Way back in the swinging sixties, a duo called Peter and Gordon made a splash on the pop charts. With a song given to them by a close friend, Peter Asher and Gordon Waller rocketed to number one on the singles charts both in America and in their native United Kingdom. It didn’t hurt that “A World Without Love” was written by Paul McCartney, but Peter and Gordon’s winning personalities made it clear that they were more than mere vehicles for the Beatles’ extracurricular songwriting projects.
Peter and Gordon scored another hit just three months later—“Nobody I Know,” another tune written by McCartney—and a third single, “I Don’t Want to See You Again,” also from the prolific Paul (although it was credited to Lennon-McCartney on the sleeve).
But Peter and Gordon didn’t get all of their material from McCartney. Covers of Buddy Holly (“True Love Ways”), Phil Spector (“To Know You is to Love You”) and Del Shannon (“I Go to Pieces”) were also hit singles. The duo’s string of pop hits continued well into 1966 and beyond: “Woman” was a Top Twenty hit in both the U.K. and United States; credited to songwriter Bernard Webb, it was in reality yet another McCartney composition. The pair’s last major hit, the bouncy “Lady Godiva,” was co-written by Waller.
Peter and Gordon would be known as singles artists, although they produced a staggering volume of recordings in a few short years: ten original albums (plus a best-of compilation) between 1964 and 1967. But after a final, non-album (and non-charting) single in 1969, Asher and Waller went their separate ways. Waller would release a few albums as a solo artist, and after a long absence from music, he resumed performing in 2002. He passed away in 2009.
As it turned out, the end of the sixties and of his duo with Waller was merely the end of the beginning for Peter Asher. As McCartney’s confidante (and, for a time, roommate), he made it clear that he had skills beyond singing and performing. When the Beatles launched Apple Records, Asher came on board as producer and talent scout. His first signing was a young American singer-songwriter, James Taylor. While Taylor’s self-titled debut on Apple wasn’t a major seller, it established a working relationship between producer Asher and the artist.
And it would be as a manager and producer that Peter Asher would come to be best known. Over the years he has worked with the biggest names in popular music, his particular talents helping them craft their best-loved works. In the seventies he worked with Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther, David Sanborn, Andrew Gold and Bonnie Raitt, among others.
Continuing his creatively fruitful relationship with many of those artists, in the eighties and beyond he produced Cher, 10,000 Maniacs, Diana Ross, Neil Diamond, Olivia Newton-John, Randy Newman, Ringo Starr, Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander, Sarah Brightman, Robin Williams, Wilson Phillips, Morrissey, Carole King, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers.
But Asher never gave up on performing live. An endearingly likable fellow, long based in the United States, his professional and personal relationships meant that he amassed a wealth of anecdotes, the sort that fans of pop culture would lap up. He has developed a live show that combines songs and storytelling, creating a delightful trip back in time. Blending the engaging back-and-forth of a TED Talk with stripped-down readings of his many pop hits (and making use of multimedia in a way that manages to feel homespun and intimate), Peter Asher has created an evening of entertainment like no other.
January 3, 8pm at City Winery, 1200 West Randolph, (312)733-9463; $28-$38.
With a background in marketing and advertising, Bill Kopp got his professional start writing for Trouser Press. His more than 2,500 interviews, essays, and reviews reflect Bill’s keen interest in American musical forms, most notably rock, jazz and soul. His work features a special emphasis on reissues and vinyl. Bill’s work also appears in many other outlets both online and in print. He also researches and authors liner notes for album reissues, and co-produced a reissue of jazz legend Julian “Cannonball” Adderley’s final album. His first book, “Reinventing Pink Floyd,” is due from Rowman & Littlefield in February 2018.