Between them, Peter Asher and Albert Lee have more serious rock ‘n’ roll credentials than most of the rest of us put together.
Wednesday’s concert at the Palladium Theater brings Asher and Lee together for a mostly-acoustic night of songs and stories. As the old tune goes, oh, the stories they could tell.
Asher was one-half of the “British Invasion” duo Peter and Gordon, who harmonized their way up the ‘60s pop charts with songs including “A World Without Love,” “Nobody I Know,” “Woman” and “I Don’t Want to See You Again,” all of which were hand-delivered to them by none other than Paul McCartney.
Peter and Gordon got first crack at numerous Lennon/McCartney originals because Paulie, who was romantically involved with Peter’s actress sister Jane, actually lived in the Asher family home during the crazy first years of Beatlemania.
Asher went on to be named the head of Artists & Repertoire for the Beatles’ Apple Records; his first signing was the American singer/songwriter James Taylor.
That turned out very well for both of them.
After leaving Apple and relocating across the pond, Asher (now Taylor’s manager) got a better label deal for his client, and produced all of his smash hit records – that’s right, everything from Sweet Baby James to That’s Why I’m Here.
At the same time, Asher was doing identical duty (career-managing and record-producing) Linda Ronstadt (from Heart Like a Wheel through Frenesi). Two of the biggest-selling Greatest Hits albums of all time – Taylor’s and Ronstadt’s – were produced in their entirety by Peter Asher.
While the soft-spoken, bespectacled Englishman was exerting considerable sway on the American charts in the ‘70s, his countryman Albert Lee was quickly earning a reputation as the hottest country/rock guitar player in town, because of his work in Emmylou Harris’ groundbreaking, game-changing Hot Band.
Albert Lee could chicken-pick a Fender Telecaster with both lightning speed and melodic precision, and he could sing like a bird. As a sideman, he was an invaluable asset – why is why he was air-lifted out of the Hot Band by Eric Clapton. Lee left the Harris outfit in the early ‘80s to play with Clapton’s touring and studio band for five years (see the albums Just One Night, Another Ticket, Money and Cigarettes).
After his stint with Clapton, Lee spent the better part of 20 years as bandleader for the re-united Everly Brothers.
It’s no accident that the Asher/Lee concerts revolve around close two-part harmony vocals and acoustic guitars, a la Phil and Don Everly. “That’s been going on a long time,” Lee tells the Catalyst. “John Lennon and Paul McCartney were big fans of the Everlys. You can hear it in some of their early songs, the way their harmonies are structured. So it’s certainly nothing new. And of course the Everlys learned it from a lot of the country guys who were around in the ‘40s and ‘50s, and before.”
Lee, who grew up in the London of the 1950s, was more interested in American country and folk music than the rhythm ‘n’ blues that seemed to swallow up every other guitar-playing English kid. After trying to make it work with a British band called Heads, Hands & Feet, he moved to America in 1974 to look for work as a session rat.
“Once I joined Emmylou, I really got to do what I’m best at, really,” he explains. “Prior to that, I’d spent a lot of time in England and not really enjoying the music that was going on then. I was never a fan of the English glam rock, or Yes or bands like that. I was definitely influenced by the music from the States, the roots music. And that’s where I’ve remained.”
Lee recalls meeting Asher at a 1980s Ronstadt session. “Maybe I met him in the ‘70s, but I could hardly say that we were mates, you know? But I the last number of years, we’ve become very close. We’re neighbors too – we both live in the Malibu area.”
Asher had returned to performing, touring in oldies packages with Gordon Waller, singing the old hits. After Waller’s death in 2009, however, the nostalgia train ground to a halt.
Remembers Lee: “We’d become involved in a couple of shows where I was a featured artist, and he was too. We did one in Clear Lake, Iowa. And I think it was Peter’s manager who said ‘You two sound good together – how about you try this as a couple of acoustic guitars, and tell some of your history?’ That’s how it came about.
“We sat down and had a rehearsal at his house, and played a local gig and It went well! And it’s gone on from there. We’ve been doing it for a number of years now. The folks love it, and that’s why we continue to do it.”
Meanwhile, Asher’s profile has raised considerably since he became a program host on Sirius XM’s Beatle Channel; he’s an anecdote machine, and a master at trivia – and anyway, he was actually there, thank you very much.
Last month, he published a Sirius spinoff book, The Beatles From A to Zed: An Alphabetical Mystery Tour.
As for Lee, his is one of the most revered names in musicians’ circles; he performed at Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, and at the emotional Concert For George, both at Clapton’s behest.
His instructional guitar videos are best-sellers.
Lee swears he can’t name a highlight from his extraordinary career. “It’s a mixture, really,” he explains. “I feel I made giant steps forward when I put my own band together. That started in England, and I did that for over 20 years. Now I have another English band I work with, and I have an L.A.-based band. Most of my work now is between those two bands.”
Tickets are available here.
For additional reading: The Man from APPLE: A few words with Peter Asher.