June 22, 2018 Interview – Peter Asher
A singer, talent manager, record producer, and radio show host, Peter Asher has sustained an impressive career in the music business for many decades. Attaining success as one half of the UK Rock duo Peter and Gordon, Asher would go on to become the head of A&R department at the Beatles’ Apple Records label, discover the talents of James Taylor, plus so much more.
Still, the veteran is very much hard at work all these years later, teaming up with Elton John to assist in production of his Revamp: The Songs Of Elton John & Bernie Taupin album, producing Steve Martin and The Steep Canyons’ 2017 The Long-Awaited Album, hosting his show From Me To You on SiriusXM’s The Beatles Channel, and most recently, gearing up to perform live. Which raises the question, does Mr. Asher ever sleep? Very much dedicated and passionate to his work, the stories he has to tell are enough to compel an audience for hours. Fortunately, Peter Asher took some time to discuss his experiences, his new live shows with Albert Lee and Jeremy Clyde, and a whole lot more.
CrypticRock.com – Involved in entertainment since a young boy, you have accomplished a great deal as a performer, producer, and music manager. First, briefly tell us, what has this unpredictable, incredible journey been like for you?
Peter Asher – That’s a big question. It’s been great! As you say, it continues to be unexpected and unpredictable, which is what makes it all interesting and fun. None of it has been specifically foreseen, it just has been a case of grabbing every opportunity that came my way and taking advantage of various bits of synchronicity, good fortune, and so on. So far so good, I think, would sum it up.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely! It was around 1962 that Peter and Gordon formed, and you had a good deal of success as a duo. What were those early days like for you two?
Peter Asher – When we first got together, we were in school and doing it purely for fun. Eventually, to our great pleasure, people liked it. We tried singing together since we were both there in the same house – since Harry Potter everyone knows what a house is, which helps. When I first came to America, they didn’t know what that meant in a British school context. (Laughs) We were thrown together and we tried singing together for the hell of it.
As I say, people liked it. We found ourselves getting invited to parties by people we didn’t even know, and they would say, “By the way, bring your guitars.” Eventually, it dawns on you that you’re getting booked for free gigs, which is fine, because that is how you get better. It was those early days where we were doing it for our own entertainment. Then, gradually, we started playing pubs, clubs, coffee houses, and then, of course, the big change was when we got signed by a big record company and eventually had this huge worldwide number 1. You don’t realize at the time, but it is a million-to-one odds. It is pretty much a million to one getting signed in the first place, and then having your first record be a worldwide hit is a billion-to-one. At the time, you kind of take it for granted, but it was extremely exciting, even then, even if you don’t quite realize the extent to which you were beating the odds. It was fun! We had a great time.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, it all sounds really exciting. As stated, beyond performing, you would go on to be a prolific producer as well as head of A&R of Apple Records. Managing and producing artists, one can imagine you learned a lot through the years working with so many different artists.
Peter Asher – Well yes, but obviously everything you experience as an artist is useful. The managing and producing was entirely different; the motivation was different, the process was different. Producing was something I specifically decided I wanted to do. The minute I was in the studio, saw how it all worked, saw what a record producer did, that was a conscious career aim. I said, “I want to do this, I think I can do that,” because I love music and the idea I can hire great musicians that were better than yourself I thought was genius. That was a conscious decision.
Management was entirely separate. That decision was motivated by finding James Taylor and by believing so securely and firmly in him that we didn’t know who else we would trust to do it. It was basically a “how hard can it be thing,” and I will learn it as I go, which is what happened. Of course the moral of the story when people say to me, “How do I get into management?,” and unfortunately, the really annoying answer is, “To be a great manager, find a great client.” I inducted the first two managers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and it was no shock those were Brian Epstein and Andrew Loog Oldham for The Beatles and Rolling Stones.
Management was something I got into in a way of necessity, because I really believed so strongly in James and I didn’t want his career to get screwed up. I didn’t want him to get screwed up, cheated, etc. That is why we decided I would become his manager and remain so for 20 something years.
CrypticRock.com – There are certainly a lot of stories to tell! Speaking of stories, you currently host a wonderful show on Sirius XM’s The Beatles Channel, entitled From Me To You. It is here you provide in-depth, thoughtful, and insightful recollections of the life and time of The Beatles. What is it like for you to be able to share these memories with such a broad audience?
Peter Asher – For me, it’s more like, “Oh god! I have to write a couple more shows, they are going to run out!” (Laughs) It’s work. I enjoy doing it, it’s fun, but it’s like a lot of things, I have to think of what I am going to say. I have to sit down in front of a plain piece of paper to invent a playlist and invent a script.
Like most things, it becomes just work – that’s what you do. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it or I am not proud of it, but it’s kind of like a job. I came up with this alphabetical idea, which has served me well. I think I am going to do that one more time because Z is now in sight unfortunately. (Laughs) I am trying to see if I can do that one more time, and try generally different stuff. But in the case of some letters, of course, that is virtually impossible – there are very few songs that begin with U and there are no Xs.
It’s fun. But like so many things that look like they might be great fun, in the end, a lot of it comes down to hard work. If I don’t think about it for a few weeks, suddenly it catches up with me, and it’s like, “Oh my god, you have 2 weeks to get some new shows.” I live in fear of them running out!
CrypticRock.com – It certainly flows very well. Obviously, as you said, you put a lot of thought into it and it is a lot of work. When you do speak, it flows like a stream of consciousness and comes very natural.
