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Peter Asher, rock & roll master

By Mark Frost, Chronicle Editor

Peter Asher

When Jonathan Newell told me Peter Asher was coming July 11 to the Strand Theatre in Hudson Falls, I was excited. I remember his duo Peter and Gordon; their “World Without Love” hit #1 on the charts in 1964.

I was stunned, however, when no one in our office had the slightest knowledge of the duo or the song. It’s what comes from being in place here for 39 years! I was 13 for “World Without Love.” (I didn’t know until Thursday night that Paul McCartney wrote it.)

Fortunately, there are enough other people who know Peter Asher that when he and his two accompanying musician/vocalists came to the Strand, a good and knowledgeable, enthusiastic crowd turned out.

The evening was great and, for me, revelatory. Now 75, Asher is still a rocker. He brought his guitar and was backed on vocals by a pianist and female bassist.

Asher performed songs, but the evening was as much about his telling first-person rock and roll stories and projecting onto the large screen behind him essential photos, videos and documents that depict him at the epicenter of popular music for more than a half-century.

Chronicle reader Paul Gallo was in attendance and e-mailed me the next day to say: “Mr. Asher is a little full of himself, but he did all of the things he said he did, so he deserves to toot his horn.” He dropped BIG names.

Some of what Asher did was turn James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt into worldwide stars — as recording executive, record producer, manager.

Paul McCartney, when he was just getting started, lived at the Asher family house and dated Peter’s sister Jane. In the basement one day, McCartney and John Lennon sat together at Asher’s mother’s piano and composed “Eight Days A Week,” then called Peter downstairs to hear it.

Asher didn’t just launch James Taylor, he housed him.

He mentions Ed Sheeran “stayed at my house in Malibu.”

He told us of the bookstore/art gallery that he and two buddies had in England. The first artist who had a show there was Yoko Ono. It’s where John Lennon met her. It’s also where Marianne Faithfull met Asher’s partner John Dunbar, who married her with Peter as best man.

Asher said people in the music business asked if Faithfull could sing, because with how she looked, if she could sing, she’d be huge. Peter asked Mick Jagger to work with her. “Within a matter of weeks,” Asher told us, “Mick had run off with her.” John’s marriage was done. Marianne scored a big hit with Mick and Keith’s “As Tears Go By.”

Here, Asher talks of his tight relationship with Diana Ross. There, he tells how he got Carole King to play the piano throughout JT’s breakthrough Sweet Baby James.

One phenomenal story after another. Any time you thought he might be stretching it, next on the big screen came a vintage video clip where the star was accepting a big award and crediting Peter by name. He’s even a CBE — Commander of the British Empire. Here in old HF!

Strand stands in ovation — That’s Peter Asher, center, taking a bow, his pianist to his right, his bassist to his left. This was a major-league event that no doubt is playing much bigger venues and polished crowds. One more coup for Hudson Falls’s grass-roots Strand, the little engine that does. Text & photo by Mark Frost

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