Ahead of Naperville appearance, Peter Asher shares his long and winding road with The Beatles
Peter Asher always was the exception to a hard-and-fast rule: If you spent any time with The Beatles, you had to write a book.
Groupies, roadies, nearly everyone associated with the band has written about the Fab Four.
Asher is just as much a Beatles insider, with an overlapping career that has taken him here, there and everywhere. He had hit records in the 1960s as half of the pop duo Peter and Gordon. He lived with Paul McCartney in the early days when Paul was dating Asher's sister and helped start Apple Records.
But Asher shied away from book offers until a publisher approached him with an idea inspired by his weekly hosting gig on the Beatles channel for SiriusXM radio.
The result is Asher's "The Beatles From A to Zed: An Alphabetical Mystery Tour." It isn't a memoir, but a guide using letters of the alphabet as jumping-off points into the Beatles universe.
"I'm writing about music as much as I am, or more in fact, than I am about people and places and things, and I enjoy that," Asher said.
On Wednesday, he'll be in Naperville to talk about the book at 7 p.m. at Anderson's Bookshop. Before the visit, Asher spoke with the Daily Herald about his memories of John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Q: What was Beatlemania like from your perspective?
A: Peter and Gordon certainly experienced a mini version of it as we all did because, particularly in America, the British Invasion became sort of conflated as one big thing. I think in reality it was 90% the Beatles and 10% the rest of us put together in the sense that the Beatles opened the door -- not to diminish the contribution of terrific bands like The Kinks and the Stones and the genuinely important bands of the British Invasion.
Q: You got to know McCartney through your sister, Jane, an actress and his muse. He spent so much time at your parents' house, they let him use the guest room for a couple of years as his London residence. How did your parents deal with fans?
A: There was a time that the fan buildup outside the house got a bit much, and my father, who's a brilliant and quite eccentric man, enjoyed the challenge of finding a way for Paul to get out of the house ... And there was a way over two roofs and out through a neighbor's house who collaborated in the scheme.
Q: You co-owned the Indica art gallery where John Lennon and Yoko Ono met in 1966. Do you get blamed for that from Beatles fans?
A: I do get blamed. We're on the road now doing shows, and a couple of nights in Cleveland, when I told that story ... somebody in the audience did in fact yell out, "It's you! You broke up the Beatles!" I had to explain that I politely rejected that theory.
Q: At Apple Records, the label founded by the Beatles, you discovered James Taylor and signed him to his first record deal. What was it like for him to meet the band?
A. He played me his tape, and I went crazy and told him how wonderful I thought it was and explained that I got this new job as head of A & R for Apple and I could sign people and "would you like a record deal?" And he said, "Yes please, I'd love one," and I didn't really think through how odd it must be because there were probably a lot of Americans jumping on planes, going, "I'm going to go to London and meet The Beatles." Oh sure you are.
In James' case, that wasn't even the reason for the trip, but within days I had him in the office meeting them and playing a couple of songs for George and Paul, I think.
In the song, 'Carolina In My Mind,' there's a reference to a "a holy host of others standin' around me," and that is a reference to The Beatles.
Q: Taylor wrote "Something in the Way She Moves." George Harrison's "Something" has the same line. Was Taylor bothered by that?
A: Obviously, there's a point where you may initially kind of go, "Oh look, he stole a bit of a song." But he certainly wasn't upset and, in a way, was flattered that George had fallen in love with the song enough that the lyric stuck in George's head.
Q: As a producer and manager, what were your fondest memories when you were trying to find the right arrangement, and you nailed it?
A: I think those moments would actually be sort of the hits. "You're No Good" with Linda Ronstadt, when Andrew Gold, who was a genius musician, and I came up with the final arrangement idea for that song. We felt very good about it ..."Fire and Rain," another hit, same thing.
We were working on the drum fills with Russ Kunkel, which he worked out at my house. We played them with brushes partly because it would be too loud with sticks. It would have gotten in the way of the fact that we were rehearsing with just a piano and neighbors and all that.
And the brushes sounded so good, we tried it in the studio, and other than the brilliance of the song, and James' singing of course, I think those drum fills are one of the things that make that particular arrangement so clever.
Q: An enduring Beatles question: What's going on in "Norwegian Wood?"
A: The end of the song is arson. I keep getting people going, "No, no he's just going to light a fire in the fireplace or have a cigarette or smoke a joint" or all kinds of explanations. No. The idea is that he's (angry) and he's going to set fire to this woman's house.
"Norwegian Wood," Paul says, is a reference to paneling I put in my bedroom, but I can't remember putting up paneling. I did put some shelves up that were sort of white pine ... It's a John song mostly, anyway, but I think Paul contributed the wood factor and John probably contributed the arson.
Q: What were their personalities really like?
A: The cliché Beatles descriptions, of course, like all cliches, are based in reality. Paul is the friendly, diplomatic one. George was the quiet one. John didn't brook disagreement. Ringo was the one everyone's kids and mothers loved and was the funniest.
... The Beatles, through some magical confluence of circumstances, like the perfect storm, formed a group with personalities that provide someone for everybody to be in love with, and everybody was.
If you goWhat: Peter Asher, a British guitarist, manager, record producer, and one half of the pop duo Peter and Gordon, promotes his book, "The Beatles From A to Zed: An Alphabetical Mystery Tour"
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Anderson's Bookshop, 123 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville
Cost: Free admission, but book purchase required to enter the book-signing line.
Info: (630) 355-2665 or andersonsbookshop.com