Peter Asher + Albert Lee: Like Seeing Old Friends

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Peter Asher (L) and Albert Lee

Peter Asher (L) and Albert Lee

“Paul shouted up the stairs to me, ‘Hey, Peter, come down here and listen to this new song John and I just finished.’ Naturally, I hurried to the basement where, seated together at my mother’s piano, Lennon and McCartney proceeded to play ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand.’”

Such was the level of captivating stories told by Peter Asher at the Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company, in Milwaukee, Wisc., on August 12, 2016, where he and guitar virtuoso Albert Lee mesmerized the audience for two hours.

Asher described the allure that America held over these two young Brits, their obsession with records, and a mutual fixation on the Everly Brothers. In fact, Don and Phil Everly were nearly the evening’s stars in absentia. The set began with two Everlys numbers—“Bye Bye Love” and “Crying in the Rain”—and the night concluded with “Let It Be Me.” Asher told how he and his singing partner, the late Gordon Waller, emulated Don and Phil’s vocal mannerisms in every way possible (“but everybody did—even John and Paul!”). Lee described his separate friendships with each of the estranged Everly siblings in the 1970s, which led to his helping reunite the Everly Brothers and becoming their bandleader.

Lee, born December 21, 1943, also discussed his time with the little known group Heads Hands & Feet, and his tenure as Eric Clapton’s second guitarist. Elvis Presley’s presence was felt when Lee told of various jobs that fell his way when the King recruited guitarist James Burton for his Las Vegas engagements. The stories told by each man were unhurried but focused. Some were lengthy, but never rambling. Each tale enhanced the music. They provided an entertaining and informative backdrop to the duo’s 15 carefully chosen selections.

Asher, born June 22, 1944, detailed his music career after the hits stopped coming for Peter and Gordon. He spoke of his connections to Apple Records (before it “got strange”), how he became a producer for Linda Ronstadt’s most popular albums, and his discovery of James Taylor. Remarkably, these stories never seemed self-aggrandizing. They were told with candor and wit, often with a self-deprecating air. Both men knew they had talent, but each was aware that they had been fortunate to survive in a very competitive business.

Watch: Peter Asher and Albert Lee sing Del Shannon’s “I Go to Pieces” in New Jersey, January 2016

The evening continued with songs by Cliff Richard (“A Girl Like You”), Rockpile (“Sweet Little Lisa”) and Green Day (“Good Riddance”). Affectionate anecdotes were related about Carole King, Glen Campbell and Hal Blaine. After performing Buddy Holly’s “Well…All Right,” Asher spoke of the “special loss of talent” caused by Holly’s early death. Asher told of Lee’s involvement with Holly’s surviving bandmates, the Crickets. Lee then knowingly inquired, “And do we have another Cricket in the house tonight?” Texas singer and songwriter Sonny Curtis rose from his seat and was warmly acknowledged.

Curtis’ presence was unplanned; he happened to be in the Milwaukee area (“visiting kin”) when he learned of the duo’s show. Called to the stage, Curtis too had an Everly Brothers story. He told of how Don and Phil were so taken with his new song “Walk Right Back” that they recorded it before he could even write a second verse. The trio played an impromptu version of the number, including the verse that didn’t make it onto the record. If this entire night was special for the audience, the presence of Sonny Curtis clearly made it special for Asher and Lee.

Watch Curtis join Asher and Lee at the concert

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Another surprise came when Lee unstrapped the acoustic guitar he had been playing all evening and sat at the piano. A more than capable pianist, Lee performed the title track from his latest solo CD, Highwayman. Late in the set, Lee again traded guitar for piano on Campbell’s beautiful ballad, “A Better Place.” For the most part, however, Lee remained seated with his Martin guitar, from which flowed beautiful lines of melody and, when appropriate, remarkable solos. Asher played rhythm on an acoustic Gretsch guitar, occasionally switching to a crimson red, hollow-body electric bass when the song called for it.

As the night neared its conclusion, Asher discussed the hit singles of Peter and Gordon. He joked about how they had made a career from songs cast off by others. He told how they were able to record Del Shannon’s “I Go to Pieces” because the Searchers rejected it. Of special interest, of course, was McCartney’s song “A World Without Love,” which Lennon didn’t feel was right for the Beatles.

Watch Asher and Lee perform “A World Without Love” at this concert

Related: Our interview with Asher – from pop star to top producer

Asher admitted that he himself was opposed to Peter and Gordon’s recording the novelty number “Lady Godiva,” but his partner convinced him to try it. This final Top 10 chart entry for the group was part of an encore to a perfect night. Asher picked up the small electric banjo/ukulele composite (a banjolele), Lee moved to what now sounded like a honkytonk saloon piano, and the two created a vaudeville atmosphere for this unlikely hit single.

The stories related by Lee and Asher included names that were as familiar to this audience as those of family members; many of the night’s songs were like encountering old friends. At the start of the evening, Asher confided to the audience, “The goal here is to make this coffee house a bit like your living room.” They succeeded. In fact, I may start having my mail delivered there.

Lee has many concerts on his schedule.

[Reviewer Thomas Wilmeth’s book on music is called Sound Bites: A Lifetime of Listening and is available on Amazon.]

Thomas Wilmeth
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