Hitmaker has been in the right place at the right time

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 14, 2012 - 6:52 PM

From the Beatles to Courtney Love, singer, producer and manager Peter Asher has had a remarkable career. He'll share anecdotes in shows this week.

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James Taylor and Peter Asher in December 1969, likely the same photo shoot that produced the "Sweet Baby James" LP cover.

If Peter Asher were trying to condense his remarkable résumé, he could simply write: the Forrest Gump of rock.

Since the 1960s, he's been nearly everywhere.

  • John Lennon and Paul McCartney played their just-penned "I Want to Hold Your Hand" for him on his parents' piano.
  • He introduced Lennon to Yoko Ono and Mick Jagger to Marianne Faithful.
  • He discovered, produced and managed James Taylor.
  • He won the Grammy for producer of the year in 1977 (for records by Linda Ronstadt and Taylor) and in '89 (for Cher and 10,000 Maniacs).
  • In the '90s and '00s, he produced albums by Neil Diamond, Randy Newman, Diana Ross and Morrissey, and managed Courtney Love and Clay Aiken.
  • Oh, yeah, he also landed at No. 1 on the pop charts in 1964 with "World Without Love" as half of Peter and Gordon.

This week at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, Asher, 67, will explore his career in song and conversation in a multimedia evening he calls "A Musical Memoir of the '60s and Beyond."

There's so much to cover, he probably won't talk about his current projects -- including a Buddy Holly tribute CD ("Listen to Me") featuring Stevie Nicks, Lyle Lovett and Cobra Starship (his daughter Victoria is the group's keyboardist).

His next album production features the husband-wife guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. "Their records up until now have been just the two of them," he said. "This is a collection of their most popular tunes redone with Cuban musicians playing along."

From his Hollywood office, Asher shared some of his Gump moments.

On 'I Want to Hold Your Hand':

McCartney was dating Asher's sister, Jane, and staying at the Asher family home when the Beatles were in London.

"In some respects, it's quite ordinary when someone says 'You wanna hear a song?' and you sit down in a room in your own house," Asher said. "They sat side by side on the piano bench. There were no guitars. They played loud on the piano. Poor John sang loud; perhaps all of the German training, singing over raucous crowds and fights and cigarette smoke. They were really tough singers.

"There was something mysterious about hearing great art at the instance of its creation -- which sounds kind of pompous because it's only a pop song."

On getting 'World Without Love' from McCartney:

It was "an orphan song" that the Beatles weren't going to record. McCartney offered it to Billy J. Kramer, who declined, Asher said. "It wasn't finished. It didn't have a bridge. Weeks or months later, Peter and Gordon got a record deal from EMI. They were thinking of us as a little more folky. They said, 'If you have any songs you'd like to suggest, by all means.'"

So Asher asked McCartney about "World Without Love." He said yes to the duo doing the song but "we had to nag him a little bit so he wrote the bridge shortly before the recording session."

On having the Beatles as his boss when he was chief talent scout at Apple Records:

"They were very rarely unanimous but they were exciting bosses to have and they tended to allow each other a lot of room," said Asher, who met with them weekly to discuss Apple issues. "It was more like John would let Paul go ahead with his Mary Hopkin thing while John was off doing some crazy Yoko stuff.

"They were smilingly tolerant of each other's project until they weren't" -- a dispute over management of the Beatles, which led to their breakup. "John could be quite grumpy about stuff. Paul tended to be more diplomatic."

On the most lucrative recording he's worked on:

Probably "James Taylor's Greatest Hits." "That went on selling forever and forever," he said.

On Taylor's drug problems:

"I didn't really know much. I learned as I went along. I just thought he was exceptionally moody because he could be great and charming and funny. Finally, you learn all about junkies and whatever they say, you can't trust them. It was tricky but I didn't realize that [addiction] was why it was tricky. I just thought he spent a lot of time in the bathroom."

On which relationship led to better art: John & Yoko or Mick & Marianne:

"That's a hard comparison. Mick wrote 'As Tears Go By' after he met her at this party that I took her [and her husband] to. They wrote 'Sister Morphine' together and he wrote lots of songs about her. John and Yoko goes on until this day, in the sense that Yoko is still the carrier of the flame. There was lots of good songs there."

On who was more challenging to manage: Courtney Love or Pamela Anderson

Courtney, he said without hesitation. "Pam was challenging but in the relative scale of craziness and unpredictability, Courtney wins. I like them both. But Courtney could be really nuts. Pam is still a friend and a neighbor."

  • PETER ASHER

    When: 7 p.m. Mon.-Tue. 1/16-17

    Where: Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.

    Tickets: $40; 612-332-1010; dakotacooks.com.

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