The world remembers two Peter Ashers. One, of course, was the bespectacled, slightly nerdy-looking redheaded half of ’60s pop duo Peter and Gordon, hitmaking crooners of A World Without Love, I Go to Pieces and Lady Godiva.
(Beatle fans of course know that Peter and Gordon cut the Lennon/McCartney tunes Nobody I Know, I Don’t Want to See You Again and A World Without Love because Paul was dating Peter’s sister Jane, and actually lived in the Asher family home in the first few Beatlemaniacal years. Then, of course, there’s the song Woman, written for P&G by Paul under the nom de tune Bernard Webb.)
In the 1970s, Peter Asher was the bespectacled, slightly nerdy-looking redhead who both managed and produced James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, two of the Me Decade’s most successful recording and concert artists.
In between these two prestige gigs, Asher was the head of Artists & Repertoire for the Fabs’ utopian record company, Apple. Asher was only at Apple for a year, but he produced two quintessential LPs: James Taylor and the Modern Jazz Quartet’s Under the Jasmin Tree.
We managed to snag Asher recently, at the tail end of an interview about Linda Ronstadt (for another magazine), and ask him about his time at the Longest Cocktail Party.
What specifically was your entry into Apple?
Paul and I were very close friends. Prior to that he’d been living in my house. So we knew each other very well, and he told me all about his plans. This was after he moved out. He was at Cavendish Avenue. But I would hang out there a lot while he was formulating his Apple plans.
He had liked some of the records I’d been producing at that time. Initially our first conversation was, would I produce some things for Apple? I said I’d love to, and then later on it grew into, would I be head of A&R for the label, and I said yes. So the job offer came from Paul.
Have you found that the things written about Apple have been accurate?
In general, people got it. I mean, there’s mistakes in all the books. They get stupid stuff wrong all the time. You realize how little people do actually check their facts. I’ve just been reading this new Barry Miles one, about the ’60s, and there’s bits in it that are really good and interesting and bits that just have mistakes in them. But that’s kind of the way they are.
It was a bit disorganized in some respects. People tend to write about what was going on in Derek Taylor’s office, for example. But at the same time, there was an awful lot of good stuff getting done. We did put out some good records.
As head of A&R, did you have input with all the artists on Apple?
We had A&R meetings once a week, at which some kind of quorum of Beatles would turn up. We talked about works in progress, and who to sign. I had some overall influence, but none for example on John’s projects – on Two Virgins, there was no input. And when George was off producing Jackie Lomax, he pretty much knew what he wanted to do. I didn’t really have anything to do with it.
But with some of them, I certainly helped. Paul with the Mary Hopkin album, I was very much hands-on. Paul was producing it, but I was certainly there and doing stuff.
And obviously James was very much my baby, and I produced it myself.
For the record, how did you get involved with James?
I’d been in a band with Danny Kortchmar – he played guitar in a backup band for Peter and Gordon. And after that, he was in a band called the Flying Machine, with James. It broke up, Danny gave James my phone number.
James came to London, played me a tape and I loved it. I told him I had just started working for this new label and I’d like to produce his record. He said OK.
Did you have to get approval from the Beatles before signing James?
As a courtesy, of course, I wasn’t going to sign him without telling anybody. I brought it to the A&R meeting. Paul loved it, John didn’t really care that much one way or the other. I said ‘Look, I’m signing this.’ I think I probably would’ve quit if they’d said no. But that wasn’t even an issue. You make me the head of A&R and I find an act I love, I’m signing it. And they all went ‘Oh yeah.’
To be honest, those meetings were always kind of woolly, so if you came in and said ‘I’m the head of A&R and I’m signing this act’ everyone would go ‘Right!’ You could get away with a lot just by being decisive.
To your thinking, were the Beatles actively involved will Apple?
I had contact with all of them. They all had different degrees of interest at different times in different things. It wasn’t consistent.
Was there a sense around Apple that the Beatles were really in trouble?
I think there was a sense that Apple might be in trouble. They closed the clothing shop, there was a lot of chaos, and the record company was existing with some difficulty. So there was a sense that things were in a muddle.
