Peter Asher Presents James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt
Peter Asher had good news and bad news for Linda Ronstadt. The good news was that she’d been invited to the first 1977 World Series game in Los Angeles. The bad news…well, let Linda tell it:
“Peter came to me and said, ‘Listen, all the Dodgers got together and they voted.’ And then he looked at me, and he says, ‘You know what’s coming…’ And I thought [Linda re-creates her yipe-gasp], ‘They want me to throw out the first ball!’ “
And now the bad news: “He said, “They want you to sing the National Anthem!’ And I just went: ‘Oh, God!’ ‘Cause it’s just the worst song in the world! It’s a turkey. Who even knows the words?”
Linda told Peter she didn’t think she could do it. But then she thought about the beautiful blue Dodgers warm-up jacket they’d sent her. “And finally I just couldn’t say no, because I love the jacket.”
Ronstadt had a tough time practicing the star-spangled turkey. “I couldn’t play it on the guitar or anything. And I was so nervous. If they’d asked me to pitch I would have been less nervous. And everybody was going, ‘Oh, it’ll be great, it’ll be great!’ Well, Peter didn’t do any of that stuff.” Which brings us to the point of this belated sports report.
“He was just saying, realistically, exactly what was gonna happen. He said, ‘Okay, you’re gonna have to go stand in center field and it’s gonna be like this and like that.’ He was thinking about what the problems could possibly be. ‘There’s gonna be this horrible echo, and watch out for the organ, and watch out for this…’
“Then he said the funniest thing. He said, ‘Ha, ha, you’re gonna have to stand in center field and sing that all by yourself.’ He said, ‘I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world, and you’re doing it for free!’ It cracked me up. He just never is gonna grease me. He just always says exactly how things are gonna be, period.”
“He’s a very fair person,” James Taylor says of Asher. “He’s also outspoken and outright. When he wants something, he says he wants it. He doesn’t feed you some line about how he deserves it or how it’s done this or that. He just says, ‘This is what I’m looking for.’ You really don’t get much bullshit from him at all.
“There’s no doubt as far as I can see, from either Linda’s or my point of view, that working with Peter Asher is a totally positive thing. That’s not to say that we don’t get pissed off or fed up sometimes, cause that’s also part of his job.
“One time I remember we tape-recorded a gig in Oakland. The people who were recording it really got in the way, and they ended up taping three microphones in front of my face. It was really a trip, it delayed the show, and I really got fed up. He can tell when I feel that way, so there’s no sense in my mentioning it. The other thing is, it’s my guess that he was disappointed or frustrated when I went to work with [David] Spinozza for that album [Walking Man].” (Asher had produced James’ first four: James Taylor, on Apple Records, and, on Warner Bros., Sweet Baby James, which gained him his fame, Mud Slide Slim and One Man Dog.) “And we never really discussed it. It’s the kind of thing that since both of us understand, it’s like a nod is as good as a couple of paragraphs. A lot of stuff is understood.”
Invariably, a story about Peter Asher begins with what others have to say about him. Otherwise, it might never get started at all. Asher, 33, produces, manages and, as he says, is happy to control the records and careers of two of today’s most popular recording artists. As a producer, he has accounted for such hits as “Fire and Rain,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Shower the People” and “Handy Man” with James Taylor, and “You’re No Good,” “Heat Wave,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Blue Bayou” and “It’s So Easy” with Linda Ronstadt. And he is the winner of both of Rolling Stone‘s 1977 polls — critics’ and readers’ — for Producer of the Year.
Like a Phil Spector or a Richard Percy, Asher loves being a grandmaster, in charge of it all. But try and get him to talk about himself and you’d think you’d caught him squirming around in some police lineup or something. He is by nature a reserved sort. “He’s a shy person,” says Taylor. “He’s a very real person. He’s not terribly romantic or emotional, although everyone is if you know what’s relative to them. But he’s reserved and different from a lot of people in this business in that capacity. He’s not a terribly flamboyant person.”
Asher, then, doesn’t tell stories about himself, or anyone else. Asked to recount his childhood — he was born and raised in London — he edits out, or simply neglects to mention, little things, as if a lot of stuff is understood — like how he was a child star in films in London, along with his sister Jane, who gained fame as a Beatle’s girlfriend. And how his grandfather was T.E. Lawrence of Arabia’s attorney. And how his father, whom he simply recalls being “a doctor,” was, as Linda remembers from Peter’s telling, “an incredibly brilliant doctor who was responsible for exploding a lot of old-fashioned medical myths. Just little things,” as Linda puts it, “you would never find out about him…. His mother played oboe, I think, in the London Philharmonic.” His father played piano and sang.