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Peter Asher

By Caroline Ryder
Photo By Aaron Farley

Peter Asher

In his 43-year music career, Peter Asher has been a musician, producer, manager, and A&R guy. And it shows: he has the all-knowing, slightly jaded aura bound to emanate from anyone that’s seen as much rock ‘n’ roll as he has. He lived with Paul McCartney just as Beatlemania was taking off. He discovered James Taylor, who slept on his couch for a year. Today, he devotes most of his time to managing Courtney Love, a task beyond most mortals. “She’s great,” he shrugs.

It helps that Asher has years of experience under his belt, both as a performer and behind the scenes. His career started when he scored a number one hit as half of the 1960s duo Peter and Gordon. Their 1964 number-one hit “World Without Love” was penned by McCartney, who lived with Asher and was dating his sister Jane, an actress, when he wrote it. It was the height of Swinging London, and Asher was at the epicenter.

He sat around the Apple Records boardroom table and played demos to The Beatles (“John never liked anything”). Then he discovered James Taylor, left Apple Records, and moved to the U.S. to manage Taylor, also making a name for himself as a prolific producer. Stateside, Asher was credited with defining the mellow West-Coast rock vibe of some of his artists, including Linda Ronstadt, Andrew Gold, and Bonnie Raitt. “I’ve lived through some exciting times, but when it’s happening, you don’t really think you’re doing anything special,” he says. “It’s only in retrospect you realize, ‘Shit, this is pretty cool.’”

You were a well-known performer for some time with Peter and Gordon. Had you always wanted to be famous?

Yes. When you first pick up the guitar and stand in front of the mirror singing to your Elvis records, of course you are imagining being a famous pop star. It was mostly to get the girls. Fame is interwoven a little bit with wealth, but primarily, at least in the beginning, with girls. I think most rock ‘n’ rollers own up to that. Fame’s an appealing thing, but once you’ve been through it to some degree it’s not that big a deal.

How did your friendship with Paul McCartney come about?

He met Jane first, and then I met him a day or two later. He started going out with Jane and he was over at our house a lot. My mother offered him a bed, and he ended up living in our house for a couple of years. He and I shared the top floor of the house. It was an interesting period, a very different life for him than the life he was used to in Liverpool. In England, everything is bound up in class issues, and suddenly he was in a different world, culturally and economically and class-wise. I liked Paul a lot, and we became good friends. My mum had a room that Paul would use to write in. I remember one afternoon, John (Lennon) came over and Paul came upstairs and asked me if I wanted to hear a song they had written. I came down, and they played “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

What did you say?

I said, “I think it’s very good.”

So what did it feel like to be in the middle of this cultural revolution that was taking place?

Not much, because you don’t think about it while it’s happening. But there were certain occasions that made me realize I was living in interesting times. I remember going to see Jimi Hendrix the first time he played in London. I was sitting with Paul and John and Ringo in the Royal Box at the Saville Theatre, smoking dope and drinking champagne and watching Hendrix play the guitar with his teeth. He was the most amazing guy we’d ever seen.

You were the first head of A&R (Artists and Repertoire) at Apple Records. Did you feel a lot of pressure when you took that job, bearing in mind how massive the Beatles were at the time?

No. We were extremely confident. Overconfident. It turned out to be a major task. We were inundated with garbage. We would have a weekly A&R meeting that any number of Beatles would attend. They wouldn’t agree on much. John would not want to sign anything; he was mostly into his own stuff with Yoko. George brought in a song called “The King of Fuh” once. It went: “I’m the king of fuh, I’m the fuh king.” George thought it was hilarious. I remember it came out and it caused this big buzz.

In your career as a producer and manager you’ve worked with a lot of artists, especially women, who have a reputation for being difficult. How do you bring the best out of those artists?

Linda Ronstadt was the first woman I managed. She had a reputation. She was a woman of strong opinions and knew what she wanted to do, and didn’t like to be pushed around. At the time, those qualities in a woman were perceived as being negative, whereas in a man they were perceived as being masterful and bold. But I liked it. I’ve ended up in the studio working with a number of women, whether it’s Natalie Merchant or Diana Ross or Cher, women who are strong and know what they want. And I’ve found it much easier.

What do you think when people refer to you as legendary?

I don’t think of myself as a legend. I think legend just means you’re old, that you’ve been here a long time. But I’m used to people saying it, because they tend to write it in introductions. In some sense, you achieve legend status just by still being alive and still doing it. And as for the word “icon,” most of us in this business would rather be defined as iconoclasts than icons. An iconoclast is someone who breaks icons. That’s rock ‘n’ roll.

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