QUESTION: Tell us about your job as head of A&R at Apple Records. How did this transition happen?
PETER ASHER: I remained friends with Paul throughout that period and he told me a lot about his plans with Apple, what the company was supposed to be, and what they were trying to accomplish. He was aware that I was interested in producing records. Indeed, i had produced a couple after I stopped recording.
The first record I produced was with Paul Jones, who used to be the lead singer of Manfred Man - "Do-Wa-Diddy" all all those great tracks. I owe him a lot because he was the first person who said he liked my ideas and asked if I could produce his record. A bold step on his part, for which I am grateful. Actually the first track I produced was a BeeGees song called "And the Sun Will Shine." It's interesting in retrospect because the rhythm section was Paul Samwell-Smith from the Yardbirds playing bass, Jeff Beck on guitar, Nicky Hopkins piano, and Paul McCartney playing drums. It was a good record, actually, minor hit in England, but didn't do anything in America.
Based on that experience and from working with me on various things, paul initially asked if I would produce some records for Apple. He also asked if I would like to be the head of A&R to run that aspect of the label. They also hired a man named Ron Kass, who was a real record company executive, an American who used to run Liberty Records. Good man; now, sadly, dead. Ron was the boss and i was the second in command to him, running the artistic aspect of the label, in conjunction with whatever quorum of Beatles was in the building at the time.
QUESTION: So you had given up the idea of a recording artist yourself?
ASHER: I never had any interest in being a solo singer. I'd always liked singing, whether it was singing in the choir at school or doing four-part madrigals; I was more interested in harmony singing and never saw myself for that, but I still like singing harmonies. On some of the records I produce, I end up singing some of the parts.
QUESTION: What happened to Gordon and what was his last name?
ASHER: Wall. He pursued a solo career while and then got out of the music business altogether and went to Austrailia. He's back in England now and runs a gift shop in a seaside town, last I heard.
QUESTION: You were associated with James Taylor, of course, in the early Apple days. Did you discover him? Was he an American hanging out in London?
ASHER: Well, going back to the Peter and Gordon days, one of the bands we had backing us was called the Kingbees. The lead guitar of that band was Danny Kortchmar and we became great friends. Even when our tour was over, we remained in touch. I used to visit him when I was in L.A. He's a wonderful guitar player and since then, as I'm sure you're aware, has become a very skilled record producer and made tons of hits of his own with Don Henley and others. Anyway, Kootch was later in a band called the Flying Machine with James Taylor. He and James had known each other since they were about twelve years old and had a duo when they were kids.
When the Flying Machine broke up, James decided to go to London and seek his fortune. I apparantely met him at a Flying Machine rehearsal in New York, which I don't remember. Kootch gave him my number and he called and asked if he could play me a tape of his. He came by my house with a tape of "Something in the Way She Move," "Something's Wrong," "Knocking Around the Zoo," and all sorts of fantastic songs. I was knocked out and said, "Listen, it so happens I've just started working for this new label. I'd like to sign you and produce your record." It all fell into place very easily.
James has since mentioned that it was all rather odd that within a couple of weeks of landing in London, he was in the studio with Paul McCartney and hanging out with the Beatles. Fairly startling, but I didn't realize it at the time because I was there anyway and they were my friends.
QUESTION: Proceeding from that tape of his, what do you do musically for James?
ASHER: Too much, probably. when we made the first album, I was very anxious that it really stand out and that each song stand out. I tried to make every song different and with that aim, we did a lot of arranging. One song had a string quartet, one song had horns; I think it may have been a little overdone. Some of the songs sound a bit better now when James does them with a lot less stuff. But on the other hand, the album did get people's attention and it's become some sort of a classic.
James is singing a hell of a lot better now than he was then. If you listen to that record, it's surprising - his voice has gained so much strength and maturity and his phrasing is more interesting since that time. For what it was then, the record is absolutely fine, but listening to it with today's ears, there are things that clearly we could have done better.
What I brought to it, I suppose, was a determination to get people to listen to him and take him seriously at a time when the singer/songwriter era had not yet dawned. Joni Mitchell, Eric Anderson, and people like that were just starting to make waves in America, but they were still pretty much folksingers in a sea of rock 'n' roll. My intention was to get people to pay attention to James and realize how good he was, and it has remained to this day.
QUESTION: Why did you leave England in 1970 to start your management firm?
ASHER: Apple had started to get pretty wierd. It was crumbling and there was a lot of dissension amoung the Beatles. Allen Klein had come in and was changing the character of Apple, John was all for him and Paul was against him. All this wierd stuff was going on and it became clear that Apple was on its last legs. James wanted to go back to America anyway and I followed shortly after and became his manger. We agreed we didn't know who else should take this task, so it made sense for me to try. Based on advice from people I knew, I started managing James and set out to get him a record deal in America.