When Gordon Waller, half of the 1960s folk-rock duo Peter & Gordon, died in 2009, his former partner issued a modest statement to the press: "I am just a harmony guy, and Gordon was the heart and soul of our duo."
This weekend, Peter Asher will bring his British Invasion tribute show to Laguna Beach. And he's more than happy to be the harmony guy again, at least for a number or two. Waller, whose vocals with Asher pushed "A World Without Love" and other hits up the chart half a century ago, will duet with his old partner through video segments. According to Asher, that decision wasn't just motivated by nostalgia — it also stemmed from knowing that, in some cases, there was no substitute for his boyhood friend.
"Some songs, you can get away with just by being sure Gordon's notes are there," Asher, 71, said by phone. "But there are some where the quality of his voice is what makes it work."
For the show, which will run two nights at the Laguna Playhouse, Asher will have help from another Gordon as well: Craig Gordon, the president and executive director of the Laguna Concert Band, who lined up Asher and his four-man combo to play alongside the 70-piece orchestra. In each of the last two years, the band performed a similar concert with Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats.
As a child in the '60s, Craig Gordon regularly listened to the duo on the radio — possibly, he recalled, as often as the Beatles. When Asher performed in October at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, Gordon stopped by to see the show, then contacted Asher's management to arrange a collaboration.
At the Laguna Playhouse program, the orchestra will play '60s tunes for the first half, with Asher and his band joining in the second half. The symphonic setting gave Asher — who has performed in recent years with his band or simply with sideman Albert Lee — the challenge of adapting his old hits to a more lavish style, which appealed to him.
"We're doing songs I've done before, obviously," Asher said. "But they all sound like they've never sounded before, hopefully in a good way."
Like some of rock's other famous duos — the Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, Chad and Jeremy — Peter & Gordon were renowned for tight harmonies. As far as Asher was concerned, he and his partner played distinct roles in that vocal blend: Asher's reedy tenor supplied high contrast while Waller's gravelly baritone provided the foundation and often the solos on chestnuts like "Woman" and "True Love Ways."
Given the mythos that has grown around the '60s music scene, any retrospective show might summon an awestruck crowd. Asher, however, is more connected to that history than the average hitmaker who last cracked the top 40 in 1967.
As the brother of actress Jane Asher, who dated Paul McCartney for several years, he had access to original Lennon-McCartney compositions that the Beatles didn't record. He has said that he was the first person to hear the Fab Four's breakthrough U.S. smash, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," after its authors finished writing it. He was among the first executives at Apple Records, the troubled record label that the Beatles formed in 1968, and in the decade to come, he won fame as a manager and producer for artists such as James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt.
Asher even has a connection, perhaps, to one of the most famous parodies of the British Invasion. It's been claimed that his bespectacled, red-banged appearance inspired Mike Myers' look for the title character in the "Austin Powers" movies. He also provided a song for the animated film "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" and served as musical supervisor for
"His story is just so huge," said Gordon — that is, Craig Gordon, who jokingly added, "Don't confuse the two, please" when Asher's late partner came up.
The Laguna program will also feature clips from "The Ed Sullivan Show," photos from Asher's personal collection and footage of Peter & Gordon reunion shows recorded shortly before the latter's death. For one member of the concert band, the Playhouse gig with Asher will be a reunion as well.
Brian Cameron, who plays saxophone, shared a bill with Peter & Gordon in 1964 at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium. The event's poster, still in Cameron's private collection, contains a photo of his band, the Emperors, under a larger shot of the headliners.
The Laguna Beach resident has only vague memories of the show itself, but the hysteria of the crowd — well-documented in footage of the Beatles and other bands of the time — sticks with him.
"About the only thing I remember is we were onstage, and we were probably before Peter & Gordon came on," Cameron said. "And I remember the stage being littered with all sorts of things the kids threw up."
Peter Asher with the Laguna Concert Band
Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach
When: 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Cost: $50 to $100