Because a twangin’ Gretsch embiggens the smallest man.
2012 Northern California Roundup
— by Ric12string
OMG. What a weekend. It just couldn’t have been any better.
Initially, let me ask you all to indulge me a bit with this post. I’ll apologize in advance if I get a bit carried away. But, you’ll understand. Hopefully.
I am a child of the Sixties. That was clearly my musical coming of age. While many GDP’ers were first inspired to play by the likes of Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy, James Burton, and Cliff Gallup, I was simply too young to have heard and fully appreciated each of them when they first burst on the scene. Songs like Hello Marylou, Rebel Rouser, Movin’ and Groovin’ were clearly in my consciousness, but they didn’t serve as inspiration for me in the same way that they did for guys like Richard Hudson and Bear.
My inspiration was guys like George Harrison and John Lennon, Hilton Valentine, Keith Richard, Tony Hicks, and the many other guitarists of the British Invasion era. Guitar parts served the song; it wasn’t prolonged, unstructured guitar wanking. But, even more than the guitar playing, as a guy who loves to sing, I was inspired by the great lead and harmony vocals of those British guys who could just plain sing incredibly well. I loved the close harmonies of the Beatles and how they passed the lead vocals around among all three singers (let’s not debate about whether Ringo constituted a fourth singer, because his vocals were rare and usually only on lead parts) and would shift the harmony from the third above the melody to the fifth below. The three-part harmonies were simply fantastic. That stuff got my juices flowing. And hearing the Hollies harmonies still moves me to this day.
So, it should come as no surprise that Peter and Gordon ranked near the top of the singers that I enjoyed listening to. I remember seeing them on television and the image of Peter Asher, with his long red hair, dark horn-rimmed glasses, and broad and seemingly never-ending smile was etched deeply into my memory.
In high school, the careers of many of the British Invasion artists were beginning to ebb and my active interests moved on to other artists of the day, such as Buffalo Springfield, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the like. As I attended college and graduate school, I began to pay close attention to many of the bands and artists recording in Los Angeles, like Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, John David Souther, The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor. Among many of those artists, there seemed to be a similar polished style in their recordings.
I was one of the geeks who liked to read the credits on the LP’s that I bought. And, to my surprise, a name that frequently seemed to appear as a producer was that of Peter Asher. Ah, yes; the same Peter Asher whose recordings were such a part of my formative musical years. And most of the recordings that he produced, and the artists that he worked with, were among my favorites. The albums of Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor saw frequent rotation on my turntable, so I was often reminded of the career path of Peter Asher.
Thus, when I began to give some thought to how we could “raise the bar” for the Northern California Roundup, and its British Invasion theme, Peter Asher was one of the very first names that came to mind. He had not only participated in the British Invasion era as a highly successful performer, but his career had such longevity thereafter in the business-side of things. So, when I was able to locate him, and he responded favorably to my inquiry about whether he might be willing to attend our event and share his stories with us, I was ecstatic.
As I explained it to him then, it would be nice if he could do a meet and greet with the GDP’ers attending the event, and tell us a few stories about his experiences. And, if he were willing to sing a few songs, that would be wonderful, although neither expected nor required. While I had some thoughts about how his attendance at our Roundup might work, I realized with the passage of time that it was going to be even better than I had imagined.
The thing that constantly impressed me as I worked with Peter Asher, Jeff Alan Ross (Peter Asher’s musical director), and his manager, Keith Putney, was how wonderfully gracious they all were. Highly professional, yet unceasingly friendly and accommodating.
After Peter and Jeff arrived in town and were delivered to their hotel, I met with Jeff to go over what the A/V side of their presentation would look like (images, video, etc.). At that point, I realized how incredible this presentation could possibly be. The images were those that were of the Beatles, George Martin, an Ed Sullivan appearance, the lyrics to World Without Love in Paul McCartney’s handwriting (including a separate sheet in different colored ink from when Paul wrote the bridge to the then-unfinished song upon Peter’s request to be able to record it), and other images that only someone who was at the center of the era would be able to show. This was going to be good.
Joe Carducci, Fred Gretsch, and Jeff Alan Ross went up to the Lodge from the hotel where they were staying and Peter and I awaited a call from Joe saying that all of the A/V technology was working. First, Peter waited patiently in his room, but, as the appointed hour came and went, he came out into the lobby to wait with me. Because there was some down time with nothing else to do, I saw an opportunity. I asked Peter if he would indulge me a huge favor. He said, “Sure.” I asked him to step outside of the hotel lobby with me and, as we stood under the porte cochere of the hotel, in an unabashed display of fan-boy-ism, I asked him if he would fulfill a dream of mine and allow me to harmonize with him. Obviously surprised, he asked me, “Do you mean right here? Do you mean right now?” I told him that he would do me an incredible favor by singing with me the Peter and Gordon song, Woman. Finally, he said, “Okay. But, I sing it in A-flat; do you have perfect pitch or something?”
