Chagall's exclusive interview w legendary producer, PETER ASHER
1965 Peter Asher – Mike Myers used Peter’s mod look and hair for the character Austin Powers.
CENTURY CITY VIEW INTERVIEWS CMB, 3 Time Grammy Winner Producer Peter Asher, CBE, April 3, 2017
Not too many ten year old children can see ahead six decades ahead of their life and visualize the still unfolding magical mystery tour of a life making history in the music world, but such is the amazing journey of Artist, Music Producer, Artist Manager, Sony Music executive and Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Peter Asher.
In our continuing series on the music/film industry, Century City View News sat down for an in depth interview reflecting on the 1964 British Invasion, producing legendary artists, touring, the state of today’s music biz and much more.
CCVN/Chagall: In 1954 you began as a child actor at the age of 8 doing plays and film work in England. How did your interest begin in theatre, opera, and orchestras begin? Was it your Mum and Dad that influenced your chosen path?
PA: My Mum got me interested in classical music. She was a classical player, an Oboe teacher, an Oboe professor at the Royal Academy of Music. She played in a lot of the big orchestras so I grew up surrounded by classical music. My father was a musician as well. He was a good player, an amateur pianist so yeah that was my intro into classical music. My introduction to theatre really was because I was a big theatre fan. My introduction to acting came in film. It really began because somebody looked at all three of us kids, myself and my two sisters. We all had red hair and we were all equally gradated in height and age. And someone said oh you know you have these cute red headed kids you can cash in on that you know. And some agent said oh we got some work. In the end we never did anything all three of us together. And Jane and I did one thing together in our lives. But we both enjoyed it. Jane of course was to the point where it actually became a career for her. She quit school very early and became an actress full time and was very successful at it.
Editor’s Note: His sister Jane Asher also became a notable actress in Theater TV and films in England. She had a beautiful striking mod look which caught the eye of another notable brit, Beatle Paul McCartney who dated her for several years and in fact lived in their home during the height of Beatlemania. Peter’s Mother was the one who translated into French the lyrics that Paul used on his recording of "Michelle”.
CCVN: That must have been handy having a Beatle living at home. Can you share any anecdotes of that time?
PA: When Paul moved in my mother had a little music room in the basement where she occasionally gave private oboe lessons and she had told him that if he ever wanted to play the piano that was the piano that he was welcome to use. Which he did and it was quite soon after he moved in that John Lennon came over and they were downstairs in this little music room for maybe two or three hours maybe and Paul called up the stairs to my bedroom, where I was working on something and would I come downstairs and hear the song they had just finished. I came down and sat on this little sofa, they sat side by side on the piano bench and no guitars interestingly enough, and played "I want To Hold Your Hand” for the first time to anybody anywhere, so that was exciting.
CCVN: Incredible!!! In fact that song became the first number 1 hit for them in America which opened the door for their historic first trip to New York February 7, 1964, where they would make their first television appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show which was seen by 74 million viewers, the biggest audience in history and the popular music world would never be the same again! "I Want to Hold Your Hand” opened the door for other British groups to come over to the US, what we now call the British Invasion. Groups like the Dave Clark Five, The Rolling Stones, Kinks, Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Freddie and The Dreamers, Petula Clark, Cilla Black and of course your duo named Peter and Gordon. You became the first duo from England to have a number 1 worldwide hit” World Without Love” written by Paul McCartney who also composed and gave you your follow up number one record , "Woman”. Tell us how touring in those crazy wild Hard Day’s Night scenes compare with touring today?
PA: Oh touring is infinitely better now. I mean back then as you well know all the facts, and you’ve seen "Eight Days a Week” it couldn’t be more obvious. They couldn’t hear anything. The technology was so far behind, monitors hadn’t been invented. All the job descriptions that we take for granted, front house mixer, monitor mixer, guitar techs, they didn’t even exist. The Beatles had two roadies when they were playing stadiums! You were singing through the same PA that they would use for scores during a game. And the instruments were not mic ed at all. I mean about the only more fun thing about touring then was all the screaming girls. Hilarious, that’s brilliant! You do like a twenty minute set and screaming girls trying to tear your clothes off which is the only way to travel as far as I’m concerned.
