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24.01.14 MusicWeek 19


PETER ASHER ON LIFE AS A RECORD PRODUCER AND ARTIST MANAGER


and manager. “When I moved into management and moved to


America it was purely because of James Taylor who I found and formed this alliance with and we decided to set off to America and see what we could accomplish,” he remembers. Asher worked on many of Taylor’s finest and most


successful albums, including Sweet Baby James and Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, which included the Hot 100 chart-topper You’ve Got A Friend. Another of Asher’s most successful artists was Linda


The first time Peter Asher walked into a recording studio he was already thinking about switching from artist to record producer. “I knew I wanted to be a record producer from very


early on,” he says. “From the very first session we did l loved the studio. I loved the technology of it. As the producer you could try out these ideas and you could have musicians much better than yourself and make suggestions about what they could play and all of that.” It was a journey after Peter and Gordon that initially


saw him pairing up with his close friend Paul McCartney and the rest of The Beatles at Apple Records where he briefly headed A&R. Here he produced James Taylor’s debut album for the label but then quit Apple to concentrate on breaking Taylor as his producer


Ronstadt who is to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April, as will Beatles manager Brian Epstein posthumously. “She’s very calm about it, but I was personally


outraged she wasn’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because she’s just so good and accomplished such an extraordinary career,” he says. Asher’s time in the industry has also included executive


roles at Sony and Sanctuary, the latter leaving him with mixed feelings after its financial woes led it to being snapped up by Universal. “Sanctuary had a lot of good ideas,” he reflects. “Its


financial footing was a bit dodgy. There were some talented and remarkable people there, but structurally and financially it was all a bit vapourish, but I got to work with Morrissey for a year, doing a live record with him. There


“Breaking America was beyond our imagination. Back then it was seen as further away and it was infinitely magical to us. It was where all the music we idolised came from” PETER ASHER


tracklistings and artwork (see separate piece). There are few better living authorities to look


back on this historic period than Peter Asher. Not only was McCartney living with him in the central London family home in Wimpole Street by virtual of Paul then dating Asher’s sister Jane, but he was also one half of the duo Peter and Gordon who with A World Without Love became the first British act in 1964 after The Beatles to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Asher, who went on to become a far-more-


successful record producer and manager with artists including James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and Cher, says he can distinctly remember the news coming through of I Want To Hold Your Hand reaching No 1 in the US prior to The Beatles setting off there. “In a way [that was] the beginning of the utter


astonishment because we all then looked at America as unachievable,” says Asher who for the past four decades has lived in the US. “Breaking America was beyond our imagination and you have to also remember back then America was seen as further away and people did not zip back and forth for a week’s holiday in Florida as they do now and it was infinitely magical to us. It was where all the music we idolised and learned and analysed as profoundly as we could came from. “The fact that America was taking to the Beatles suddenly, I remember when Paul got the news that


I Want To Hold Your Hand was No 1. It was stunning and the rest of it flowed from that.” For Asher, having heard that song for the first


time just moments after it had been written, for it then to go on to break The Beatles in America is something that fills him with “astonishment and a degree of glee having been in the right place at the right time that I got to hear it in that way”. “One doesn’t want to sound pretentious because


it is only pop music, but there is a certain kind of epiphany in hearing something that is that good, to be present at the creation of a piece of great art, albeit a three-minute pop song,” he says. “The first reaction just like any great pop song is to ask to hear it again, just like as a kid all our favourite records you just played again and again, endlessly. I heard this song and you kind of go, ‘Am I losing my mind or is this just about one of the best songs I’ve heard in my life?’ and I remember saying, ‘Please can you play it again?’” The Beatles’ US breakthrough, which was


greeted with mayhem at New York’s then recently- renamed John F Kennedy Airport when the group landed in the US for the first time, happened just a couple of months after the US President had been assassinated. It has since prompted a theory that a nation in mourning turned to The Beatles as a way through the healing process and back to happier times, one Asher concurs with. “It didn’t occur to me at the time, but historically


it certainly made sense,” he says “John Kennedy’s assassination left the world depressed so we can


ABOVE LEFT Two of us: Peter Asher (right) with Paul McCartney


ABOVE RIGHT In the eye of the hurricane: Peter Asher in the studio with The Beatles and George Martin


only imagine what it felt like to be in America at the time. Things looked pretty hopeless I would imagine so suddenly to find these brilliant musicians who were also witty and handsome and charming and everything and full of optimism and humour it clearly must have countered the awful depression of something so horrible happening as Kennedy’s assassination.” Key to The Beatles breaking America was the


role of their manager Brian Epstein who perfectly masterminded the invasion at a time when Brits selling back rock ‘n’ roll to the country that invented it seemed crazy. Asher, who later became a successful artist manager himself, believes Epstein did a “brilliant job”, but he is still under-appreciated. “There was a period when people were zeroing in


on his business mistakes, but he was working in an industry in which hardly anyone knew what they were doing,” Asher reflects. “Obviously the first secret of being a great manager is having a great client, which he did. He had the best band ever, but he knew it so the mere sheer fact he was going around insisting that he had this band who were going to be bigger than Elvis, which was a laughable suggestion and meaning it and things one reads about the deal he made with Ed Sullivan when they got less money than some other major stars got but Sullivan promised to put them on repeatedly, [showed] there were things he did that were brilliant. He loved that band in every way and I really think would have laid


are all sorts of Sanctuary experiences I treasure and people I met and like a lot to this day.” More recently he produced the bluegrass album Love


Has Come To You, which paired Steve Martin and Edie Brickell and is nominated for Best Americana Album in the Grammy Awards. The plan now is to turn it into a stage musical. “We’ve done a couple of workshops already because


Steve, of course, is an accomplished playwright as well as everything else,” says Asher. “We’ve been doing a workshop in New York. We open in San Diego at The Old Globe Theatre in the fall so I’ve been working on that. I’m music supervisor as well as producing the album obviously.” He has also just completed a new album marking the


40th anniversary of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road with new versions of the double set’s songs by contemporary artists. “They are putting out a huge re-issued, boxed,


packaged deluxe version in March and as part of it Elton asked me if I wanted to cut some of the songs off the album in new versions with current people, which, of course, is an amazing opportunity because there are so many great songs on it so I got to do songs with Ed Sheeran and Miguel and Fall Out Boy and Hunter Hayes, current people who Elton and I have great admiration for,” he says.


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