous friends, or insulting to his audience. It never slackens, always fun.
The weak spot, and it is not very weak, was the music, the band opens with a late Peter and Gordon hit, "I Fall To Pieces" by Del Shannon and follow up with "Crying In The Rain (they were huge Everly Brothers fans), "Nobody I Know" , "As Tears Go By" all the way to the encore "World Without Love". The band can play just about everything, but they are playing softish rock. A straight up concert would've bored but the way Asher weaves song and story is real good and the time, much like the years, fly by.
"World Without Love" was Peter and Gordon's first single and a worldwide smash. And why not? Living in the room next to Asher at Ashers parents home was Paul McCartney. Macca was dating Peter's sister Jane Asher and living with the family whenever he was in London. McCartney wrote "World Without Love" but Lennon didn't like it and so Paul offered it to Billy J. Kramer who also didn't want it. Peter had heard it and asked if his duo could. have it for their first recording session. Paul wrote out the lyric to the verses and at Feinstein's, Asher shows the original lyric on the video screen! But it didn't have the middle 8 and Peter pushed Paul to finish it over a coupla months. Finally, Paulie agrees to do it and writes the "So i wait and in awhile, i will see my true love smile…" in 20 minutes flat.
Peter and Gordon drift apart and Asher opens an alternative bookstore and art gallery in London called "Indica" (A reference to marijuana) with his friend John Dunbar. Dunbar is in love with a Catholic School girl and marries her, they go off on their honeymoon and when they come back they go out to dinner with Asher and afterwards Asher takes the couple to a party the Rolling Stones are holding that night. The bride? Marianne Faithful. Peter sings "As Tears Go By" and mentions that this is one of the Stones Jagger and Richards first serious songwriting achievements.
Indica holds readings by the likes of Ginsberg and Burroughs and art shows in the Gallery and they invite an out there avant guarde artist from New York and then iInvite their who's who of swinging London friends to the opening of the exhibition.. And John Lennon shows up. The artist? Yoko Ono.
Meanwhile, Paul and Peter are best friends and spend long nights discussing the Beatles plan to start a record label, Apple. Peter is appointed head of A&R and does a pretty good job, releasing albums by Mary Hopkins, Jackie Lomax, Badfinger (their keyboard player was Asher's bandleader Friday and sang "Day After Day" -sorry, can't remember his name) and James Taylor.
Asher also produced Taylor's debut album for Apple (overproduced, he claims), and when Allen Klein comes aboard to save the money hemorrhaging corporation, though not due to the record label Asher is quick to add, Asher takes Taylor and jumps ship, signs Taylor to Warner Bros and produces "Sweet Baby James". The rest, including his superb work with Linda Ronstadt, is even more rock and roll history.
This is all interesting stuff even if a guy like me already knew quite a bit of it, it is a blast to hear him tell it in person. And while this isn't a MEMOIR memoir, he doesn't mention Mackenzie Phillips -a former junkie, or Taylor's heroin addiction or, Ronstadt'sproblems with cocaine (doesn't it get a bit tedious after awhile?) and Sun City, or even Asher, seen briefly looking a bit stupid in scarves at the Grammys, own backstory. A marriage, a daughter Victoria Asher, who plays Keytar with Cobra Starship, is mentioned, but the down and dirty of being James Taylors manager? he doesn't even mention he was Taylor's manager, it is passed on.
I don't blame him, who cares in 2011 when you could be discussing singing "8 Days A Week" with the Supremes and Sam the Sham? Seen one cold turkey, seen em all. On the other hand, putting his lot in with Taylor and then discovering he was a stone cold junkie, I wonder how that felt. I wonder how it was to be at the epicenter of the pop world. How do you express it, how can it be expressed?
Still, what we get is fascinating and Asher comes across very very well. Forthright but not lowbrow, honest not gossipy. I don't know what Asher plans to do with it. He has never told anything before. I hope he takes it on the road.
In 2005 Peter and Gordon reunited for the first time in 38 years odd. Gordon died in 2009., Time is finite, check out Asher if you can.