The Beatles were having big rows, but they were always having rows. They were always yelling at each other. But bands always do. I wasn’t out there at Twickenham, I was working, doing other stuff. I wasn’t at the Let it Be sessions. So I didn’t have that sense, no. You did get the sense that they didn’t get on that great, but I don’t know a band that does.
Is that you on the roof in Let it Be, holding a clipboard in front of John with the song lyrics?
No, it’s not. I wasn’t there that day.
Were you involved with Mortimer, the band that almost came out on Apple?
Yes. I can’t remember who first heard them or liked them, but we thought they were pretty good. I think it was two guys and a conga player. We were looking for songs, and Paul let them record “Two of Us.” I can’t remember if I produced a whole album, or just some tracks for an album.
I do know that Paul, at the time, thought the Beatles weren’t going to cut “Two of Us,” and then they did. And obviously, there’s no point in trying to compete.
And I remember, before the Beatles had it out, a conversation I had with Phil Everly, telling him that they should cut it. That the Beatles would probably let them have it first, because they were such Everlys fans. And that never happened.
Could you say that it was in the air that Apple wasn’t going to last much longer?
Apple as it was originally conceived, it was very clear it wasn’t going to last. Because at the beginning everyone had believed in Magic Alex, and believed in the shop and all that stuff, and that had all been shattered. The question was what Apple would become. And I knew that whatever it would become, under the leadership of Allen Klein, I probably wouldn’t like.
Did you get the sack when Klein came in?
No, I left. I quit. I would have been fired anyway. He fired Ron Kass.
I knew a lot about Allen anyway. I knew people who’d worked with him, with the Rolling Stones, and knew him well. And I thought he was bad news.
Klein was brought in for the big business overhaul.
It did all change. Maybe it wasn’t viable as it was. It probably did need some business organization, but Klein wasn’t the right man for the job.
Did you have to negotiate James’ contract away from Klein?
I didn’t negotiate anything. I just left and took the tapes with me. The rumor is that they were gonna sue, and that Allen wanted to sue. One story is that George talked him out of it, but I don’t know any of that for a fact. But I also know that no one could find any of the contracts, anyway.
Allen Klein certainly said he was suing us. He did a Playboy interview and said that he had sued James and me each for $50 million. When in fact nothing had happened.
I went to Warners and made a deal, but I had to make them indemnify us against any possible lawsuits. Which record companies wouldn’t do now, but they did then.
In the early days, how did Peter and Gordon wind up with those Lennon/McCartney songs? Did Paul play them for you, or give you a demo?
The first one, World Without Love, he played it to us before we had a record deal. He’d just been playing us some songs, and I liked that one. I think he’d written it for Billy J. Kramer, and he didn’t do it, and the Beatles didn’t want to do it. It didn’t have a bridge – it was just two verses. After we got a record deal, we asked him for that song, and he wrote a bridge and gave it to us.
He and I shared the top floor; we had adjoining bedrooms. He would play me a song on the guitar one day, and say ‘What do you think of this?’
Did you feel like you were in a lucky position, with first shot at those songs?
It wasn’t like that. They didn’t write that much for other people. It was after the success of the first one, which had come around by accident – a song he’d written which basically had no home – we’d established a successful relationship, and then he wrote a couple more songs for us.
So of course we felt fortunate. But it wasn’t as if we got first shot at something that was otherwise gonna go out to the song-pluggers or something, because it wasn’t.
Do you still have some of his demos sitting around?
I think somewhere I’ve got a tape of “World Without Love” without the bridge, and “I‘ll Follow the Sun” or some other song as well.
At what stage did Paul’s song “Woman” get credited to a pseudonym?
I think it was later on, after we liked the song and decided we’d love to do it. Because everyone was starting to say oh, anything they do is automatically a hit because of their names. So he said ‘Would you mind if we said that someone else had written it?’ We said of course not. So then we invented this story that it was a friend of his from school or something, Bernard Webb. Who’d written it – and because Paul had found the song, that’s why it was published by Northern Songs.
Last question: Do you still see Paul?
We’re not as close as we were, but when we see each other, it’s all very friendly.