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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Peter Asher keeps his 'Musical Memoir' fresh

Peter Asher

Peter Asher, with help from Walker County, performs Linda Ronstadt's "Blue Bayou" at The Cutting Room

Peter Asher has been performing his Peter Asher: A Musical Memoir of the 60s and Beyond for several years now, adding new autobiographical bits--recollections, photos, videos--each time around. Indeed, he’s got so much material that he’s filled a new book (The Beatles A to Zed, derived from his SiriusXM From Me to You radio show on the Beatles Channel) with it.

The current Musical Memoir, as evidenced at New York’s Cutting Room on Dec. 11, retains the general format: Clever taped open and close by Asher’s friend Eric Idle, followed by a discussion of the postwar/post-empire/pre-British Invasion England that he grew up in; his experiences as a childhood actor and school boy; his own British Invasion experience as member of Peter and Gordon and close friend of Paul McCartney; his talent scouting for The Beatles’ Apple record label, and his move to America and success in artist management and record production.

Based on the first part, Asher would make a fine college history lecturer. One really gets a feel for the devastation wrought on England by World War II, and its rejuvenation fueled musically by its youth’s embrace of American rock ‘n’ roll. And of course, Asher, who brings a slide of him receiving the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) award in 2015 for services to the British music industry, played a big part in that rejuvenation.

Born in 1944, Asher also shows footage of his early work as a child actor, this time including footage from The Adventures of Robin Hood TV series (one time as a young Prince Arthur, then again, with sister Jane Asher in their only appearance together, as an oppressed peasant child) that also played in the U.S. By chance there was at least one Cutting Room attendee who cherished Asher’s singing of the opening of the Robin Hood theme song, and marveled that its singer on the recording, as Asher related, was none other than Dick James, soon to be The Beatles’ co-publisher.

As for The Beatles, they’re so important in Asher’s Musical Memoir that as noted above, he’s written a book about them. And as The Beatles were influenced by Little Richard, so was he.

“We all owned ‘Tutti Frutti,’” he said, then proclaimed that “as much as I love America—and being an American,” that Pat Boone had the No. 1 hit with “Tutti Frutti” in the U.S., and not Little Richard, was America’s “most godawful and embarrassing mistake.”

But Asher was also influenced by folk music--and cited the likes of Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie—while singing partner Gordon Waller was more the rock ‘n’ roller, and as a projected photo showed, even had a near-Elvis Presley sneer. Still, “every singing duo owes a debt to the Everly Brothers,” Asher observed, prior to performing Peter and Gordon’s cover of the Everlys’ hit “Crying in the Rain” and noting that the British Invasion was just “us taking your music, tweaking it a little bit, and selling it back to you.”

Returning to television, Asher screened familiar Peter and Gordon performances from The Ed Sullivan Show, Hullabaloo and The Red Skelton Show, but also projected new photos including Peter and Gordon with the Rolling Stones when both acts opened for Freddie and the Dreamers, and a Caravan of Stars bus tour poster featuring, in addition to Peter and Gordon, the likes of Billy Joe Royal, Tom Jones, The Shirelles, Them, Ronnie Dove and Brian Highland.

Back to England, Asher recounted his much-told story of Paul McCartney living with his family while dating sister Jane, and writing several songs there, including “I Want to Hold Your Hand”—which he and John Lennon played on a piano for Peter immediately after finishing it. He also repeated the story of indirectly bringing John and Yoko together at his Indica Books and Gallery bookstore/art gallery, also the one of indirectly breaking up Marianne Faithfull’s marriage by bringing her and husband John Dunbar—Asher’s partner at Indica (and for whom he stood as best man at his wedding) to a party for the Rolling Stones, where Faithfull met future boyfriend Mick Jagger.

Also at that party, Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham (whom Asher would induct, with Brian Epstein, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) encouraged Jagger and Richards to write a song for Faithfull, thereby launching their songwriting career. The song, “As Tears Go By,” became a hit, and Asher performed it at the Cutting Room with his bass guitarist Jennifer Jo Oberle singing the part perfectly.

Asher’s other support musician, his longtime keyboardist and bandleader Jeff Alan Ross, had played in a late edition of Badfinger and sang its hit “Day After Day”—Badfinger being one of Beatles’ label Apple Records key signings while Asher served there as head of A&R after Peter and Gordon’s hit-making run. Ross, then, was also perfect in his rendition of Badfinger’s hit “Day After Day,” and Asher reminisced further on his days at Apple, during which he signed, produced and later managed James Taylor.

The last part of this edition of Musical Memoir, per usual, focuses on Asher’s post-Apple achievements after moving to the U.S. Again, his work with Taylor and Linda Ronstadt is always well-documented here, but the latter, though retired due to illness, still provided fresh material, what with her recent Kennedy Center Honor, which Asher attended. Beneath a great picture of the two of them taken there, he brought up new Warner Bros./Nashville signing Walker County, a sister duo of Ivy Dene and Sophie Dawn Walker, to sing “Blue Bayou.” It was their first trip to New York thanks to Asher, who had met them at an earlier tour stop in Nashville and discovered that they were big Ronstadt fans.

Asher, as always, ended with Peter and Gordon’s big hit “World Without Love”—a singalong, with the words projected onto the screen above for those few who might not have known them. Those lyrics were superimposed upon footage of Peter and Gordon singing it, after which Asher, with typical understatement, observed that not only were those in the audience baffled by the discrepancy in appearance of the Asher on screen and the one on stage, but so, in fact, was he.

But after rummaging through a drawer one day and finding the actual eyeglasses he wore all those many years ago, he brought them out of his jacket pocket, and after noting that he had sought, successfully, to secure Buddy Holly-style glasses, sang Holly’s “True Love Ways,” a cover hit for Peter and Gordon in 1965. And he also noted, as he always does, that when he puts them on, incredibly, “I look exactly the same as I did—and even more important, so do all of you!”

It’s a wonderful end to a wonderful show, presented by a wonderful man with a wonderful life of wonderful music.



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