In every other way touring today is far superior. Touring when I do it now, two to four hundred people, which is great and I enjoy it very much because you actually get to take questions, meet people and hang out. And that’s fantastic.
CCVN: I saw film of you with Gordon in 1965 on the Ed Sullivan show singing live with no monitors and you guys were spot on.
PA: It’s amazing when you hear that cause we couldn’t hear anything, I mean there were no monitors and we are completely in tune it’s astonishing I’m amazed by it. The orchestra was very good cause most of those shows were not live. The fun ones were Ed Sullivan, Shindig and Hullabaloo where you did get to sing live.
CCVN: In 1968 you became the head of A&R music for Apple Records, and you signed a young American singer songwriter James Taylor. The first album did ok but you decided to leave Apple and take James to America, where you promptly got him signed to Warner Brothers and then recorded the landmark album, "Sweet Baby James” with the timeless song, "Fire And Rain”. What did you do differently?
PA: Well everything was different. I mean obviously when we were in London, I decided to record at Trident because I’d had a look at the studio and liked it a lot. But we had to put a band together which started by actually advertising in the Melody Maker and auditioned various musicians and put a little rhythm section together. The only friend we were using was James’ friend, Joel O’Brien, an excellent drummer who was in London at the time. Everyone else we auditioned locally. In addition to that I decided on that album to give each song each song an extremely different solid character. I think it was really an effort to make people take James seriously, not just another long haired folk singer, but to kind of go this is musically significant. So that’s why I asked this friend of mine, Richard Hewson, a classical composer and a jazz musician who I played in a jazz band with him. I asked him to write these arrangements, using different instrumentation, so we had string quartet on one, brass section on another. I did these things between the songs, musical interludes, trying to make it into an album people would really notice. And it came out well but it wasn’t a big success or anything. So by the time it came time to do the second album, I decided to do it more minimally. I decided to go to Sunset Sound in Los Angeles cause people had recommended it and I liked the engineer and in that instance I cast the band not with ads but with people I knew. Danny Kortchmar, James’ old friend and had played with Peter and Gordon on the road and I loved it so I knew we were hiring him. I looked for a drummer and walked into a rehearsal for John Stewart who wrote "Daydream Believer” for the Monkees. So I heard this drummer Russ Kunkel who had never been in a studio before, but I loved his playing and hired him, and by this time I met Carole King and heard her original demos and loved her piano playing. I invited her to my house to meet James to see if she would consider playing piano on the record. So we assembled this kernel of a band and that’s how we did the second album.
CCVN: Amazing indeed as "Sweet Baby James” reached # 3 on the Billboard charts and has gone on to be listed at #103 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time! You ushered in a very cool vibe that would like the Liverpool sound influence groups like The Eagles, Poco, CS&N, Grateful Dead, and Linda Ronstadt and become known worldwide as the California Sound. Can you name your favorite top 3 all-time favorite albums?
PA: It’s one of those impossible questions. Sgt. Pepper would be there for sure. It’s one of those nightmare questions, how do you leave out a great album by Paul Simon or Simon and Garfunkel? How do you leave out Pet Sounds, (Ed note; Brian Wilson/Beach Boys)? How do you leave out "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road? (Elton John)
CCVN: Amazing list, you know they are releasing a 50thanniversary version of Sgt. Pepper that will include for the first time "Penny Lane” and "Strawberry Fields”, which were actually the first tracks for what would be Pepper but the label decided to release them separately as a single.
PA: I’ll be helping the people at Apple with that a lot. I also consulted with Ron Howards’ new film
"Eight Days a Week”
CCVN: Where are your fav studios to work in, NY, LA, or London?
PA: Different things for different purposes. I mean I love Abbey Road, Air Studios. For orchestras I think Air Studios is my favorite in the world. The English string players are the best players in my view. But I love Conway out here. East West studios and I love working here with Hans Zimmer at Remote Control.
CCVN: Where do you reside today or where is your favorite place, California, New York or England?