Quickly dropping the key in my mind’s ear about a step and a half from the original recording (which I have truly listened to on countless prior occasions), I began to sing the first verse. When Peter began to sing the harmony on the second verse, I couldn’t believe my ears. I was actually singing a duet with Peter Asher! I listened to the timbre of his voice and was immediately transported back about forty-five years to when I first heard the recording of the song. Gracious as ever when we concluded the song, he seemed to have not minded singing with me after all.
We went up to the Lodge after getting the call from Joe indicating that all was a “go.” Peter had had his friend, Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame) record an introduction of him that I found to be extremely clever when I first saw it. Peter seemingly expressed a bit of worry when the group in the Lodge watching the introduction did not laugh at one of Eric Idle’s joke lines, but he quickly entered the room to a warm round of applause and immediately went to work.
He began with about a ten-minute review of what life was like in England in the Fifties and how that decade was a meaningful antecedent that inevitably led to the fascination that the English had with American rhythm and blues and how they eventually made it their own and returned it to the States in their own style during the British Invasion.
I then had an opportunity to moderate his presentation. Peter did exactly what he told me that he would do – he answered every single question, honestly and directly. Never a hesitation to answer anything.
And the stories were just AMAZING, ranging from having routinely seen the Rolling Stones as the house band in a local club, to the time that Paul McCartney invited him to come down into the basement of the Asher house (where McCartney was occasionally living) to hear a preview of a song which he and John Lennon had just written — but, the song was I Want To Hold Your Hand ! Or, a video clip from the recent James Taylor and Carole King Anniversary Troubadour video concert where James Taylor acknowledges Peter’s substantial influence upon his career. It was immediately clear to all of us there that we were in the presence of rock ‘n’ roll royalty.
Jeff Alan Ross occasionally had to scramble to locate a photograph or video clip that would demonstrate the story that Peter would tell, but it went flawlessly. When Peter would discuss a particular song, he would frequently then sing the song with Jeff Alan Ross providing able vocal (Gordon’s part) and instrumental assistance.
We talked about the early days of Peter and Gordon, his friendship with Paul McCartney, the impact of stardom at such an early age, his employment as the A&R man for Apple Records, and the ambition that led him from success as a performer to being a successful artist manager and producer. He told us about how his and James Taylor’s early ambitions were for JT to play some prestigious clubs, like Los Angeles’s Troubadour Club, but otherwise just be satisfied with playing college campuses. At no time did they ever dream of the success that JT has eventually gone on to achieve. He showed us the memo that he wrote to the members of the Beatles recommending that they sign James Taylor to a recording contract. The entire discussion was insightful, open, honest, and humorous.
We talked in some semblance of chronological sequence about the various Peter and Gordon hits. When we got to discussing my favorite P&G song, Woman, Peter mentioned to the audience that he and I had sung the song at the hotel and he then turned to me and asked me if I would like to sing it with him. Duh. Would I! At the end of the song, those in attendance undoubtedly saw the impact that the experience had upon me to publicly perform a song with Peter Asher. As I explained to them, it was truly a “bucket list” item for me, but one that I would never have deigned to have even thought sufficiently possible to place on the list.
After his mildly lengthy, but never boring presentation, Peter stayed on and signed autographs for all of us and chatted a bit with everyone in attendance. Then he cheerfully bid us all goodnight and he left for the hotel. Yet, Jeff Alan Ross stayed on and wanted to play some music. So, a number of folks stepped up and joined him for some great renditions of songs from the Byrds and the Beatles. Jeff played an Electromatic 5422DC-12 (the new Electromatic 12-string guitar) that was a part of Joe Carducci’s swagfest and it sounded absolutely awesome with its blacktop Filtertrons. Really amazingly good with lots of jingle jangle. DrGretsch ably traded licks with him and we all got to add some great harmonies.
It was truly a memorable night. I don’t believe there was a person in the audience who wasn’t left with a sense of awe and incredible respect for Peter Asher and the impact that he has had upon modern popular music. Everyone seemed to be entirely bowled over by what a charming, yet modest, guest he was.
Having Peter attend our Roundup was a conscious effort to try to raise the bar for our Roundup and the overall level of the experience for those in attendance. Unless we would have had Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr themselves attend the Roundup, I don’t have a clue how we could have raised the bar any higher than we did. For me, it was as if we had hit a grandslam homerun in our first major-league at-bat.
If there was any negative for me from the experience, it was merely the disappointment that every member of the GDP didn’t have the chance to hear him speak and sing and to experience what we all shared with him. This would have been one of those moments where it would have been beneficial to have had Proteus there with his webcam so that the event could have been streamed for everyone to be able to see. I had gained the sense along the way that this would be a momentous event in Roundup lore and history and had tried to convey that in posts in hopes that those who hadn’t yet made their plans to attend would do so. But, those of us who were there were witnesses to an extraordinary event.
Okay, thanks for indulging me and my fan-boy impressions. But, we missed y’all.