Peter Asher – Well, thank you. The same thing when you think writers and writing effortless prose, you find out it’s just a rewrite. The quality of effortlessness takes a huge amount of effort to achieve. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – Completely agreed. You also remain active performing with a recent performance on The British Invasion Tour, as well as some with Jeremy Clyde, as well as others with Albert Lee. For those who have yet to have checked out these shows, what can they expect to hear and see?
Peter Asher – Well, they are all different. I do a memoir show which is me with a band, a whole lot of video and a lot of storytelling. They intersect, of course; some things of the shows have in common. When it’s me and Albert, it’s just the two of us, no videos. Me and Jeremy is the newest one, which of course is an illusion of two duos who are frequently mistaken for each other.
At the time, it was bizarre how strangely parallel our realities were: there were two British Invasion duos, neither of them from Liverpool – or indeed from any working class area – which all the other bands were. Each of them having the tall handsome one who sang the low part, and the short, nerdy one wearing glasses that sang the high part.
It was a bizarre set of mirror image similarities, to the point people would confuse us endlessly. When they would do the Patty Duke show, people would congratulate us, and when we did Ed Sullivan people congratulated them. It was very peculiar. Now that Chad has retired, Jeremy and I thought we would confuse people even further, and go on the road as Peter and Jeremy. So, that’s what we do.
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) That is pretty fun. It has been getting a great reaction from the fans.
Peter Asher – Yes, people seem to enjoy it.
CrypticRock.com – You also continue to still produce with one of your latest works being with Steve Martin and the Canyon Rangers. After all these years, what is it like to work in a recording studio and apply all the knowledge you have accumulated over time?
Peter Asher – It’s the same as it always was in a way. Yes, one hopes you get better at some aspect of it but I continue to learn, of course. I love so many of the records that are made now that get made in somewhat different ways. I am as interested in the new technology and new songs, and what you can do, as much as I ever was. Which didn’t apply much to making a Bluegrass album, I have to admit; doing Steve Martin, Edie Brickell, that proceeded Steve and the Rangers album. I enjoy all that stuff very much.
Your task is still ultimately the same: to make the best possible version of the song you are recording, or in some instances, to pick the best song in the first place; depends on what the nature of the project is. Once you zero in on what you’re recording, it’s a progression of how to frame the performance and the song in the best possible way to make it sound as good as it possibly could be.
CrypticRock.com – You certainly have accomplished that through the years. Of your lengthy list of productions, do you have anything new you are working on?
Peter Asher – I’m actually not sure what’s next. I finished this project with Elton John; he is producing this tribute album to his and Bernie Taupin’s 50 years of songwriting. We have this album with all kinds of amazing people such as Lady Gaga, The Killers, and this, that, and the other. I got to produce the Ed Sheeran version of “Candle in the Wind,” and I got to co-produce Alessia Cara’s version of “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” with this guy Oak Felder, who is a great young producer that I much admire. It came out very well! The album came out in April. I am actually not sure what’s next in the studio. I would like to find a project to fall in love with. There have been a couple of things I have been approached about, but nothing in the immediate presence that has fired up my imagination.
CrypticRock.com – It will be exciting to see what comes next. As someone who remains open to new challenges and exploring creation, you have also worked with modern day artists. In your eyes, what are some of the key differences in the music industry today as opposed to even 10 years ago?
Peter Asher – There again, you know all that stuff – the decline of physical product. It looked like it was collapsing completely and suddenly streaming is really picking up steam; it turns out people will pay for music if it’s easy and they don’t have to pay much. Everyone is making a lot less money than they used to from selling records.
When someone says to me, “What state is the music business is in?” The answer is, “The music business is fine, the record business totally sucks.” (Laughs) Even being a record company doesn’t look as hopeless as it did a year or 2 ago, because streaming income is finally heading upwards. There are interesting things happening: Spotify are now signing artists directly – which almost makes them a record company, a non-exclusive record company – which is pretty interesting. There is a lot of interesting stuff going on.
No one is going to make the gigantic royalty checks like they used to, except someone like Ed Sheeran who gets a billion streams and crazy stuff like that. The average artist is going to have a harder time making money selling records than they used to. On the other hand, the music business as a whole, the live business, even the club scene, a lot of these things are thriving to an extraordinary degree. As someone said, the legend of the rockstar now really applies to people in the tech business, not to musicians. The people who are going to suddenly get absurdly rich and fleets of ferraris and private jets, generally speaking, are not the rockstars, they are the people who invent stuff and start a company.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, a lot of things have changed. As you said, things are changing in a more positive way now though.
Peter Asher – At the moment things are heading on an upward curve slowly. The income from allowing people to listen to your music by one method or another has turned around from total collapse to some heading mildly upwards. It is still not what it used to be and it never will be.
CrypticRock.com – There is also still a niche of dedicated fans who enjoy the physical product; many people are still buying vinyl.
Peter Asher – Imagine the odds you could have got on that bet. If I told you 20 years ago, I would like to bet that vinyl will outlive CDs – that records would come out on vinyl and digital, with no CDs, which is now what is happening – it would have been an extraordinary bet. People would have given you a million-to-one about vinyl surviving but CDs died, but that’s what happened.
CrypticRock.com – It really is fascinating. Last question. You actually began your career as an actor as a child. We also cover Horror and Sci-Fi films on CrypticRock. If you are a fan of either or both genres, what are some of your favorites and why?
Peter Asher – My daughter Victoria loves Horror movies, but I have never been a fan to be honest. I have worked in movies a lot and I worked a lot with Hans Zimmer on a lot on movie scores, but not so much on Horror movies.