PA: Well again I think my favorite may be here because that’s where we ended up choosing to live. We live on the beach in Malibu, it’s pretty nice. My favorite is the fact that I get to spend time in all three. We’re very fortunate to still have an apartment in NY and a flat in London and I use both as much as I can. I end up travelling a great deal for one reason or another and so I particularly relish the mobility.
CCVN: I got an email from you one time at 3 AM in the morning. I thought, does this guy ever sleep and how do you keep in shape in your seventh decade? You are also a member of Mensa, so what exercises do you do to keep your mind your mind so sharp?
PA: Not very much I think, I’m one of those lucky people. I only need five hours sleep. I do tend to get up around 5 or 6. I try to walk on the beach every morning for about a mile. I haven’t for the last three weeks and that’s about it. As far as my brain goes I’ve always had a high kind of energy level and I don’t need a huge amount of sleep and I like working all the time
CCVN: Do you eat pretty healthy?
PA: No. It’s genetic.
CCVN: What other interests do you have outside of the business that fills you with passion in life?
PA: I don’t know about filling me with passion, I get pissed off at things I mean you know in this country right at this moment there are quite a few things to be very legitimately pissed off at, from the President on downwards. But I like theatre and books and stuff.
CCVN: You have won two Grammys for Best Producer over a ten year period. You have worked with Disney in film projects like Madagascar. Do you prefer being an artist, film maker or producing others?
PA: It’s hard to compare. You know I like the fact that I’ve done and continue to do a bit of everything so I suppose if I was forced to choose a particular mode out of the things that I do it probably would be record producer, but I much rather not. I like the fact that I get to sing and produce and I enjoyed being a manager for many years so I was equipped when I went to work for Sony.. I enjoy playing songs live on tour, and films are amazing but if I had to choose it would be producing and seeing it all come together in the recording process.
CCVN: You also won a Grammy for Best Spoken Comedy Album ( "Live 2002 Robin Williams”). Tell us what it was like working with the late Robin Williams and your fondest recollection because we really miss Robin?
PA: Well I mean he was a great friend so I have many fond recollections, nothing to do with the record but um he was a dear friend. I met him through my wife who was friends with him already. The record was fun. Basically we went on the road with him for three weeks and recorded every show and I made notes of all the best bits. And then spent a few weeks in the studio putting together what I thought were the best versions of the different things he used to do and then he would always do at the front of the show he’d do like fifteen minutes of new stuff that he would throw in about the city he was in, so we put a collection of those together on the cd. But it was fun; you learned a lot and certainly grow to admire his comic genius from him all the time. My fondest memories probably are just times we spent together personally, his family, his wife and mine and so on. And he was very fond of my daughter Victoria.
CCVN: Your daughter Victoria Asher has continued the Asher musical tradition and has her own band Cobra Starship. You must be proud.
PA: Very much so. Starship Cobra went on for about 8 or 9 years but broke up about six months ago. She’s currently working on some stuff of her own. She’s signing major deals with producers in Iceland and Amsterdam over in Europe where it seems to be even more happening. And she’s co-writing for some very significant people so she’s doing fine.
CCVN: You are a member of Mensa, and in 2015 you were awarded CBE, Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen of England for your work and service to the British music entertainment field. What was that experience like?
PA: Oh getting a CBE was very exciting. First you get a mysterious phone call from someone at the British consular office in Los Angeles, and its very cloak and dagger and they go, "Are you alone, can you speak freely?” I’m thinking, what on earth is this, that’s when he says "I’ve been commanded by Her Majesty to inquire as to whether you would accept the Commander of the Order of the British Empire medal? And of course I said yes immediately. Some people do say no, David Bowie supposedly said no to a knighthood. And you have to go to Buckingham Palace of course. It was bestowed by Prince William. It all comes from the Queen officially as the fountain of all honors but she can choose any member of the Royal Family to stand in for her, and usually does.
CCVN: What fantastic memories Peter. Thank you very much indeed for a great chat and thank you for the great body of excellent works that you have bestowed on us all. For the rest of us, a world without Peter Asher would have been truly a world without LOVE.
By Keith Chagall, April 3, 2017
Pop Music/Film Editor
- Century City View News